A woodland in the Highlands is the first in the country to become Dementia Friendly. Scotland’s walking charity, Paths for All, has helped Evanton Community Woodland to become accessible for people living with dementia.

Thanks to £6,000 funding from the Life Changes Trust, Robertson Trust and The William Grant Foundation the area around the woodland cabin has been resurfaced to make it easier to walk around and new dementia friendly signage has been installed on the compost toilet and outdoor sink.

Other changes include areas around benches being made wheelchair accessible to encourage conversations and activities as well as new a woodland sign and staff and volunteer uniforms to make them easily recognisable as the person to approach to ask for assistance.

Image of walkers in woodland Paths for All - walkers in Evanton woodland

Paths for All identified several ways in which Evanton Community Woodland could be made more accessible for everyone by holding discussions with people living with dementia, carers, local Health Walking group Step It Up Highland and local community consultations.

There are many barriers for someone living with dementia when visiting the outdoors, including a lack of information about accessible outdoor spaces, the services available - for example, parking, paths, terrain, and toilets.

Levels of fitness required and costs - for example when paying for parking - safety concerns and transport issues can also be obstacles for those living with dementia.

People living with dementia benefit from being outdoors and in contact with nature as it can help to relieve stress, increase self-esteem, produce vitamin D, and exercises the brain, helping with memory and cognitive functioning.

Even 10 to 15 minutes of daily walking outdoors can improve the overall wellbeing of anyone living with dementia. Physical activity can bring many benefits, such as improved: sleep; physical fitness; confidence; mood; and self-esteem. Being active can help improve memory and slow down mental decline as well as reduce the risk of osteoporosis and stroke.

“The partnership with Paths for All has enabled Evanton wood to build on its work supporting those with a dementia diagnosis. This work aims to provide regular woodland experiences, offering a variety of engaging activities, to those who might otherwise be unable to take part. By consulting those who have been touched by dementia, we have been able to highlight, then address, the issues that are seen as major barriers to visiting the woods. We are hoping now to keep the momentum going and look at the next phases of work we can do to further support these visits.”

Simon Harry, Evanton Community Woodland Officer

The project received £6,000 funding from the Life Changes Trust, Robertson Trust and The William Grant Foundation and support from Paths for All.

Paths for All have produced a Dementia and the Outdoors Guidance Note to help improve the accessibility of the outdoors. It looks at consultation, signage, wayfinding, audit tools, sensory considerations and how to consult about improvements with people living with dementia. It is available on the Paths for All website: https://www.pathsforall.org.uk/mediaLibrary/other/english/73329.pdf

More information on the woodland here: https://www.evantonwood.com/  https://www.pathsforall.org.uk/news/news-post/scotlands-first-dementia-friendly-woodland