Outdoor space

Why a garden is a mirror of care culture

In this article, Debbie Carroll and Mark Rendell of Step Change Design explore the possible impacts of the pandemic on different care cultures and how this may have resulted in changes to the way they have engaged with their outside spaces, both in the short and longer term

There is little doubt that the health crisis that began last year has shaken to the core many beliefs, attitudes and assumptions that we all had in relation to our day-to-day habits, future plans and general direction in life. Life as we knew it, and as we had thought it would continue, began to morph into less familiar patterns. Care settings have found themselves in

an unenviable and challenging situation, balancing the need for maintaining a form of reassuring normality for their residents and staff with a plethora of new regulations and codes of practice that feel distinctly abnormal, sometimes

traumatic, and - to some - uncaring. Nevertheless, we also noticed a

more positive phenomenon emerge in spring 2020, a sort of antidote to the restrictions on movement and normal interactions. There began to grow a renewed appreciation and re-valuing of our gardens and of nature in general.1 We had more time to notice things

around us, and particularly outdoors. For some that translated into trying out new ways to garden and grow things, and for others an opportunity to immerse themselves in the comings and goings of all that nature brings to our everyday experiences.

Our gardens, and everything that grows

and lives in them, came back into sharper focus for many of us as a space to escape to that felt unchanged in all that was unfolding elsewhere. In our design and gardening businesses, we also noticed an increase in enquiries. A ‘green wave’ is taking place across society. All it took, it appears, was to have our lives restricted and, for some, the time and space to reconsider what is actually all around us, all of the time. In our work at Step Change Design,

our main objective is to encourage greater engagement between care staff and residents - and their families - and their garden areas and so we have been reflecting on the different ways that this green wave phenomenon may have reached the care sector and influenced the ways that care settings have used their outside spaces during the pandemic.

A ‘green wave’ is taking place across society. All it took, it appears, was to have our lives restricted and, for some, the time and space to reconsider what is actually all around us, all of the time

June 2021 •

Why is understanding care culture important? We carried out research back in 2013 to answer why care setting gardens were not being used more actively?2 We discovered that the answer to this question does not necessarily lie in the outside space itself - its design, aesthetics or features. Rather, it is in understanding the culture of the care setting and how much the organisation and its people and their practices, attitudes and beliefs are supporting or inhibiting engagement levels with the outdoors. In other words, our work is focused

more on supporting culture change rather than on design because using the garden more actively requires identifying why the existing garden is not being used as much as it could be. We then help to embed new


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