Public Health Articles

A sense of peace and inspiration in Horatio’s garden

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More Human Habitat

Horatio’s Garden is a national charity improving the lives of people affected by spinal injury through creating and nurturing beautiful gardens in NHS spinal injury centres. We grow thriving communities to support patients and their loved ones who are facing long stays in NHS hospitals. Our mission is to bring a Horatio’s Garden to all the UK’s spinal injury centres and trail blaze the benefits of gardens in healthcare.

The beautiful accessible gardens, all with integral garden rooms, are designed by leading garden designers and architects specifically to ]improve people’s physical and psychological health as they adjust to, or care for someone with, life-changing injuries. Each Horatio’s Garden is tended by a team of volunteers, who are led by a trained Head Gardener, employed by the charity. The design emphasis is to create a sanctuary which is the antithesis of the clinical hospital environment, a safe and subtly accessible space, so people are not reminded of their new disability and can enjoy the garden independently.

Once the gardens have been built, therapeutic activities are organised by the charity to complement the clinical care provided by the spinal centres’ NHS teams. Garden therapy, arts and crafts, artists in residence, mindfulness, yoga and live music, are some of the many sessions organised, in collaboration with the therapists. Seasonal social events are also arranged for patients and their families which help with the adaptation of the whole family to the traumatic injury. The garden sanctuaries also offer NHS staff a respite from the pressures of working on the wards.

“Gardens are not just a pretty addition – they should be a vital part of healthcare design.”

I founded the charity in 2011 and it’s named after my eldest son Horatio, who wanted to be a doctor and volunteered at the spinal injury centre in Salisbury where my husband, David is a consultant spinal surgeon. It was Horatio’s idea to create a garden for patients and he conducted research which shaped the charity’s aims. Horatio’s life was cut short at 17 when on an expedition to Svalbard, his camp was attacked by a polar bear. Through the grief and terrible sadness we experienced, setting up and growing the charity has given us hope and a positive way improve lives, on Horatio’s behalf.

Our work is evidence-based. The King’s Fund Report in 2016 into Gardens and Health cited Horatio’s Garden as an example and concluded that there is overwhelming evidence for the benefits to health to have gardens in all institutions. The charity’s patient annual audit data shows the projects’ profound impact on wellbeing, mood, sleep, physical rehabilitation and this year, coping with the impact of covid for patients, their families and the NHS staff.

Annually, 2500 people in the UK experience spinal cord injury and there are 50,000 people living with the effect of this life-changing injury in the country. The UK has 11 regional spinal injury centres, so patients are often far from home and family while they spend months in NHS hospitals learning to live with paralysis and planning their changed futures. Adjusting in the confines of a hospital ward while sharing your room with several other strangers, with artificial lighting and little respite from the sounds and smells of the medical environment just adds to the challenges.

There are now five Horatio’s Garden projects established in Salisbury, Glasgow, Stoke Mandeville, Oswestry and London, one being built in Cardiff and the next in development in Belfast. Further projects will be in Sheffield, Wakefield, Middlesbrough and Southport. The charity does not receive statutory funding and relies totally on donations from kind individuals, charitable foundations and businesses for support.

Having seen first-hand the impact of bringing back gardens into the heart of our hospitals, I believe passionately that gardens should become the norm in all healthcare settings. Gardens are not just a pretty addition – they should be a vital part of healthcare design. Natural sanctuaries add phenomenal value to any care setting both in their multifactorial physical impact, mental health benefits and as social spaces. Covid has magnified this – being outside is safer with reduced infection transmission and it makes no sense to eliminate it from our built healthcare settings.

My sincere hope is that the positive legacy of the pandemic will bring about change within the NHS and skew the emphasis in design to bring nature close to people in times of stress and illness. There is a vast untapped potential to improve the environments where we care for our most vulnerable members of our society. Let’s hope that we can seize the opportunity.

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