Landscape Gardens and Health Network
If the role of green space in healthcare interventions is to be taken seriously, constructive debate is essential. The Landscape, Gardens and Health Network has been formed to create an arena in which this can take place.
The debate has already begun. Since May 2014, two well-supported events have brought together a stimulating mix of gardeners, garden designers, landscape architects, academics and healthcare professionals.
One of the Network’s aims is to provide online resources that highlight the excellent research being carried out on the therapeutic significance and value of gardens and green space. In order for this to happen the Network needs to develop a more formal framework.
Founder member, gardener and landscape designer, Colin Porter, gives his view of the Network’s beginnings:
The Landscape Gardens and Health Network started life as result of a meeting of like minds in and around 2011. At this time, research had been carried out independently by Angie Butterfield, into the Gardens of the Maggie’s Centre, and by Colin Porter into the design of hospice gardens. This led to meeting other like-minded researchers at Well Being 2013 at Birmingham City University. The therapeutic value of gardens and outside space was the underlying link between us all and lengthy discussions and shared thoughts and ideas made us realise that a forum or network for people like us did not exist in the UK. The Therapeutic Landscape Network in the United States provides a well organised base for putting people in touch but there is no comparable organisation in the United Kingdom. There are numerous bodies that separately provide a voice for people working in our industry: Horticulture and Landscape. Several universities undertake research linked to the wide field of well being and nature therapy. Organisations like Thrive and the Professional Gardeners Guild support the work of gardeners and therapists. However, what we hope to provide by setting up the Network is a forum where researchers and practitioners involved in the healing environment can be brought together to share a closer dialogue. We do not seek to do the work already being done by others but want to provide a forum that can help champion the therapeutic benefits of working with and among nature. Over the last couple of years we have been working to develop and expand our ideas and aspirations.
The Network held an initial ‘Stepping Stones’ Forum Meeting at North Devon Hospice, Barnstaple, Devon in May 2014. At this meeting short presentations were made by a broad selection of people with different interests. Speakers included Professor Liz Williamson, Jeremy Parker, Dr Angie Butterfield, Colin Porter, Dr Gursewak Aulakh, Dr Anne Stobart. From this meeting we were able to agree a way forward and a steering group was founded. The members of the steering group are: Gursewak Aulakh, landscape architect at University of Plymouth; Angie Butterfield, garden historian; Daryl Martin, sociologist at University of York; Zoe Millman, landscape researcher at Birmingham City University; and Colin Porter, landscape designer. It was agreed at this meeting that the Network is ‘ a UK initiative – we are a multidisciplinary community of gardeners, designers, landscape architects, sociologists, therapists and health care professionals. We are practitioners and academics and a key aim is to bring all those involved with the healing environment into closer dialogue. Our aim is to provide a forum and to ensure this subject is of interest to a wide range of people. We want to break down barriers and promote serious debate about the role of green space in healthcare interventions’.
The enthusiasm and commitment we received from this first meeting was very encouraging and reinforced our early hopes. Although we have little funding to achieve our broader aims of having an on-line presence, we know from first- hand experience (which in some cases is reinforced by research) that the benefits from contact with nature are profound. Despite a slightly evangelical zeal to broaden peoples understanding of these benefits we feel that this is something we should do. When we talk about it with other people that feeling is echoed and shared. When the time is right our efforts and aspirations will bear fruit.
Our first meeting was followed by a one day seminar Nature and Wellbeing’ in February 2015 at the Penny Brohn Cancer Care Centre in Bristol where the 5 acre garden is central to the therapeutic and healing work they do there. The event was hosted by Michael Connors, Director of Services at Penny Brohn and Colin Porter. It was attended by 31 people including landscape architects, designers, gardeners, writers, researchers and health care professionals. Speakers included Kathryn Aalto, Jeremy Parker, Angie Butterfield, Juliet Sargeant, Stephen Pettet-Smith, Liz Williamson and Sara Miller.
We are now at the point where we have a core of support that is willing to help with developing the Network. We have funding applications ready to process and are working to set up a committee and bank account. We do need more help to set up the committee and to have a working group to help develop the web site, please do help if you can. We welcome enquiries from people who want to hear more or be on our database. This is a small and new organisation but one with a big and generous heart, which is as it should be. With the breadth and depth of support and interest we already have we have a lot to offer and a lot to share.