A regional park trail which allows people with dementia to immerse themselves in the native flora and fauna of the Ballarat area has won a major award.
The Woowookarung Dementia Friendly Forest and Sensory Trail in Canadian won the 'Health and Education' section of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) Victorian awards. Described as being the first walk of its kind in the world, the trail was designed by Wattle Flat landscape architects Thomson Hay, in conjunction with Parks Victoria, local dementia group representatives, Friends of Canadian Corridor and other community members.
Designed initially with dementia groups in mind after the Bigger Hearts Alliance's Anne Tudor and Edie Mayhew initiated the project in 2019, the 1.2km walk features several features which allow close contact with the sights, smells, sounds and feelings of the 641ha regional park, evoking 'positive memories, feelings and sensations,' says Parks Victoria.
Its wide, accessible pathways allow wheelchairs and carers, assistance dogs, and groups from residential aged care facilities to move easily and safely between its features, giving people living with dementia the opportunity to enjoy being in nature.
The walk represents the culmination of two year's work, says Parks Victoria's Ballarat chief ranger Siobhan Rogan.
"I think the term 'reimagined' gets tossed around a lot these days," Ms Rogan says.
"But for me, it's a very genuine thing: if we are actually going to create a park, that we don't retrofit anything. So where we have an intent, we truly engage in that space first, and then we build that. It's testament that even though this has been a bit of a long journey, it's been a very meaningful journey and journey for a lot of people in a very positive way.
"What we wanted to do is have well-branded trails which people will know and love and come to as a destination from other places. We will have toilets and barbecues and shelters in another location nearby, but this has been placed because we knew we would have some sort of infrastructure to lean on. We also known locals love their park. It's still their park no matter how we frame all these bits and pieces."
Architect David Hay says receiving the brief from Parks Victoria for the trail meant working closely with the dementia community, and to the development of a standard for dementia-friendly trails based on Dementia Australia guidelines.
"It was us really understanding their needs, to develop an outcome that was suitable for them," Mr Hay says.
"One thing which stuck in my mind was dementia patients sometimes have vision problems, so shadows look like sticks on paths, things like that. So thinking about the path materials, having different path materials for different paths. The way it was designed was a granite sand path was the main spine, and once people got off that path, onto a little loop path or something, it was different. It became a little bit more intuitive to use it. In terms of the award, I think we won it, as much as it was for the design, it was probably more so for the consultation process we went through to get to the design."
AILA's chief executive officer Ben Stockwin says the winning projects of the Landscape Architecture Awards showcase architects' work and its vital contribution to the community.
"Landscape architecture plays an important role in the national debate of climate change, sustainability, and First Nations recognition; the awards serve as a reminder of the sector's significance and impact," Mr Stockwin said.
The AILA is the peak body for the landscape architectural profession, representing 3000 members in professional practice, education, and government within Australia and overseas.
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