Could you help us fully update our Adult Inpatient Unit garden and give the gift of fresh air, nature and sunshine to our patients and their families?
Many of our patients are very poorly when they are referred to our Inpatient Unit. Many are unable to leave their beds and those who can often need a wheelchair to move about. Prior to admission, most patients have either spent time in hospital or have been largely confined to their own home. Their opportunities to spend time outdoors, or even to look out into a garden, have been limited.
I have always thought one of the key differences between St Oswald’s and a hospital setting is our beautiful grounds. Each patient bedroom has doors that open up directly onto the garden, but in recent months, we’ve had to greatly restrict access to patients and visitors. This is because over time, despite the best efforts of our volunteer gardeners, the gardens no longer meet the ever-changing needs of our patients. Many of the paths through the gardens are not wide enough for wheelchairs and our wooden pagoda, a once beautiful centrepiece, is no longer safe to use. We have many young visitors to our Inpatient Unit so we have had to cordon off the pond for safety as there are currently no barriers around it. We know that being able to go outdoors can positively affect a person’s wellbeing. We are determined to make the gardens accessible to all patients, if they wish to do so and at the very least, give them a beautiful view from their bedroom window.
Our Adult Inpatient Unit has 15 beds and last year, the average length of a stay was 23 days. Our patient bedrooms are cosy and comfortable but no matter how homely the team make them, they are no substitute for being able to feel fresh air on your face, smell the scent of flowers and hear the birds sing.
We serve a large geographical area with patients travelling long distances to our unit. Family visits tend to last for a long time as it is difficult to ‘pop’ in and out if home is more than an hour’s drive or bus trip away. Our bedrooms, though large, can become claustrophobic: emotions are heightened and sometimes you simply need to be able to take some time out to talk, to cry or just to be alone with your thoughts. In recent years we have noted an increase in referrals for younger patients with small children who can understandably become bored and fidgety when confined to one room. Access to an outdoor space – and a change of scenery – can lift everyone’s spirits.
One of the memories that really sticks with me from my time here is a young man with a brain tumour who was unable to walk or communicate verbally. He had a wife and four young children. One summer afternoon shortly before he died, the family spent time in the Inpatient garden, on the pagoda in the sunshine and requested that I took a photo of them all together. This was probably the last photo they had taken as a family. They told me that being there surrounded by the water reminded them of being on holiday. It was such a special moment.
Linda and I were married for 44 years. Linda wasn’t just a wife, she was a pal and my soulmate. After spending seven weeks in hospital, Linda was referred to the Hospice.
I remember vividly when I first came to St Oswald’s, I visited their chapel and it was like walking in to heaven. It was the tranquillity we appreciated, after being in a hospital for so long.
That first day, I just walked around the garden, appreciating the quietness. I felt at peace for the first time in as long as I could remember, just sat there on the seat with my thoughts.
Being outside in the fresh air gave me an escape from the routine we had become used to. I appreciated little things, like the colours of the flowers and the sound from the pond. Despite the garden being so close to a main road and the hustle and bustle of daily life, I felt really relaxed spending time there.
Before Linda came to the Hospice she was very agitated, but this subsided when she came to St Oswald’s. The nurses were gentle and the care was brilliant. It was also great that, unlike at hospital, the family could visit and spend as much time with Linda as we wanted. It made such a difference to me, at a difficult time, to have the gardens, where I could spend time gathering my thoughts and emotions before joining Linda in her room. Even when she died, Linda looked so at peace.
Accessibility is key for this type of garden. It must be practical and functional but also inspiring, relaxing and generally a lovely place to spend time.I would like to see the pond to continue to be a focal point with some lovely outdoor seating where families of all ages can spend time together. I want to encourage wildlife to the garden or patients to enjoy outside or watch through their windows. Paths will be widened and resurfaced to improve access and lighting is a huge factor to consider. I need to think about how the garden is going to look after dark because if a patient’s sleep pattern is disturbed and they have the curtains drawn back, we want there to be things for them to look at. British weather is temperamental so I’m really keen this garden can be enjoyed all year round. Sheltered seating areas and little garden pods for contemplation and reflection will offer private, comfortable space whatever the weather. The garden will be designed with the patients’ needs at the very centre and I am excited about helping St Oswald’s to make it a reality.