An unused area of land on the University of Sunderland’s City Campus has been transformed into a little green paradise thanks to the efforts of Occupational Therapy staff and students.

Cath Turner, Senior Lecturer in Occupational Therapy, came up with the idea that the plot, at the rear of the Sciences Complex, could become an outside garden classroom area where specific sessions for students could be hosted throughout the year.

Cath explained: “There is an abundance of research about the use of gardening used within Occupational Therapy, and as part of the Sunderland programme, we focus on occupation and meaningful activities.

“We are constantly analysing activities of daily living and thinking about them as an intervention for the people that we support. This new garden classroom gives a new learning experience to our students.”

Occupational Therapy helps people recover or develop skills needed for the activities of daily living, including self-care, leisure, independent living and work. Occupational Therapists work in a range of settings including hospitals, schools, nursing homes and with patients in their own homes. People who benefit from Occupational Therapy, include people who have had strokes, people with autism and other developmental disorders, people recovering from certain surgeries, people who experience depression or anxiety, as well as veterans and the elderly.

Cath added: “Previous to our involvement this was an area on City Campus that was not used by the university and just a plain empty space.”

Cath approached Professor Tony Alabaster, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing, and funding was secured to create the garden space. Working with the University’s Facilities and Estates teams, a design was developed that would be suitable as a learning space.

Cath says: “We now have a space which is accessible for students to learn in.  We have started using the outdoor space as a garden classroom. Currently there are vegetables, hanging baskets and tubs, all thriving and doing well.

“We are delighted to have the space to add to the student learning experience. We are hoping to develop this area to potentially include clients coming to the garden for therapy sessions – watch this space.”

Students have also been enjoying their learning experience in the new garden.

Laurie Pillans, 33, from Sunderland, she said: “The garden has been a wonderful resource throughout the first year of my Occupational Therapy degree. Gardening isn’t something I have ever been interested in, but since getting the chance to do it here, I’ve really enjoyed it.

“It has emphasised the positive benefits gardening can have on a person’s mental health and well-being, it’s a great learning space.”

Vanessa Balfour, 35, from Durham, also a first year Occupational Therapy student, added: “Gardening is a huge passion of mine; I enjoy the sense of achievement of growing plants and the sensory experience it provides

“Being involved with the garden has been a fantastic learning experience and I look forward to sharing its therapeutic benefits with others.”

Professor Tony Alabaster said: “I am delighted that we have been able to support the Occupational Therapy team with this new area.

“It’s a fantastic resource for the students and further enhances their learning experience on the degree programme. I’ve no doubt it will be well used by all.”