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Research and Projects

'My Nature' - Supporting healthcare professionals to improve older people’s sensory experiences of the natural world

Theme: CLAHRC - Mental Health & Dementia
Status: Live

‘My Nature’ was a collaborative project with the Sensory Trust which aimed to enhance the quality of life for older people living in residential/nursing care by developing a toolkit for staff to help residents engage with nature.


A systematic review carried out by the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH), in collaboration with the Sensory Trust and PenCLAHRC, and published in BMC Geriatrics, found that older people derive considerable pleasure and enjoyment from viewing, being and doing in nature. Their sensory experiences in nature can have a positive impact on their wellbeing and quality of life, through helping them feel part of ordinary life and connected to the wider world.

Additional research by PenCLAHRC's Evidence Synthesis Team suggested that gardens in care homes may have a positive impact on the wellbeing of residents with dementia. Evidence showed gardens could improve social contact, with friends and family valuing them as a less institutional setting for visits, stimulating conversation and reconnecting people with memories. Staff reported gardens relaxed residents, reduced agitation and helping them remember skills and habits that brought enjoyment in the past.

However, for older people living in care homes, there are a number of barriers that can prevent them from engaging with the natural environment. These include sensory impairments, poor physical and mental health, weather conditions, lack of staff time to supervise, and lack of staff confidence or knowledge to implement nature-based activities for residents.

Project aims

Caring for older people in the residential/nursing care sector is a very demanding and complex task, as many care home residents have high levels of dependency, cognitive impairment and multiple health problems. The development of My Nature was to provide staff with an opportunity to develop their skills and enhance their job satisfaction, as well as benefitting the care home residents.

Funded by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, this project built on the findings of the systematic reviews and previous ESRC-funded research, to develop 'My Nature: A Training Toolkit' to help staff in the residential/nursing care sector deliver nature-based activities.

PenCLAHRC and ECEHH collaborated with the Sensory Trust to develop the toolkit. The Sensory Trust’s primary mission is to make outdoor places and the natural environment more accessible and attractive, bringing social, health and wellbeing benefits to people whose lives are affected by social exclusion.

Project activity

1. The toolkit comprises of three components:

  • Evidence booklets: Book One contains detailed research evidence to show how nature improves health and wellbeing and Book Two contains the main points from the research evidence plus eight nature-based activities putting the evidence into practice.

  • Nature-based activities: details on ‘how to do’ the activities, which are designed for residents with a range of interest and ability and are named Nature Palettes, Nature Mapping, Hey Pesto!, Tea Tasting, Painting by Nature, Birds’ Nests and Nature Spotting (spotter cards for birds, butterflies and bugs).

  • Wall chart: a visual ‘go to’ guide with information on timings, benefits, sensory engagement and related interests/hobbies to help staff find appropriate activities for individuals.

2. The toolkit was piloted in two care homes in Cornwall for one month. At the start of the pilot, two workshops were held at each care home. These were led by Sensory Trust and demonstrated the nature-based activities accompanied by an explanation of how the activities reflected the evidence.

3. The piloting of the toolkit was evaluated: we conducted four two-hour observation sessions, collecting data on how My Nature activities were used with residents. We also carried out seven interviews, involving the owner of one of the care homes and two mangers at the other, as well as the activities coordinators, a gardener and care staff. 


More information on My Nature: A Training Toolkit can be found here.

Related projects


Orr, N., Wagstaffe, A., Briscoe, S. & Garside, R. (2016) How do older people describe their sensory experiences of the natural world? A systematic review of the qualitative evidence. BMC Geriatrics 16: 116

Brewin, W., Orr, N. & Garside, R. (2018) ‘My Nature – an effective tool for residential care. Journal of Dementia Care 26(5): 18-21.

Conference presentation

Brewin, W. & Orr, N. (November 2017) My Nature: a training toolkit enhancing residential living. UK Dementia Congress, Doncaster Racecourse, Doncaster, UK.

Brewin, W. & Orr, N.(December 2018) My Nature: Top tips for happy staff, happy residents and happy homes. Devon Care Kite Mark Jamboree. 


Dr Kath Maguire
The Sensory Trust:

Wendy Brewin - Creative Spaces Project Manager
Vicky Hutchinson - Development Manager
Stuart Spurring - Assistant Director