PCI's latest sensory garden opened

23.6.2019 | Mission News, Social Witness, Moderator, Mission

Residents and daycare users at Aaron House in Dundonald, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s (PCI) residential home for people with profound learning and physical disability, enjoyed a summer jazz party on Saturday as part of the celebrations to mark the opening of their new sensory garden. The event was part of this year’s Learning Disability Week.

The official opening was performed by Lee-Ann Nesbitt, who attends the day care centre and Aaron House resident Niall Campbell, both of whom cut the ribbon with Presbyterian Moderator, Right Rev Dr William Henry and BBC Radio Ulster’s Gardener’s Corner presenter, David Maxwell.

The patio garden, which is adjacent to the daycare centre, has been transformed and now includes an open air wooden classroom, greenhouse for seeds, gazebo and decking around a mature tree with a water feature.

Four rectangle sensory beds stimulate different senses: sense of touch with different textured plants, the sense of smell with highly aromatic flowers, taste through edible plants and flowers and one that has been planted for visual stimulation with colourful flowers. There are also bird feeders and nesting boxes to encourage birds to visit the garden.

Head of day care at Aaron House, Francis Mooney, said that there is also a multi-textured pathway linking the beds with the open air classroom. The pathway includes 10 different well defined sections that stimulate those walking over the windy path, or residents and service users in wheelchairs. Everyone can also enjoy the purpose built BBQ (weather permitting) and a larger outdoor classroom.

“Today has been a fantastic day and has been a tribute to everyone who has played their part in making this dream become a reality. From the fundraisers to the builders, the diggers and to the planters, everyone who has supported the project deserves a huge thank you,” Mr Mooney said.

“In its various phases, it has taken around 10 years to complete and has been a labour of love, not only for our residents, service users and their families, but for staff and the local support group and committee. Together we have raised some £25,000 over the last 5 years alone.”

The Dundonald home in the Ballybeen estate opened in 1995 and accommodates 14 residents on a permanent basis and two residents each week for respite care. It also includes a daycare centre that supports the needs of up to 9 people. Originally managed by the Currie Community, PCI took over its management 10 years ago in partnership with Choice Housing Association, who are responsible for the maintenance of the building.

Aaron House ‘head gardener’ Lee-Ann Nesbitt – who helped the Moderator officially open the sensory garden – has been coming to the day care centre four days a week for three years. Her favourite flower is the purple hydrangea that she planted herself and the part of the garden she likes the best is the water feature.

“They call me the head gardener because I am hard working. I do digging, brushing up, planting and watering and I put the bunting up. I help in the garden most days and I am very good a tidying up. Today was a lovely day,” she said.

Learning Disability Week 2019 focussed on physical activity and inclusion. Dr Henry said that there had been a carnival atmosphere to the day. Thanking everyone involved for creating such a special place, he said, “In the three short weeks that I have been Moderator I have learnt a lot about our denomination. It is a privilege to hold this office, but an even greater privilege to be able see first-hand the amazing help and support that the Church is able to provide, and to be a part of moments like this.

“Aaron House is a vital and invaluable service for residents and their families and for those who use the independent day care and respite care here as well. Many within society recognise these needs but the purpose of such special awareness weeks, such as this week’s Learning Disability Week, is to further raise the profile. I want to say that the Bible speaks and encourages us to be the ones who will do good deeds and care for others.

My theme this year is Enjoying God, part of that is that we want all people to enjoy God and to encounter him, but another aspect is that when we are enjoying God it will demonstrate itself in caring for others. I know that the new sensory garden, with all its different features, will be enjoyed by many people for years to come and will be very well cared for. It was an honour to be able to dedicate this special place to the glory of God and to pray for everyone who will use and enjoy it,” Dr Henry said.

Day-to-day management of Aaron House is undertaken by PCI’s Council for Social Witness which also manages the denomination’s nursing and residential care homes, along with supported housing schemes for people with a learning disability and those with addictions and former offenders across 16 locations in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Lindsay Conway, Secretary of the Council for Social Witness, explained that the Church recognises the importance of the three strands of residential, respite and day care in the overall care of individuals and support for families.

“People matter to God, so they matter to us. We are called to demonstrate his love for people, which means putting of our faith into practical action and simple Christian caring, which is a powerful social witness of the gospel and can be seen here in action at Aaron House.” he said.

“It is also a very special kind of witness, one that can be seen each and every day through the work of our congregations across Ireland. It is also undertaken by the denomination, through the Council as a service provider, as a part of the social care infrastructure here in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland.”

Photos (1) The official opening of the Aaron House sensory garden (left to right) BBC Radio Ulster's Gardener's Corner presenter, David Maxwell, Aaron House resident Niall Campbell, the Moderator, Dr William Henry, and daycare user, Lee-Ann Nesbitt (2) Lee-Ann Nesbitt does some final touches to one of the sensory fower beds (3) David Maxwell and Dr Henry with the official plaque (4) the second and larger outdoor classroom and BBQ.

Learning Disability Week 2019 took place from 17 to 23 June. As part of its social witness PCI  provides a range of services to support individuals with a learning disability, and their families as Melanie Bowden, Head of Disability Services explains in this blogAs part of Learning Disability week last year, PCI called for increased provision of support services for people with a learning disability in the post-19 age group.

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