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Stepping Outside with Step Change Design - part 1

Intro to the series

In this monthly series we will be exploring ways to make the most of your care setting garden 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 engage actively and meaningfully with their outside spaces with their residents. Our work is based on a large scale research project we carried out to understand why care setting gardens are not more actively used.

We have produced a poster-sized diagnostic tool, the Care Culture Map and Handbook, to help care settings review and improve on their activities and practices relating to the outdoors. We provide a training, design and consultancy service to the care sector seeking support on creating actively used gardens and on making changes to their care culture.

1. Encouraging residents to go outside

We often hear phrases from care staff such as “It’s hard to get residents outside because …” and, “They just don’t want to go out” or “They complain there is nothing to do” or “They say it’s too hot/cold/wet/windy etc”. The reasons for not wanting to go outside are numerous but equally we have observed the complete opposite in other care settings that engage their residents in their gardens on most days of the year, come rain or shine. These homes seem to see the garden as just another room in the care setting that they use with their residents regularly and with clear benefits and enjoyment gained by both residents, and importantly, staff too.

So how can we move towards a care environment that engages naturally and actively with the outdoors?

To ‘push’ or to ‘pull’?

If no-one is in the garden it can appear to be off limits, or look and feel unused. This alone may result in residents feeling uncomfortable in saying that they would like to go outside, no matter that the door may be unlocked or how many ‘things’ you have out there. This is a bit like the phrase of ‘taking a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’. It is always harder to push people to do something.

Instead, why not try pulling or drawing them outside to join you or others who are already out there. This could be staged (i.e. laying a table with a table cloth and cups and saucers to suggest that a tea party will be taking place) or incorporated into existing work routines by staff simply stepping outside more often.

‘Activity breeds activity’ is one of the observations we made during our research. People are naturally curious and will be drawn towards activity, particularly beyond the windows into the garden.

Activity audit

Another useful starting point is to review all your current activities, both the fun stuff and the everyday tasks you have to carry out and identify which of these could be carried out as easily outside. Do your activity programmes regularly include an outside focused event or two? Would it need much, or anything in the way of extra considerations to carry out the everyday things you already do outside? Sense checking your regular programmes to ensure you have included the outside world also keeps the garden in mind, and the world beyond, as a freely available and ever changing resource on your doorstep, quite literally.

Start a conversation

Often when we ask people about what they do in their garden there is an immediate expectation we mean ‘what gardening related activities do you do’. In actual fact most people enjoy a far more varied range of activities outside so a good starting point is simply to begin a conversation with your residents about what they did in their garden and what they enjoy doing outside. For some this will be gardening but for a large number it may be more about just sitting with a cup of tea, taking a walk and most importantly just enjoying a breath of fresh air. This starting point may bring to light some straightforward personal activities that you could use to encourage them join you on a trip outside.

When a resident says they do not wish to go out take care to not take this as an indication that they never like to go out. Obviously do not force anyone but it may be worth checking in with them again later in the day or on a future occasion when the weather or activities may be different; try to find out more about what they used to do outside and seek to build this into a future opportunity to include them.

Keep it simple

If your setting finds it hard to step outside then begin simply. Start with the more receptive residents, perhaps by just taking a walk or sitting for a short while to have a breath of fresh air. Even a short visit can have a marked positive benefit for those who may not get outside often.

Residents are often drawn outside when they see people out there already. This is a great excuse for staff to step out and take a breath of fresh air or to do your notes outside on a nice day or have your tea break out on a bench. Asking a resident if they wish to join you in the garden as you were going outside may bring about a surprisingly positive response.

Give it a try.


Useful links

Step Change Design Care Culture Map and Handbook
Shop for Care Culture Map and Handbook

Connect with Step Change Design on Twitter Debbie Carroll @stepchgdesign

About Care Culture Map and Handbook


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