Our Creative Approach is about giving opportunities for creative expression and ‘cultural space’. For many people, the young, the old and those with social care needs, it is in fact their physical needs that primarily are being met. We believe that their personal rights to experience and express their feelings and to voice their opinion about things are often not adequately recognised. These aspects of social life are essential to a sense of social inclusion, for psychological well-being, for active citizenship and for quality of life. A lot of our work involves stories….

‘Storying’ – the creation of narratives – is an indispensible aspect of human existence. More than anything else, it is what defines us as human.

  • It is how we know who we are – that most fundamental need humans have – for in telling stories about ourselves to others, we also reveal ourselves to ourselves.
  • They connect our inner world to the world outside….
  • Storying allows us to organise momentary experience into a series of memories, like a film that we edit from our many life experiences. Most will be discarded, like the film-editor’s excess footage left on the cutting room floor). Our identity is rooted in this selective memory.
  • Evolutionarily, making up stories allowed us to predict a future: ‘what grows where, when’; ‘where is that animal, whose tracks and signs I am reading, likely to be now?’. Storying allows us to have hope, expectation and to organise our actions.

Personal stories, in the telling,validate and affirm the teller. After all, everyone is an expert on his or her own life! More than that, in the re-telling, they offer the opportunity for re-evaluation, and for revitalizing personal values.

Storytelling and drama both create a ‘third space’ in addition to our inner world and the ‘real’ world out there, with its sometimes-pressing problems. Here there is the freedom to explore: to play, seriously, with different realities and try them on for size; to learn, vicariously through the stories of others, of other points of view, and about aspects of the world we ourselves do not directly experience.

One of drama’s defining characteristics is its use of story as a framework within which we can examine the human condition. The fiction is a safe, bounded space in which to view different ways of being, different selves, to research different realities or imagine different outcomes. Devised drama is where hypotheses can be generated and tested. Performance is where the fruits of that research can be represented. Moreover, theatre, unlike other art forms, is a sociallaboratory.

Re-storying dementia. Personal rights, mentioned at the head of this page, further include the right to be treated with respect, and the right to feel good about yourself. How does this fit with how we normally view dementia and memory loss – especially as we have already said that identity is so tied up with memory in this culture?There is no doubt that a diagnosis of dementia can be devastating, but we do not need to add insult to injury, feeding the stereotypes in popular culture and the fear of ‘identity-loss’. In fact one’s sense of self is greater than the sum of one’s memories. In fact, people living with dementia can have a strong sense of purpose – they need it. In fact, people who happen to have dementia can teach others, young people in particular perhaps, what is important in life! And people with dementia are equally able to live a life of the imagination.

That element of the mind that persists even if memory is fading. In this there are stories of hope – and grace – and enjoyment; even, dare we say it, humour! It is true that imagination and memory are inextricably linked, but storytelling and drama can reach the level of ‘deep story’, drawing on and drawing out cultural archetypes and body-memory. This implicit or subconscious memory is beyond conscious recall, yet the emotional body responds. Drama and physical theatre may be one of the few ways of accessing the fundamental stories that form this foundation of self, which are so deeply embedded in our consciousness that they are not easily told or, often, explicitly understood, invisible as the air we breathe: national or ethnic or class identity stories, the unspoken identity of our family, social behaviour patterns that we absorb from society – ‘the whispered voice of mother culture’. Here, we may be working at the deepest level of artistic and spiritual experience.

Working with the imagination, and creative expression, can have the powerful effect of pulling even those with an advanced dementia out of isolation and back into social contact. It facilitates the making of meaningful connections with each other, their carers, and their families.

We believe Creative Engagement goes well in combination with our Ecotherapy approach.


‘Ecotherapy’ is an umbrella term for a range of approaches and interventions that include Social and Therapeutic Horticulture, and others such as wilderness therapy and Outward Bound experience. All use what are termed ‘restorative environments’.

‘There are some common benefits associated with ecotherapy and its combination of outdoor activity and nature. People have reported that it has:

  • Reduced their stress levels;
  • Reduced their depression;
  • Improved their self-esteem;
  • Given them the opportunity to meet different people;
  • Provided varied and interesting activities to get involved with;
  • Helped them learn new skills and so boosted their confidence;
  • Improved their mental health without focusing on it;
  • Built up their resilience;
  • Gently boosted their level of physical activity;
  • Allowed them to positively contribute towards the environment;
  • Been really enjoyable and fun.’

‘Being able to connect with nature has positive mental health benefits. And it has been shown that being more active in green environments can boost your mood and self-esteem far more than simply exercising.’[1]

Studies carried out on participants in wilderness programmes suggest that the most important and valued element is the enjoyment of nature and its beauty. The use of specialist skills and the confrontation of hazards and hardships are of much lesser importance! Experience of the natural environment in general, and of horticulture in particular, has been shown to reduce aggression.

 Many of the activities and tasks associated with horticulture and gardening are not complex and can be learned and carried out by people with learning disabilities, both for the development of practical and social skills and also with a view to their possible future employment. Their feeling of value and worth increases, in that they consider themselves more desirable than before as individuals…. It is therefore a form of success therapy! Moreover, adults with learning difficulties can contribute successfully to the horticulture industry.  In general the attitude of employers is positive; although productivity may be lower than that of other workers, they are better and more reliable at certain jobs, and able to demonstrate ‘good work habits’.

Participation in horticulture can provide the training and skills for outside employment for other, particular groups where employment is a significant issue, for example those with mental health problems and ex-offenders. The project may itself provide the employment; or it may provide structured work which is unpaid but serves as a substitute for paid employment. In each case the programmes help to provide the benefits associated with work.’

The benefit of physical activity for those in Later Life is well documented. In addition, even after adjustment for age, baseline cognitive performance, physical capability, and occupational activities, the risk of dementia for older subjects who travel, do odd jobs, knit or garden is about half that of subjects who did not participate in these activities. Reading, watching television, playing parlour games, associating with others, child-care and visiting friends or family does not lower the risk of developing dementia….

Horticultural activities can improve physical and mental functions of people with dementia, often allowing them to perform at their highest ability. For those with early-stage dementia, optimal function and esteem-building are the goals of rehabilitation; for those with of late stage dementia, sensory stimulation, awareness outside of self, and bringing pleasure to the patient become the goals intervention. There is evidence that visits to gardens reduce wandering, pacing and trespassing behaviour

Hands-On Horticulture also wants to provide for carers, both for respite and carers meeting together, and, also, using horticulture to enrich the relationship between carer and spouse, or cared-for. Of course this need to not involve gardening, but simply, perhaps, the enjoyment of gardens landscaped for peace of mind. Similarly, gardening and gardens can provide a degree of comfort to those with conditions, and ‘take one’s mind off’ the painful thoughts that may accompany reflection just enough to allow some measure of peace, ease, acceptance and healing.

Danu Blue Natural Healing cic is committed to monitoring and researching all these beneficial outcomes of Hands-On Horticulture, including where possible cost-benefit analyses. (In one of the few such studies, published in 2003, a Sheltered Work Opportunities Project (SWOP) for people with mental health problems, based at a nursery on the south coast of England, while still partially dependent on donations, was estimated to have saved on hospital admission costs, from participants spending considerably less time in hospital (86% less), £2.75 million over ten years.

However, the power of Social and Therapeutic Horticulture draws on a universal appeal and meaning in growing food, and in working with the soil and life processes. Gardening produces benefits in the perceived quality of life, in perceived general well-being, as well as in psychological well-being. In addition, the understanding that comes from appreciation of the organic principles of gardening, and ecological concepts, is much needed in the world at large, not forgetting gardening as spiritual healing, perhaps providing a long-lost sense spirituality.

We believe Ecotherapy in general, and Social and Therapeutic Horticulture in particular, goes together well in combination with our Creative Engagement approach.


[1] Making Sense of Ecotherapy, published by Mind, the mental health charity, in 2013