All aspects of our work are informed by research, some that we undertake ourselves, and some with third parties. Our longstanding connections with research specialists have resulted in a rich mix of research and evaluation work and this has helped us test, measure and review our ideas and approaches.
Our own research helps us prioritise new work. It can identify gaps in social need so that our project work delivers the greatest benefit and avoids duplicating existing services.
By partnering with research experts, we can validate our approach and tap into a wider national and international knowledge base.
Research helps us to ensure that we are doing the right work, in the right places with the right people.
What does research say about sensory engagement?
Sensory engagement lies at the heart of much of our work and we are keen to deepen the evidence base showing the health benefits that come from this approach. It was therefore a welcome opportunity to collaborate with specialist researchers from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH) and the Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula (Pen-CLAHRC) on a systematic review.
The aim was to assess the health and well-being benefits of outdoor sensory experiences to help us understand how older people, including those living with dementia describe their sensory engagement with nature and the natural environment.
The review was led by the Centre's specialists in systematic reviews and qualitative research, Dr Ruth Garside and Dr Noreen Orr. Through working together we hope to make a contribution to research in health and social science and to establish a deeper evidence base to inform professional practice.
The review has been jointly published and is available to read now at Bio Med Central - How do older people describe their sensory experiences of the natural world? A systematic review of the qualitative evidence.
Research is supporting the healthy ageing of people with dementia
Research shows that the benefits that people with cognitive impairment gain from connecting with nature and the outdoors are vast. They range from maintaining independence and meaningful activity to greater social inclusion and a more hopeful and resilient outlook, key ingredients for living healthier, happier lives. However, a suite of barriers, from poorly maintained path surfaces to lack of inclusive visitor information, mean that often these benefits are not available to people with cognitive impairments. Whilst many land managers want to make their spaces more accessible and welcoming, they lack guidance on how best to do this.
A 2022 research review by Bennett, Wolverson and Price provides a valuable overview of the benefits of the outdoors for people living independently with dementia and features our Creative Spaces dementia work. You can read the review at Me, myself, and nature: living with dementia and connecting with the natural world - more than a breath of fresh air? A literature review. - Abstract - Europe PMC
ENLIVEN puts the focus on the healthy ageing of people living with cognitive impairments, particularly dementia. It is led by Professor Linda Clare and researchers at the University of Exeter, with an expert team from Brunel, Hertfordshire, Manchester Metropolitan and Bradford Universities, Sensory Trust and Innovations in Dementia. It is one of seven UK research projects that support the government's healthy ageing agenda, funded as part of a £10.7 million investment from UKRI (UK Research and Innovation).
Sensory Trust is a co-investigator, bringing the experience we have gained from working with people with cognitive impairments and our skills in making places accessible and developing nature-based resources. This includes our Creative Spaces dementia work that is running nature-based walks and activities and demonstrating the value of engaging with nature for people living with dementia, their families and friends.
People with cognitive impairment, organisations and businesses are working with the research team to identify the outdoor experiences that bring greatest enjoyment and benefit. They are exploring how to make outdoor places more accessible and inviting for older people living with cognitive impairment and their families. Enliven runs from March 2021 for three years and latest news is shared on the Enliven website.
Unlocking Landscapes: history, culture and sensory diversity in landscape use and decision making
Unlocking Landscapes is led by Dr Clare Hickman of Newcastle University and Dr Sarah Bell of the University of Exeter. It developed with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the support of a network including Sensory Trust, the Universities of Newcastle, Exeter and Bristol, Sense, Natural Inclusion, Woodland Trust, Historic England and National Trust.
Unlocking landscapes is about developing socially inclusive approaches to how landscape is planned, designed and managed as a way of supporting the well-being of diverse individuals and groups. People interact with diverse landscapes every day, from nearby nature to wider settings like the coast and countryside. However, decisions made about the management of these landscapes are often based on narrow assumptions about how these settings are perceived, experienced and valued. Unlocking Landscapes considers the complex ways in which landscapes become meaningful to diverse individuals and groups; through their senses, personal memories and shared histories.
We collaborated with Unlocking Landscapes to produce the report ‘Unlocking Landscapes: The inclusive role of sensory histories of people and place’. It is intended for anyone involved in the management and interpretation of such landscapes.
Sight impairment and experiencing the natural world
Sensing Nature addresses the question "How do people living with sight impairment experience nature during their lives?" The results of this two year research study are captured in a range of fascinating insights and guidance materials on the Sensing Nature website.
Led by Dr Sarah Bell at the University of Exeter, this work focuses on the value of nature experiences for people with visual impairments and captures their perspectives on the barriers and opportunities that relate to enjoying the outdoors.
Our involvement in an advisory capacity and in the design of the guidance materials has given us the opportunity to benefit from the findings and inform our practice. Research with partners is always a beneficial two-way street.