The memory seekers in Lowestoft
TO most of us it may look like a typical seaside scene.
But a small plot in a quiet corner of Lowestoft – complete with a gate, calves, a sheep, a woodland area and even a Mediterranean garden – is helping people with dementia to rediscover their 'lost' memories.
And even more remarkably, the three green-fingered volunteers who help keep it in tip-top condition suffer from dementia themselves.
This week, the 'brave' efforts of three men who gave up their own time to help transform the Lifetime Garden project, at Carlton Court Hospital, were recognised after being put forward for Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust's annual awards.
The 'stand out' efforts of Malcolm Newson, 64, from Wrentham, and Beccles men Clifford Cook, 69, and John Batt, 75, earned them nominations in two categories: success in partnership working, and outstanding community contribution to the trust.
The men, who regularly tend to the garden and volunteer at the hospital, said they were 'very proud' to be nominated.
'I was first diagnosed with dementia when I was 58 and it felt as though my world was coming to an end,' Mr Newson said.
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'Now though, I look forward to coming here.'
Mr Cook, who was diagnosed in 2006, added: 'It hits you when you least expect it. But it really does help coming here, meeting other people.'
Mr Batt was in hospital at Carlton Court for six weeks in 2007 when he 'found out'. 'I did not know what it was – and nor do your family,' he said.'People think you have lost your mind.'
The garden has particularly helped people with dementia, as it allows their carers and Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Trust volunteers to stir their senses and evoke special, past experiences.
The project, which is run under the auspices of the Friends of Carlton Court, started in 2007 and since then new creations have popped up in the garden to help trigger outdoor memories for people with dementia.
Having volunteered for the project and become actively involved in dementia training, the men have even passed on their experiences on a trust DVD.
'It feels as though you're wanted,' Mr Cook added. 'It really helps us a lot to be able to talk about living with dementia.'
Trust employee Mary Aldridge, one of the workers to nominate the men, said: 'The garden is very therapeutic, and very relaxing in the summer time and these brave gentlemen have joined the dementia training team at a variety of events over the past year.'
The trio were even invited to make key speeches in front of 300 people at an event at the John Innes Centre, near Norwich. 'It was very moving and you could hear a pin drop in the room – as these were first-hand experiences of what it is like to live with dementia,' Mary Aldridge said.
'The very personal experiences they've faced and challenges in their life, show they are very brave and they are not suffering with dementia – they are living with it.'
The Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust awards cover 10 categories and are sponsored by a number of organisations.
To make a nomination, visit www.nwmhft.nhs.uk or ring 01603 421516 and request a postal nomination. Nominations close on January 31.