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Laurelhill House residents George Flanagan and Joan McKinstry enjoy the new Sensory garden created by young people on the ‘Catalyst’ project.

Sensory Garden Enhances Life at Laurelhill

Published on:  24 May 2019

Residents at Laurelhill House in Lisburn are set to reap the benefits from a new sensory garden, thanks to a Belfast based youth initiative.

51 young people have been involved in different phases of the cross-community ‘Catalyst’ project with Springboard Opportunities, which aims to enhance employability, boost confidence and encourage participants to give back to local communities.

The recent transformation of an unused courtyard at Laurelhill House is allowing the ‘Catalyst’ group to play a positive role in society, form new friendships and create a memorable space that will support those living with dementia though multi-sensory stimulation.

‘Catalyst’ is funded through the International Fund for Ireland’s, Personal Youth Development Programme (PYDP). The project works with 16-25-year olds in North and West Belfast, who have failed to benefit fully from the Peace Process.  It typically engages with those who have faced challenging issues including; poor mental health, substance abuse, homelessness, difficult family backgrounds which have made it difficult to participate in society in a positive manner.

Speaking at the official launch of the garden, Richard O’Rawe, IFI Board Member said: “Many communities in Northern Ireland feel isolated and left behind. Our PYDP programme goes beyond the traditional concept of youth work. It offers a range of opportunities that ultimately allow young people to take control back of their lives and step towards a brighter future.

“The pressures that many young people face today are extreme: anxiety, mental health, substance abuse, homelessness, challenging family relationships and even the threat of paramilitary recruitment. This sensory garden has played an important role to help transform attitudes and understanding, build inter-generational relationships and put a smile on people’s faces whenever they spend time in it.”

Laurelhill’s garden has been specifically designed to help evoke happy memories, stimulate new experiences and enhance the overall quality of life for residents, staff and family members. It features a number of sensory based objects such as solar lights, water fountains, wind chimes and colourful flowers. These elements work together to improve physical health, increase Vitamin D cell production and the use of vibrant colours, smells and sounds help promote calmness, reduce anxiety and blood pressure.

Paul McKinstry from Springboard Opportunities said: “We use a youth work approach with a specific focus on Personal Development, Good Relations, Social Action and Employability to empower young people and help them to transform their lives.  Over the last two years 34 young people have gained OCN qualifications, 60% have completed social action projects or work placements, 29% have moved into employment and 60% have moved onto further training or education.

“This was a very personal idea from some of the group who have experienced relatives living with dementia. A presentation was made by participants to put forward the case for further funding for the project through the South Eastern Social Care Trust. We are very proud that all involved are now social champions engaging positively and giving so many others a memorable experience within this garden.”

“By building confidence alongside personal and professional development, Catalyst is investing in its participants and encouraging them to map out better life choices so they can feel rewarded and positive for their futures.

Sue Curry from Laurelhill House added: “It has been a pleasure to work with young people involved with Catalyst because they have been so passionate about creating this new space. Everybody’s dementia journey is different, but we know that all of our residents will be able to enjoy the garden. We all benefit psychologically and physically from being outdoors but for people with dementia, this is particularly important. Whilst there is no cure for dementia, the sensory approach will help enhance everyday life as well as bring support and joy to residents, carers, staff and family members.”

For further information about our funding programmes, or for information on how to apply for funding, please contact the person(s) or organisation(s) identifed at the end of the relevant programme summary in the areas of activity section.

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