It starts with an idea, a conversation, a by chance meeting; many good things start this way. The process wasn’t always easy, we had people to convince and funding to find but we never gave up.

I, Jules (A.K.A Julie Hammon), was born in a Leicestershire village called Sileby back in 1969 to Milly & Stan with one older sister and two older brothers. I was a dirty child, never inside and spent most of my time running across fields, playing in the local brook looking for sticklebacks and more often than not falling in. My mum encouraged me to get out and as I think back it was probably to get me out from under her feet, but this is where my appetite grew for being outside and loving nature. My parents were what you would call older parents with mum having me when she was 47 but growing up we would spend a lot of time outside walking or having picnics in the local woodlands. I remember seeing black and white pictures of when they were younger and one which has stuck with me all those years was a picture of them both happily spending time riding their tandem in the countryside.

My mum passed away in 2010 having lived her final years with dementia, but in the years before this she would spend time in the garden and loved watching the birds go about their daily business and I knew this made her happy. My Dad now 93 is still living at home in Sileby being cared for by my brother, having been diagnosed with dementia a few years ago but I know I am not alone in having this close connection to dementia.

Jules' Parents

Fast forward a few years and I am now happily living in rural Dorset with Lisa my wonderful wife and our four-legged family, working for the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. For me connecting with nature should be for anyone but this is not always the case and so the idea of having something that would help achieve this was sparked.

Like many things it did start with a conversation and so a Stepping into Nature outline was formed, I spent a lot of time seeing what was out there and who would like to become involved. Then I met two other people who were thinking along the same lines, Mel who works for the Alzheimer’s Society and Jill from Dorset Forest Schools. We regularly met over coffee and cake and like becoming the three witches of Dorset, a plan was hatched. In 2015 some funding was secured from various places, like my mum used to say “if you don’t ask you don’t get” so we asked. This enabled us to deliver a pilot project, Mel linked us in with a group of people living with early onset dementia and Jill started the Greenwood Club. From these early beginnings more people got involved and our list of activities started to grow, a lot of work was carried out behind the scenes researching the benefits that could be gained from being out in nature and gathering people’s comments on what we were planning.

In 2016 we had enough evidence and a much bigger idea of what we wanted to deliver, so with fingers crossed we submitted a funding application to the National Lottery. I remember driving home before Christmas and my phone ringing, it was like having a hot potato in the car. When I rang them back I held my breath, was it good news? We had been successful, and everything suddenly became real, they were going to fund us for three years, Happy Christmas.

The project started in April 2017 and I was soon joined by Steph, the new Assistant for the Stepping into Nature Project, who I will now pass you over to!

I, Steph (A.K.A Steph Aburrow) am also a lover of nature and life in the great outdoors. I was lucky enough to grow up in Dorset making dens in the woods with my brothers and scurrying around in rockpools finding crabs and I haven’t really stopped! My love of Nature only grew as I studied a Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology degree and volunteered in amazing locations like Wembury in Devon. This involved daily guided rockpooling – who knew searching for crabs, fish and other anemones could be a profession!

I know, for me, being outdoors fuels my happiness and it probably always will. Before starting this role, I took nature for granted as it has always been freely accessible and on my doorstep. I can’t imagine life without nature and I don’t think anyone should have to. The importance of nature should never be forgotten, no matter your age or ability! I feel strongly about the project and am privileged to be part of its journey.

That is to say the project has not been easy, with cancelled activities and low participation, but this has never stopped us.  We are very lucky to have fantastic partners, providers and advocates that believe in us. They continue to learn and stay open to suggestions, ideas and listen to feedback from people taking part on activities.

Two years on and Stepping into Nature is stronger, we have more people taking part in a host of different activities, more accessible dementia friendly greenspaces and our message is getting out there. We continue to be passionate about what we are delivering, and we will continue to push the boundaries and create opportunities for connecting to nature.

Where next you may ask, well Dorset is a big place and now we have only scratched the surface. We want to dig deeper and spread our wings across the rest of Dorset…………. that’s the next chapter, fingers crossed!

(C) Paul Mitchell
(C) Nicki Maslen and Kei Little