Trevarna Care Home case study

Trevarna Care Home, Cornwall


Redevelopment of the Trevarna care home garden in St. Austell, Cornwall was undertaken as part of the Creative Spaces Project run by the Sensory Trust, a Cornwall based charity with a focus on inclusive design. The garden at Trevarna has been re-designed to show how these residential gardens can support dementia care, improve the well-being of staff, residents and visitors and also offer an inclusive social space where residents re-connect with their community through joint participation in activities and events.

Project description

This project seeks to re-connect older people with dementia living in residential care, with their communities, through the use of outdoor environments.

Consultation was seen as being a critical element of the design process and this stage was undertaken in a methodical way over a considerable period of time. Undertaking a good quality consultation process ensured that equal weight was placed on the needs of all users of the garden and that their specific requirements were fully understood.

A comprehensive consultation process focusing on activities with residents, staff and young people and using non-verbal cues such as images of plants and gardens was the foundation of the consultation process which included trips out to inspirational outdoor environments such as Eden Project, The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Lanhydrock and China Clay Museum park to stimulate memories, conversation and new ideas.

Work on the garden has only recently taken place but already there have been noticeable improvements as a result. New routes have been created to make the garden more easily accessible and provide destination areas with opportunities to rest along the way, and the front garden was levelled and re-designed to provide an area for community events and activities, instigating greater opportunity for residents to engage with the community.

Prior to this intervention the garden was rarely used by anyone. Staff and relatives are now spending a lot more quality time socializing with residents out in the garden through shared meaningful activities such as gardening, eating outside or community events. Being involved in the design process has given staff better understanding of the garden as a resource and has given them greater insight into the past lives of their residents, enabling them to enhance their care in the present and future.

The improved garden also provides a valuable space for respite for staff and relatives during times of stress or sadness - offering areas for solitude or quiet conversation. The improvements at Trevarna also strengthened links between residents and the local community, in particular young people. This raises awareness of the issue of dementia amongst a younger generation which may also have a positive impact on the level of funding available for research in the future.

What are the health benefits?

There has been a noticeable improvement in staff job satisfaction; residents experience improved sleeping patterns and are happier having spent time outside engaged in passive or active recreation. Having more free time and a more opportunities for shared interests has strengthened social relationships between staff and service users. Residents are now engaged in more activities, reducing boredom and restlessness whilst also providing exercise that has promoted better health and improved sleeping patterns.

The Project Co-ordinator’s view:

“We have seen positive influences develop from small changes. Relatives enjoy improved visits with their loved ones and staff speak of residents being calmer and learning more about the person beyond the disease. Young people better understand dementia and its impact and no longer fear it; as a consequence friendships and respect have built up between young and old. All this from sharing meaningful time with each other in the outdoor environment and using that time to listen and learn ”.

Wendy Brewin

Lessons learnt

  • The design approach taken by the Sensory Trust is based solidly on an extensive consultation process: residents, carers, families and the community were all considered in the design process;
  • Some very minor interventions specific to the project can improve the standard of living for all the users in a cost effective way;
  • It is important to engage staff, relatives and the community from an early point in the project to help them ‘buy in’ to the benefits of using outdoor environments and related activities and to ensure sustainability of the processes;
  • The garden acts as a tool to facilitate intergenerational relationships between young and old in a way that would not be possible indoors. The young inter-act well with elderly dementia patients, forming strong friendships in the process.


Wendy Brewin, Sensory Trust.

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Picture credits: Wendy Brewin