A Swansea care home is transforming a piece of waste ground into a nine-acre nature park.
The £100,000 project at Hengoed Court & Hengoed Park Care Home, a member of the Care Forum Wales organisation, has been inspired by the memories of elderly residents feeding the ducks during childhood.
The nature park includes a fish-filled lake, woodland area, wildflower garden, picnic area and viewing platforms enabling visitors and residents to enjoy uninterrupted views of their new wildlife haven.
The care homes sit next to approximately nine acres of unused land which was previously used for grazing horses.
The idea was born out of conversations between elderly residents reminiscing about days spent feeding the ducks in Brynmill Park in Swansea.
Owner Desmond Davies is always looking at ways to improve quality of life for residents.
He felt it would be beneficial to develop the land for the benefit of the whole community and asked residents and families what they would most like him to do with it. A nature park was top of the list.
Landscaping work began three years ago and is now at the final stages of completion although the park will be subject to ongoing improvements in the future.
The saplings and plants are finally taking shape, producing a stunning view from the home which is expected to be awash with yellow from a sea of Daffodils in the next two months, while the park’s 40 Aylesbury ducklings and two New Zealand swans have now reached maturity allowing residents and their families to take a trip down memory lane by feeding them.
“It’s a simple philosophy - getting outside in the fresh air and feeling the elements’ produces a positive feeling,” said Tim Williams, Care Home Director.
“There’s a therapeutic effect of connecting with nature for all of us, but especially for those living with dementia.
“We wanted to create a park where people can walk around and look at the trees growing. We were fortunate enough to receive funding from the Forestry Commission to plant 3,000 saplings. It’s been a slow process but they’re now growing really well.
“It’s very much a community area open to local people, families and children. One of the main drivers for it was the conversations our residents had about Brynmill Park in Swansea.
“It’s always been a popular destination and everyone remembered spending their younger days there. We thought why not bring the park to our care home and that’s what we tried to do.”
During the development, care home staff visited a local farmers’ market where they were able to choose 20 one-week old ducklings and bring them home.
Residents were heavily involved in the rearing process – and the odd duckling or two found its way inside the care home lounge to meet their new extended family.
Now that the final touches to the park are being made ready for the summer, the care home has purchased a wheelchair adapted golf buggy to enable less mobile residents to enjoy the area – even on a rainy day.
“Getting out in the fresh air and having a place to walk and feed the ducks and tend to the flowers is really important,” said Tim.
“We’ve had a terrible winter but it hasn’t stopped us from going down to the park. Whenever we have a window of opportunity we head there and spring is just around the corner. The new golf buggy has been a brilliant addition.
“We’ve had thousands of daffodils over the last couple of years. Residents have really enjoyed the gardens.
“The trees are dormant now but we’ll soon be seeing the buds appearing on them. The park is really an avenue for us to encourage wildlife and attract birds to the area.
“We’ve done a bit of research and worked with local schools. One school’s gardening club joined us to try their skills out on a larger area than they have at the school when the trees arrived.”
The lake was built around two years ago and staff and residents had great fun watching it being filled only to discover when all the water disappeared that it had a leak.
“We had quite a journey but now it’s a lovely setting,” said Tim.
The lake is now home to 40 Aylesbury ducks – chosen specifically for their white colour so residents can see them from indoors – and two New Zealand swans which Mr Davies bought from a bird sanctuary.
“We have a couple of ladies whose job every morning is to count the ducks and make sure the fox hasn’t got to them,” he said.
“Many of our residents have looked out on the lake and seen it being built, have held the baby ducks and are now enjoying watching them grow. The residents can really take ownership of this project.
“We’ve recently built some viewing areas so the lake is accessible from every angle.”
This summer will be the first that the nature park is in full bloom with all the original amenities planned in place and care home staff are hoping residents’ families make full use of it when the warmer weather arrives.
“We understand the connection with the outdoors is so important especially for our residents who have dementia,” said Tim.
“We wanted people to have picnics and to take walks with their families. That came up in conversation at residents’ meetings. That’s where the seed was sewn.
“It’s a very large investment but the benefits far outweigh the cost and it’s very much a work in progress. It’s a large area with accessible walkways and seating areas.
“The community has become the home and the home has become the community which is a plus point. We wanted to create an area where people wanted to stay when they visited their loved one. It’s been a real benefit to the home.”
Mario Kreft CBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, congratulated Hengoed Court on their vision.
Mr Kreft said: "This is an inspiring example of an independent care provider investing in the quality of life for their residents.
"The nature park a sanctuary for all kinds of wildlife and a fantastic amenity that is also a community benefit.
"This is really what the best of the independent sector in social care is all about."
Tim Williams, Care Home Director, in the nature park at Hengoed Court & Hengoed Park Care Home, Swansea.