Pilgrims Hospice case study

Pilgrims Hospice Labyrinth Garden, Canterbury

Summary

Set in the grounds of The Pilgrims Hospice at Canterbury, offering physical, social, psychological and spiritual support to those facing life-threatening illness, the labyrinth garden is the first permanent labyrinth to be built in an English hospice and forms a quiet, restorative space for patients, family members and staff, as well as the wider community.

Project description

Gardens form an integral part of the healing environment at Pilgrims Hospices, providing views from the wards, space for contemplation, and contact with nature and the outdoors. A feature of the hospices movement is to invite the public in, as part of their role to increase people’s experience of end of life care, and to make death a more normative part of life. The labyrinth garden is a key part of that initiative on this site.

Initial research by the Chaplain led to a proposal to build the labyrinth as a spiritual tool for therapeutic purposes. Unlike mazes, labyrinths have just one path and no dead ends, and you can always see where you are going. A labyrinth walk is often a very peaceful experience, with time and space for reflection. There is currently a worldwide resurgence in labyrinths which appeal to people with or without a religious faith.

The labyrinth is laid out in smooth sandstone blocks in two colours and features seating in the middle and at the sides, and an adjacent covered shelter. It is wide enough for wheelchairs, and is surrounded by a low box hedge symbolising enclosure, and ornamental planting with ‘year round’ interest. The peacefulness of the area is accentuated by an open trellis boundary treatment with climbers, separating it off from the buildings and the remainder of the gardens.

A condition of funding was that the garden would be available for community use and groups from outside visit regularly, including the local Motor Neurone Disease Society who also have an annual service there by candle-light. The garden continues to be used as an exemplar, encouraging others to build labyrinths in hospices and other locations.

Key achievement

Creating the labyrinth garden has introduced a whole new way of experiencing an outdoor space to patients, staff and visitors at the hospice. Accessible to those of all faiths and none, the Labyrinth facilitates a more meditative reflective approach on the part of the user which for many people will help them to become more aware of and understand feelings and emotions ‘below the surface,’ which in turn may help them to tap into hidden reserves in terms of how they cope with illness.

What are the health benefits?

The labyrinth is claimed to bring psychological benefits, calming, and bringing balance and connecting emotions, whilst cutting across faith and cultural boundaries. It has been called a meditative walk, a part of a spiritual journey, or even a metaphor for our lives.

Walking a labyrinth can induce spiritual or emotional calm and inner healing for patients, carers, staff and volunteers. It aids reflection and may help in decision-making and can help people let go of grief, anxiety or stress. The first evaluation of the effects of the labyrinth on 30 patients found that 29 of them felt calmer after walking a labyrinth.

Users’ perspectives

People who walked the Pilgrims Labyrinth have said:

"The labyrinth has led me on an emotional journey within myself....A journey in which I faced the emotions of two battles against cancer, one won, one lost... A realisation that I still had hope and a future." Marian, a patient

“Being pushed in my wheelchair round the labyrinth by my husband, together we found that it was the most spiritual and magical thing we have ever experienced. I have Motor Neurone Disease, and whether or not our emotions were high the feeling of inner calm and love made us both feel complete. It was thought provoking and awe-inspiring, also something together we could both share”. Diane, a patient

“Since walking the labyrinth over a period of time the depression that had settled over me when my husband died has lifted”. Angela, a volunteer

Lessons learnt

  • Publicising the Labyrinth Garden by advertising the facility on the Hospice website and making good use of local Church contacts has ensured that knowledge of the garden is widespread amongst the wider community
  • ‘First-time users’ are sometimes unsure about how to approach the experience of walking the Labyrinth and for this group having facilitators present who have been trained in understanding the activity, can be very helpful.

Contact:

The chaplain at Pilgrim’s Hospice, Canterbury, Revd. Liz Chapman, on 01227 812610.

To purchase a copy of Pilgrims Journey Through the Labyrinth: A Guide to Using Labyrinths in Spiritual Care written by Rev Lizzie Hopthrow, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Picture Credits: Pilgrims Hospice