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Community / Plans to develop interactive sensory garden for people with additional support needs

People and businesses are encouraged to offer time and help to get garden up to speed

Newcragielea senior social care workers Val Farnworth (left) and Lynne Peart (right). Photo: Shetland News

AN “UNLOVED” outdoor space next to the Newcraigielea care centre in Lerwick is set for a new lease of life as a sensory garden.

A total of £8,000 has been secured by the Newcraigielea team from an internal council fund for the project.

And the folk behind the plans are looking for help from volunteers to get things going – from gardening or labouring to donating items like plants, paint or garden furniture.

Any interested local businesses are also invited to donate items which could benefit the garden.

The project has been something of a labour of love for senior social care worker Val Farnworth at Newcraigielea, which is a council run respite unit for adults with learning difficulties.

She said the hope is, however, that the sensory garden would be used by all individuals of all ages with ASN, profound and complex needs and autism in Shetland – not just the 40 service users of Newcraigielea.

At the moment the space, although purpose-built, is fairly basic and is rarely used.

But with the addition of new sensory boards, extra plants, a sheltered area and a barbecue spot, the aim is to create a “therapeutic place to come and learn new skills”.

The early stages of the garden development.

Farnworth said this would include sowing seeds, to look after plants, “to smell and touch, to sit and simply chill out, reducing stress and contributing to physical and mental wellbeing”.

She said that during lockdown restrictions, these individuals were unable to spend “much needed time” outdoors in a safe and stimulating environment.

One aim of the project is to “bring together a group of volunteers, key stakeholders and local interested individuals to form a working group to determine how the garden will be managed, planned and sustained”, Farnworth said.

Prior to lockdown service users were asked what they would like to see in the garden, with many sharing a desire for a sheltered area which would allow people to explore and interact.

Some plants and slabs will be reused from the old Anderson High School, while there are some plants and soil repurposed from the former Olnafirth Primary.

There are also hopes to one day install a Polycrub on a section of land next to the garden, and for the produce to be sold.

For now, though, Farnworth is keen to have extra hands to help, be it through pulling up the sleeves and getting stuck in, or through donations.

“We need manpower, we need volunteers, even if they have just a few hours to spare occasionally,” she said.

Anyone interested in helping out is asked to get in touch with Val Farnworth at Newcraigielea on 01595 744463.

Funding for the garden came through Shetland Islands Council’s Lens project, which encourages staff members to develop ideas and pitch them for grants.