PhD Woodland Activity Programme Wins Best Dementia Friendly Community Initiative!

A blog entry by Mandy Cook

I was delighted to be invited to the recent Scotland’s Dementia Awards 2019 ceremony, which took place in Glasgow on 18th September.

Scotland’s Dementia Awards, a partnership between Alzheimer Scotland, NHS Education for Scotland and the Scottish Social Services Council, showcase and recognise the inspirational achievements of outstanding individuals, groups and organisations making a difference for people living with dementia, their families and carers across health, social service and community settings.

Dr Mandy Cook

Dr Mandy Cook

The Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) and Scottish Forestry woodland activity programme for people living with dementia, which was originally set up as part of my PhD research (completed in 2017), had been named as a finalist in the Best Dementia Friendly Community Initiative category at the awards.  This category recognises innovative initiatives which support people with dementia not only to continue to live well within their own community but also remain valued, connected and involved members of that community.

The woodland activity programme takes place in the Forth Valley area of Scotland. It is a 10-week programme developed for people living at home with early stage dementia. Participants visit the woodland weekly and take part in a variety of tailored outdoor activities, which include environmental art, tree planting and bird box building. The programme was developed based on evidence from my PhD research1, which showed that by engaging in meaningful activities, participants found meaning in the pleasure and enjoyment they experienced, in their feeling that they still belonged in the world, and in their ability to retain a sense of autonomy and identity2.

  1. Cook, M. (2019) Using urban woodlands and forests as places for improving the mental well-being of people with dementia. Leisure Studies DOI: 1080/02614367.2019.1595091

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  1. Phinney, A., Chaudhury, H. & O’Connor, D. (2007) Doing as much as I can do: The meaning of activity for people with dementia. Aging & Mental Health, 11(4), pp.384- 393.

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We were up against some strong and worthy competitors but were absolutely thrilled when we were announced as winners! The winners were chosen by the Scottish Dementia Working Group, a national involvement group run by people living with dementia (funded by Alzheimer Scotland and the Scottish Government), and for me there could be no better acknowledgement.

Here I am in the centre of this photograph, with Forestry and Land and Scottish Forestry rangers, participants of the woodland activity programme, and representatives from Alzheimer Scotland, NHS Education for Scotland and the Scottish Social Services Council.

It was a privilege to be part of an awards ceremony which recognised the amazing achievements of people like Amanda Kopel, whose emotional acceptance speech told of her tireless campaign to introduce ‘Frank’s Law’ in Scotland, named after her late husband and footballer, Frank Kopel, who had been diagnosed with dementia aged 59.  Her campaign resulted in the Scottish Government introducing the new law in April 2019, which extends free personal care for everyone who requires it, regardless of age.

Six years on from setting up the first woodland activity programme as part of my PhD research, it is still being delivered by the fantastically enthusiastic and dedicated Forestry and Land Scotland rangers, and continues to be enjoyed by people living with dementia, their families and carers from the Forth Valley area in Scotland.  The rangers are now taking the woodland activities into local care homes and training staff, and it is my hope that these programmes will be rolled out more widely across Scotland and beyond.

Dr Mandy Cook
UKRI Innovation Fellow
CIRCLE, University of Sheffield