Woodfield Park, formerly known as St Catherine’s Hospital, is set in the grounds and parkland of a Grade II listed former private estate with the old house and outbuildings at its heart, and is surrounded by housing estates and nearby local schools.
The trust planted a natural boundary hedge to define the limit of the Tickhill Road Site and segregate it from Woodfield Park in 2012. The park is a public open space with a privately operated gym on site, Woodfield Squash and Leisure. The trust still owns the land and has a social enterprise set up in St Catherine’s House, Flourish Enterprises, that runs services including the Victorian Tea Rooms and the Walled Garden.
This site was one of 10 NHS Forest pilot sites set up in 2009 when small saplings were planted – these now tower above people’s heads! In 2011, the Big Lottery awarded funds to the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (CSH) towards a project called Outer Space as part of the Access to Nature programme run by Natural England. This aimed to show how improving access to green spaces could be used to for a wide range of green health benefits.
The Outer Space site centred on the site’s ancient woodland – a calm, sheltered area on the edge of the hospital grounds. The project included a group of mental health patients and community volunteers creating new pathways and an outdoor classroom. Various events have taken place since, including an art project, run by occupational therapists for service users.
Friends of Woodfield Park was a group born out of the Outer Space Project to run activities for service users and local people, mainly gardening, but they assist with other projects as well. The Conservation Volunteers have also helped with further footpaths and conservation work.
The woodland is used by hospital staff, service users and the local community. An ancient walled garden on the site contains a nursery growing plants for sale, and an adjacent Victorian tea room is also flourishing. These initiatives help provide employment and training to members of the community, including former service users.
A Community Dementia Garden has been established within the walled garden. A local charity, Donmentia, has taken the lead on the creation of the garden, which is open to all but which is particularly being used by local people with dementia. Some visitors participate in gardening activities in the raised beds, which are accessible to people in wheelchairs. The garden was created as a space for relaxation, and includes planting schemes that are multi-sensory to prompt memory recall by appealing to all of the senses – sight, smell, touch, sound and even taste, thanks to the thoughtful use of herbs and edible produce grown in the raised beds.
A small fountain provides a focal feature and calming background noise, as well as attracting wildlife. A large arbour gives shade for rest and contemplation on sunny days, and pathways lined with roses, lavender, mint and honeysuckle produce wonderful aromas. Sages and artichokes give shape and texture for touch experiences, and vibrant colours are abundant in the choice of herbaceous plants. Foxgloves, geraniums and verbena all attract bees and butterflies to the garden.
CSH has received investment for further community activities from the People’s Health Trust, using money raised by HealthRich through The Health Lottery. This has allowerd for the setting up of a new walking group at the site. It also enables the NHS Forest to engage Woodfield Primary School pupils in environmental arts to inspire them with a love of nature, and to inspire them and their families to spend outdoors for their long-term health and wellbeing.
The children’s art activities are run by Darts, a community arts organisation based in Doncaster. The children have enjoyed sessions in photography, ceramics and woodland sculpture, as well as producing some wonderful textile bugs. Read more information about this project here.
All these activities mean that members of the community can join together in activities in the woodland, or visit the site independently, so that many more local people can enjoy the multiple health benefits of this green space.