THE National Lottery is backing a major new £50,000 project to provide animal and nature-based activities for people with dementia across the North and West Wiltshire area.

As part of the three-year project, Holt-based Wiltshire Equine Assisted Learning will run group sessions every Friday from April.

They will allow people with dementia to engage with others through a range of outdoor and indoor activities, as well as the organisation’s animals which include horses, alpacas, dogs and guinea pigs.

Sessions will be free of charge and will cater for people of all ages and abilities by offering carefully planned and supported activities such as grooming, petting, planting, gardening and crafts.

Local charity, Alzheimer’s Support will help to identify local participants and provide their expertise in dementia support.

Heather Watson, Managing Director of Wiltshire Equine Assisted Learning, said: “This is the very first project of its kind in Wiltshire and perhaps even the South West.

“We are very excited to launch this project in the spring – it has been a long time in the planning.”

“There is certainly a need out there for a service that allows people with dementia to connect with others and with the natural environment; we’re incredibly lucky to be able to involve the amazing animals here as well.

“The therapeutic benefits of interacting with animals are well documented now and they can have a really positive impact on the mental and physical health of people with dementia.

“The aim of the sessions is to boost mood, provide sensory experiences and allow people to make connections with each other, helping to prevent social isolation which can be a real issue for people with dementia and their carers.”

Stephany Bardzil is Head of Communications and Engagement at Alzheimer’s Support: “We are very pleased to be working with Heather and the team on this exciting new project.

“Being out and about in nature and interacting with animals are incredibly beneficial to many people living with dementia and this is a fantastic opportunity to do both.

“Many of the people we support here in Wiltshire have a rural background and this is chance for them to participate in farm-based activities which they may be familiar with.

“We know from our Wildlife Clubs in the north of the county how much people enjoy being out of doors and taking part in nature-related craft activities. It is also an incredibly rewarding to take part as a volunteer. ”

Stagwood Stables in Holt is staging an open day on Saturday, February 23 for anyone interested in volunteering. Full training will be given to all volunteers.

Wiltshire Equine Assisted Learning is recruiting volunteers to help run the sessions every Friday and is looking for anyone with experience with animals, gardening or craft activities.