Hi , my name is Katie and I have the privilege of leading the Greengage Wellbeing Hub project in Swanage which is one of many activities that older people can get involved with across Dorset as part of Stepping in to Nature.

I’ve worked in conservation for the last 13 years and have learned and experienced a great deal in that time. I used to be, what I call, a pure conservationist- someone who would prefer to do practical work and manage nature reserves for wildlife and wildlife alone. Back then, as a young conservationist, I was not about the people. However, as time went on, I realised that conservation is about wildlife AND people. I mean, without people to be inspired by nature, to value its importance for our health and wellbeing and ultimately our existence then how are we meant to ask people to look after, defend and protect it?

I was immersed in nature as a child and I wasn’t even a rural kid! I grew up in Dartford in Kent but thankfully I lived right on the edge of Dartford Heath – a greenspace nestled between residential areas and the busy A2. I used to ride my bike over there with friends or on my own and head straight for the locally infamous ‘Glory bumps’ – a set of mounds that were perfect for bombing your bike over and getting a thrill! (Little did I know that these were left over from the brick industry!)

I didn’t understand the value of the special wildlife found there at the time because the heath meant something different to me back then- it was my playground, a place to meet friends, a place to be alone and think, a place for pure unadulterated freedom. It became like a dear friend to me over the years- I knew every tree and every path of that Heath and without me knowing it would influence my future as I went on to study Environmental Science at University.

(c) Katie Wilkinson

Fast forward to 2019, and I am (happily) now in a more community engagement role where I get to be outdoors with people of all ages, teaching them about how special our environment is, sharing stories and facilitating ways for them to get out in to nature and experience it for themselves.

The Stepping into Nature project has allowed me to meet lots of different people and to breathe new life into a site that was abandoned by Swanage Town Council 12 years ago. On taking on the lease of the site we inherited a glass greenhouse, old concrete beds and a lot of bramble and horse tail!

(c) Katie Wilkinson

It has taken a little while to get Greengage looking as good as it does now! But with some very special and dedicated volunteers and funding from Stepping into Nature we have turned this site around. It is now a welcoming place where anyone can come and enjoy pottering about in the greenhouse or in the outdoor space.  We focus on vegetable and fruit growing at Greengage which everyone gets a share of when we harvest it – a nice reward for our hard work in tending to the plants!

We’re always looking to improve things whether that be for wildlife or for people to enjoy but one thing is for sure – being outside in nature is much better when you have someone to share it with.

At the beginning of last year we had a group of older people come and visit every week for a few months from a day centre in Poole. I had never worked with elderly people before or knowingly worked with anyone with dementia and it really opened my eyes to the challenges they can face such as communication issues. It also taught me a lot about patience, about listening, about seeing people for who they were as well as for who they are now. It has made me value even more that everyone has a back story – no one is the same person now as they were 5, 10, or 50 years ago. We all change, grow, evolve. We all have our own journeys and to be just a small part of that journey for me, is a real privilege.

(c) Katie Wilkinson

Greengage Wellbeing Hub: Every Friday 10am-3pm. Prospect Crescent, Swanage.