Our outdoor “sensory room”

sunshine on our garden hedge

We’re lucky enough to have an indoor sensory room at “The Den”, our base in central Hexham, but as the weather warms up we’re appreciating our outdoor space too. Our woodland in particular, on a bright Spring day, has birdsong, light flickering through the trees, a sparkling stream to splash in, snowdrops to pick , and a gentle breeze-certainly enough to soothe the senses.

wallflowers in the garden

One of our Gateway family spends a couple of hours there each week – at first glance perhaps it’s not obvious how much the sensory experience calms and soothes. Other days in the week provide challenge, variety, but a regular slot outdoors anchors the week. We try to give all our Gateway family as much choice as possible, and in this case the firm choice is to be outdoors all year round, in all weathers!

This week, another of our Gateway family, discombobulated by one of those days where nothing goes to plan, came to enjoy a quick half hour in the woods. For some, life has so many difficulties and challenges that a sudden upheaval can be just too much, and time out in Nature can really help.

For the rest of our family, we’re busy drawing up a list of “101 Things to do at Gateway into Nature” to share all our ideas and to help make our outdoor space available to all. After lockdowns and a long Winter, we all need a bit of encouragement to get off the sofa! We’ll tell you more of what we have been up to in future posts.

Beer, recycling and the environment

We are delighted to be teaming up with Nicola and Tom of local microbrewery Muckle Brewing to recycle their spent hops in our Gateway garden.

Like Gateway into Nature, Muckle brewing is fairly new – they started up in 2016 in Tom and Nicola’s garden and make small batches of beer by hand which they sell at farmers markets, directly to their customers. They share a lot of our values and care very much about the environment, re-use and recycle wherever they can, keeping a careful eye on every step of their brewing process. They also keep their “beer miles” to a minimum, using as little transport as possible. It was really important to all of us that we could get the hops to our garden without any extra journeys – and this is what we have done.

Nicola has visited the garden, to see exactly what will happen to the hops, how we will compost them, what they will help us to grow. She was shown round by members of our Gateway family – although so much of what we do is about fun and relaxation, friendships and community, we also take our commitment to the environment very seriously. We are always looking for ways to do that bit more – to learn from others, look for new ideas, and to share those ideas with our whole Gateway family.

Our hope is eventually that we will be able to produce all the compost that we need, and this is a really exciting step in the right direction for us.

Our Green Gym!

The snowdrops in our woodland area are inspiring our artists and encouraging us all to go for a walk

Our Gateway garden and surrounding area is relatively new to us. It’s not yet a year since we started using our outdoor space. Our Garden Clubs are even more recent, having started a few months ago when funding became available, and we’re gradually working out what works best for us, what our Gateway family need and want. Some lovely friendships are forming in these groups and people are working out what they enjoy most – growing vegetables or flowers, digging, walking, feeding the hens.

What we hadn’t anticipated was how much our Gateway family would enjoy the hard physical exercise that can be part of time spent outdoors. If you have difficulties to overcome, sometimes the easier option is to choose a sedentary activity-avoid the worry that you might hurt yourself. With close supervision, and a choice of activities, we’ve found that digging, carrying trugs of compost, sawing wood, hedge trimming and walking are surprisingly popular. In fact this week, with the temperature down at a chilly 4c and a steady wind, we had no complaints at all in our garden club. Everyone was happy, busy, productive and smiling. Some of our hens had escaped and needed rounding up, a new border needed filling with compost, and the old compost heap needed dismantling. We headed indoors for a hot drink after a busy and productive hour outside.

Fresh air and exercise is good for us all, working is good for us. We didn’t set out with a list of targets, a set of boxes to tick, but we had teamwork, problem-solving, planning, writing-we thought about healthy living, and probably most importantly of all, we had a really good laugh.

Working with Others

Our 9 lovely ladies all have a leg tag, so that we know who is who, who is up to mischief and who is busy laying an egg
We’ve had a beautifully mild January which has allowed us to get a lot of jobs done in the Garden

At Gateway we aim to be outward looking, interested in what is going on locally, part of the wider community. We value outside influences and enjoy developing close working relationships with the other organisations who support our Gateway family. Together is better for us all.

At the garden we have 2 volunteers, Milly and John, who support our garden clubs. Milly has a degree in English Literature, and has just started studying for an RHS qualification. She’s interested in the environment and sustainability and studied photography while at school. She often brings her rather ancient but very charming Labradoodle, Maisie, to the garden. At home she is learning to garden in a small space, making the most of her back yard.

John is a hugely experienced and knowledgeable gardener who has worked with the Tynedale Horticultural Service, and who currently works as a volunteer for the National Trust garden at Wallington Hall. He’s recently helped us develop a composting area, and to plant 4 beautiful David Austen roses. As well as his knowledge, we all appreciate his friendly support and gentle humour.

We also regularly work with support staff from organisations such as Natural Ability, or Mencap, who accompany some of our Gateway family to garden clubs. This extra support allows us to provide a higher level of care, and helps link the garden to other areas of people’s lives, supporting friendships and building our community.

Back at “The Den”, our main base in Hexham, we are always thinking of ways to use our outdoor space to benefit more of our Gateway family- there’ll be more about how we link the garden and the Den in future blogs.

Gardening is good for us

Tim loves a bonfire, and time in the woodland collecting sticks, followed by a cup of tea in the shed.

I think we all feel instinctively that time spent in nature – whether it’s gardening, walking, or just relaxing – is time well spent. As an organisation supporting more than 200 people, we need a bit more though, we need to know that what we are doing is worthwhile, valuable and valued.

Sue Stuart-Smith, a highly respected psychiatrist and psychotherapist has recently written a book, “The Well Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature” which explores the evidence, and shows that science is firmly on our side. Time in Nature is good for us all.

As a small organisation (we have around 25 support staff, many working part-time) we are able to have a flexible and individual approach to care. Some of our Gateway family use the garden and surrounding woodland regularly, with a one-to-one supported session in their weekly timetable, or attend a weekly garden club. Others dip in and out. Our staff work very closely together, based in one building, so those involved in management and organising are in daily contact with our Gateway family. Decisions are made quickly, plans constantly tweaked. If someone needs the breathing space that the garden provides, they get it. There is no sense though that the garden is only for those with a medical need, it’s very much there for us all and we work hard to make sure that everyone feels they are part of it. We link it to Art and cooking back at the Den for example, we pop down for a quick half an hour if that is what works. The focus is always on what we can offer our Gateway family, not how we can fit them in to our timetable.

There’ll be more about all of this in future posts

Garden club

One of our first garden clubs of 2022! 3 degrees, digging, moving compost, marshmallows by the fire…..

We run 3 garden clubs a week, almost always in our beautiful walled garden, occasionally in the Den if the weather is truly against us.

This year our focus is on growing and sustainability. We’ve planted fruit bushes and are busy preparing our vegetable planters. We hope to have lots of fresh herbs, edible flowers, fruits and vegetables to inspire healthy living. Our hens are still laying some eggs as well as entertaining us. We collect waste food scraps for them, use our shredded office paper for their bedding and recycle it through our compost heap.

Although we do a lot of gardening we’re quite relaxed, horticulturally lax, easily distracted by a beautiful walk by the river or the chance of a longer tea break in the sun. We want our Gateway family to be robust and resilient, out in all weathers working hard, but we also want plenty time for making new friends and connections.

We welcome staff from other organisations to our garden clubs to support our Gateway family – these extra links and working relationships are important to us. We learn from each other and provide a better service together.

We are also lucky enough to have 2 wonderful garden volunteers – more about them in a future post

Welcome to our blog

Welcome to Gateway into Nature!

We are part of a small charity, Gateway into the Community, based in Hexham, Northumberland. Established in 1998, Gateway into the Community provides support to people with learning disabilities- around a year ago we were lucky enough to gain access to a small walled garden on a farm just outside of Hexham. This is where Gateway into Nature began, and this blog is to give an idea of what we are doing there, what we hope to do, our values and influences-and most importantly, to get a little glimpse of the fun we have!

We have so much to offer our Gateway family, and it’s really important to us that everyone feels welcome in the garden- time outdoors in Nature is good for us all, so working in the garden is only a small part of what goes on. We prioritise building friendships over perfect borders-our tulips will never be colour-coordinated, and very often we may just choose to have a picnic or get the camera out rather than do the weeding!

Any of our Gateway family can pop down during the week to walk by the river, pick some flowers or veg, see the farm animals, collect eggs and feed the hens, or just to have a bit of a de-stress. We quite often find that people stay longer than planned. Being a small organisation offering a very bespoke service, we can spend time finding what someone is interested in and support them to do something rewarding. Our Gateway family are getting stuck in digging, planting, clipping, cleaning out hens or picking dahlias, but most importantly they’re doing what they’ve chosen to do. And doing, rather than watching, making mistakes, getting dirty hands and trousers, and having fun is what Gateway is all about.

Last winter. Since then we have set up 6 beautiful raised planters, with gravel paths to make the vegetable area accessible to all. This was thanks to very generous funding from local businesses -more about that in a future blog.
We have a very beautiful, slightly tumbledown garden loo which we hope to renovate into a quiet area in the future.

Over the next few weeks we’ll share a little of what has been going on. If you are one of our generous funders, part of our wider Gateway family, or just someone who is interested, we hope you will enjoy a little peek into Gateway into Nature.