Volunteers play so many roles at Alzheimer Scotland, and some more unexpected than others! Like Claire*, a volunteer of nearly 10 years who tends our dementia friendly Allotment in Dumbarton.
In 2012, after her husband was diagnosed with vascular dementia, they went along to the Dementia Café to find out about the range of activities offered by Alzheimer Scotland. Fiona Kane had brought along a lady who had been running the allotment there and she asked for volunteers to help. Her husband had always been green fingered so, curiosity piqued, they headed up to check it out. They found a space with lots of potential but in need of some hard work to make it safe for people living with dementia. Along with two other couples, they decided they were up to the challenge!
With a generous grant from the Life Changes Trust secured by Fiona, the group revamped the plot. Among the changes made were a shiny new gate and a disabled parking bay from the council. They then installed the beds that are at least table high – “So you can work on them without falling in!”, said Claire.
Soon the allotment was a thriving space where people living with dementia and their carers could come and take part in the upkeep. Claire described a typical Thursday, “It was busy, busy with lots of people there doing planting and weeding. There would be quite a few men who had been keen gardeners and they’d be happy as Larry to potter about, planting seeds and watering. Mind you, sometimes you planted potatoes and cabbages grew up in the middle of it! But it would all be put to good use.”
Produce would be divided out amongst the attendees or used to cook meals in the Dementia Resource Centre. The benefits of the allotment for people living with dementia were clear, with Claire remembering how well her husband would sleep after a day there. Her husband has since passed, but Claire continued to volunteer. Then lockdown hit and face-to-face activities like the allotment had to stop. With plants ready to go, Claire didn’t want to leave the beds empty, so she sought permission to keep attending. For the two years that followed, she ran the allotment nearly singlehandedly.
Without other volunteers or the Dementia Resource Centre open, there was no one to use the produce when it was ready. Keen to avoid waste and help the community, Claire donated the veg to a local foodbank.
Now, the allotment is getting ready for visitors again. For those less keen on getting their hands dirty, it can be used as a quiet space. There is a shed that can provide shelter from the rain, or the sun.
For any budding Alan Titchmarsh’s in the Dumbarton area, there is always room for more volunteers at the allotment. Contact Deborah Edgar for details on how to get involved.
*Not her real name