Case Study

Stepping into Nature


Stepping into Nature is helping to deliver health and wellbeing benefits for Dorset’s older people, including those living with dementia and their carers. The project uses Dorset’s outstanding natural and cultural landscape to create and provide dementia-friendly activities and sensory rich visits to places of interest in Dorset. The project has been working with a range of environment, cultural and health & wellbeing partners to deliver a range of landscape based activities that encourage older people to be physically and mentally active. Using the landscape for inspiration, we provide safe, enjoyable and sociable opportunities that adopt a philosophy of positive risk taking. By supporting our key beneficiaries and service providers, we’ve increased awareness and understanding of the needs and requirements of people living with dementia and their carers, creating safer natural spaces to visit.

Dorset NL - Stepping into Nature - Award Winners

What was done

Stepping into Nature secured funding from Dorset County Council Special Projects Fund, Inspired By 2012 “Health and Wellbeing Legacy”, People’s Partnership for Older People (POPPS) & Dorset AONB for a pilot project.

This pilot investigated current opportunities/barriers existing in Dorset for older people living in their own homes, including people living with dementia and their carers that encourage the interaction with or connection to the natural & cultural environment to experience its restorative effects. The project drew on good practice described in “Greening Dementia 2013” (Natural England) and similar projects across the country. One key finding was the need for support for people living with dementia, their carers and delivery organisations when engaging with the natural environment or taking part in an outdoor activity. This evidence and feedback shaped the project and its partnership; an evaluation report is available through our website.

Barriers/enablers identified to accessing the natural environment included accessibility, seasonality and weather, information, cost, health, issues related to dementia, and perception of others. Taster sessions delivered as part of the pilot included village walks, poetry sessions, green woodwork and gardening. The feedback received, highlighted how the language used to promote inclusive activities is important and can greatly influence the number of people taking part. We found people living with dementia and their carers are a hard-to-reach group.

The perception of dementia meant that people were less likely to take part in new groups or specific activities. Carers indicated that participating in nature with their charges alone can be harder and more stressful than staying at home/going to a café for fear of them walking off, or not knowing the route themselves presenting a huge barrier to exploring new or less familiar places in nature. Time and other commitments or just sheer lack of information and support meant that people found it difficult to take part in different activities. Carers indicated they felt isolated from others due to the lack of day-to-day support leading to physical and mental exhaustion, affecting their health & wellbeing, reducing confidence, autonomy, competence and relatedness.

Work carried out through this pilot was used to develop a wider reaching longer-term project outline with the following objectives:

Deliver a range of meaningful and social activities inspired by nature & landscape tailored for our target audience, delivered by a consortium of partners.

Create and promote ‘Dementia Friendly’ community-led green spaces, using the Alzheimer’s Society guidelines.

Develop and deliver a suite of training where needed, for people with dementia, carers, community groups, providers, and volunteers to increase knowledge and understanding of how to deliver activities that promote inclusive engagement with the natural environment.

Work with local transport providers, organisations and volunteers to explore sustainable options for our audience to access local green spaces.

Run events to increase awareness and understanding of the dementia journey and what a dementia friendly countryside is and to promote opportunities that facilitate engagement in this countryside both locally and countywide.

Stepping into Nature is designed to achieve post-funding sustainability by stimulating and satisfying a latent demand from the target audience, and embedding this green health offer into everyone’s lives.

Dorset NL - Stepping into Nature - Lunch


Over the pilot, the following consultations took place:

Online surveys; 31 participants

3 Focus groups run by Bournemouth University Dementia Institute (BUDI) targeting PLWD and carers; supported by the Alzheimer’s Society;

20 participants • 4 Walking surveys in conjunction with taster activities; 8 participants

8 Weekly Green Wood Club sessions for Dorset Young Alzheimer’s Group; 15 participants

1 gardening project delivered by Alzheimer’s Society Memory Café; 10 participants

Presentations to Bridport’s Older Persons Forum to 20 people; 6 questionnaires • Dorset Dementia Alliance Conference – 100 attending; 6 questionnaires

1 Training session delivered by Dementia Adventure; 11 people.

In total around 200 people were engaged in the project over the pilot, of these 97 people commented. This comprised 15% people living with dementia, 19% caring for someone with dementia, 25% volunteers or knew someone with dementia and the remaining 41% comprised older people and representatives of organisations.


Our project consultation shows there is a wide variety of interest for a number of different activities using the natural environment, and the need for a flexible approach with activity programmes. We found that a combination of a social interaction and active participation was where people saw the most positive differences for people with dementia and their carers. The language we use to engage our audience is important and can greatly influence the level of people getting involved. Not being able to access these green spaces because of limited transport or mobility highlighted the importance for locally accessible dementia friendly outdoor activities, bringing the natural space to people’s doorsteps.

Our taster sessions allowed participants to feel at ease, bond together and produced visible changes in mood and engagement from participants with dementia. Research shows people with dementia who engaged with the outdoors indicated they felt improvements to sleeping and eating patterns, increased independence and self – esteem and improvement of social interaction and belonging.

Information and opportunities for engaging in the natural environment for our target audience are fragmented and limited, service providers have shown a great interest in developing learning around dementia and the natural environment but greater awareness and support are needed to deliver activities that are more inclusive in a more unified manner. There is a need for a connected partnership between environment and health organisations and this could be addressed by working with a consortium of partners that represent older people including people living with dementia, their carers, the natural environment and health and wellbeing representatives.

Watch video

Members of the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) team, Alzheimer's Society, Dorset Forest School talk about the Greenwood Club in Netherbury for people with dementia and their carers. It is part of the Dorset AONB's Stepping into Nature project, which has received a national Bowland Award.

(c) Dave Penman Dorset NL - Stepping into Nature - Gate
These activities can aid people living with dementia to develop or maintain their connection with nature and can help attendees to retain a sense of adventure.

Julie Hammon - Project Officer, Dorset National Landscape

I felt useful today and I don’t often feel like that now.

A participant with dementia taking part in an activity