In this monthly series we explore ways to make the most of the outside spaces around your care setting and help your residents benefit from stepping outside and enjoying meaningful activities there, as and when they choose. Step Change Design focuses on encouraging care settings to take a fresh look at their care culture practices in order to engage actively and meaningfully with their outside spaces with their residents.
There is one topic that is always a great conversation starter and ice breaker in any social situation: the weather. It is always changing, sometimes dramatic and sometimes calm, can make us wish we had worn something different or make us want to abandon what we are doing inside to go outside. The weather also affects how we feel. It can cheer us up, annoy us, exhilarate us and sometimes make us feel gloomy too.
Attitudes about the outdoors and the weather can vary dramatically between individuals, care settings and within a single home. And these attitudes have a big influence on engagement levels with the outside space for staff and residents alike. So, why does the weather create such diverse responses among care settings? We have noticed that the weather can prompt a fearful reaction in some homes and yet in others very similar conditions lead to an improvised and hastily arranged trip outdoors to splash in the puddles or collect fallen leaves.
Being weather-ready is essential to delivering person-centred care
We found in our research project that how weather-aware and weather-ready the care setting is (i.e. actively anticipating and facilitating straightforward engagement with the outside space, whatever the weather conditions) is a strong indicator of how truly person-centred the care practices are. Those homes that actively supported residents who wished to go outside throughout the year, whatever the weather, tended to be practising more advanced care practices than those homes that were very fearful of the outdoors or discouraged spontaneous visits to the garden. They were also clearly meeting the needs of those residents for whom regular and even daily visits to the garden were a normal part of their lives before they entered the care setting.
So, how to shift attitudes about the weather? One way is to take a fresh look at our attitudes towards the weather and to remember that weather is an activity. It is also a resource. And Mother Nature provides this ever changing resource endlessly, conveniently (right outside the door!) and for no cost. And this can be both outdoors and indoors (from a window or doorway for example).
How many activity timetables include engaging with the weather?
Starting a conversation by mentioning the weather is something we do all the time. How well do you acknowledge and engage the weather in your conversations with residents and other staff? What stops you from doing this currently? Check windowsills for clutter and net curtains that distort the view of the garden and skies. Can you arrange furniture (chairs, tables and beds) to have a better view of the outdoors to be able to watch the unfolding weather?
The ‘real feel’
Even if you do actively encourage your residents (and staff) to go outside, a subtle factor that can hinder engagement with the outdoors are misperceptions about what it is really like outside. How many times have we found the weather forecast to be unreliable or not accurate for our local area and thought it to be cooler or wetter outside than it actually was? One of the best ways to know for sure is to go outside and check the weather for yourselves, or get residents involved in checking this daily. What does it really feel like out there today and how can you display this information for everyone to see?
Spread the Word!
Another idea is to create a weather board somewhere prominent and update the forecast and the ‘real feel’ every day. There are activities to suit every weather condition; find out from residents what they like to do outside in different weather? For example, a great activity to do on a windy day is hanging out the washing. Everyone can then be involved in keeping an eye on it and making sure to check when it is dry or to bring it in when it rains.
Winter is Wonderful!
Is the weather any ‘worse’ in winter than it is in summer? Who knows! But wintry days can be exhilarating and uplifting in a way that hot and sultry days in summer can be boring and lethargic. Who isn’t impressed by the amazing show of colour that many trees provide during the autumn months? And the first flurry of snow can recall those memories from younger days of sledding and snowman-building, or the simple sound under-foot. And the gusty days when everything is tossed into the air, sending birds see-sawing in the unruly wind. These sorts of days can provide an ever changing sensory experience and many meaningful conversations and a whole new to-do list in the garden.
And as the days grow colder, who will fill the bird feeders? Who notices the hardy flowers and bulbs glowing cheerfully in the drab borders? Who will bring some in to grace the table for everyone to enjoy? We are sure that there will be many people who would volunteer to help. It just requires staff and families to look at the seasons and the weather as a fantastic energiser for everyone, regardless of ability, skills or inclination, both indoors and outdoors, and to tap into its endlessly fascinating and changing qualities.
Prepared to go out in all weathers
Overcoming the reluctance to go outside can be tackled in many ways. For example, you can pre-empt a visit outdoors by ensuring that those residents who are most likely to want to go outside are dressed in appropriate clothing and shoes from the start of their day and by placing brollies, coats and hats near the exit into the garden for use by residents and staff. Spontaneity is the name of the game, grabbing the moment when it arises and being determined to not let a beautiful day go to waste, whatever the weather.
For more information: www.stepchange-design.co.uk