A ‘Fresh’ idea to tackle isolation in older age

Headline Date 12-05-2016

Urban connections' garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show highlights the power of green spaces to reduce isolation and loneliness

The growing issue of elderly isolation is set to be brought to the fore at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, through a ‘Fresh’ garden seeking to address loneliness amongst our older people. The Victoria Business Improvement District (BID) has teamed up with the Sir Simon Milton Foundation to create a garden that showcases the role that high quality public spaces play in bringing communities and generations together.

There is a wealth of research pointing towards the effect isolation can have on both the mental and physical health of the over-65’s and, with the population of people aged over 80 expected to treble in the next 20 years, the issue has never been of more importance.

Award-winning garden design duo Lee Bestall and Paul Robinson, are the brains behind this ‘Fresh Garden’ entry, entitled ‘Urban Connections’. Their innovative design creates new green spaces in an urban environment where people can meet and socialise.

Then, once the curtain has fallen on Chelsea for another year, the garden will be relocated to the streets of Victoria, subject to planning permission, creating two new small public gardens – ‘Parklets’ –  for residents, workers and visitors alike to enjoy.

‘Urban Connections’ is both a conceptual and practical garden. It’s a design with great storytelling at its heart, creatively articulating the challenges and solutions to isolation, as well as showcasing the power of well-designed public spaces to encourage people to get together.

The enriching effect of close human interaction is reflected throughout the garden’s design, from the brightly painted majestic silver birches acting as beacons to guide people to oak seating, to a new hybrid hardy orchid named Dactylorhiza SIR SIMON MILTON (Aristocrat x purpurella) which embodies the garden’s message that people flourish when in the proximity of others.

Lee Bestall, garden designer, said:

“It’s a genuine privilege to be showcasing a garden with such an important message for society. ‘Urban Connections’ demonstrates the positive effect that green spaces can have on both mental and social wellbeing.  The garden provides a fantastic platform to share stories, strengthen relationships and raise public awareness in our quest to combat isolation.”

Cllr Robert Davis MBE DL, co-founder of the Sir Simon Milton Foundation and Deputy Leader of Westminster City Council, said:

 “This garden is an extremely poignant reflection of Simon’s belief in the amazing contribution that our older generations make to life in our cities. One of the Foundation’s priorities is to help older people thrive in the heart of London and anything we can do to highlight the blight of isolation and to identify solutions, either by offering opportunities through Silver Sunday activities or our annual tea dance, to providing new spaces for people to meet, is a fitting tribute and one he would have supported wholeheartedly. As ever I am humbled by all that is being achieved in Simon’s name and I look forward to many people enjoying the garden at Chelsea. Just as importantly though, I am truly excited to see different generations coming together to enjoy the spaces in Victoria once the show is over.”

 Ruth Duston, CEO of The Victoria BID, said:

“Isolation in old age is increasingly common, especially in urban areas, and as stewards of Victoria – an area undergoing substantial transformation – we are committed to creating attractive places for people of all generations to come together. Great public places play as important a role as bricks and mortar and are vital to creating diverse and vibrant communities. We are proud to be part of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and creating a longer term legacy in Victoria.

Illustration credit: Victoria BID / Gareth Hughes


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