Mind how you go – dry stone walling courses are breaking down social isolation barriers

IF you enjoy the outdoors but are feeling stressed, want to meet new people and are over 50, then a unique mindfulness course building dry stone walls could be the perfect solution.

Residents from Crompton ward are among the first in Oldham being offered opportunity to take part in this new socially inclusive outdoor course.

They are organised by Saddleworth-based Dog With A Bone project supported by Ambition for Ageing which is part of the National Lottery funded Ageing Better programme set up by the Big Lottery Fund.

Ageing Better aims to develop creative ways for older people to be actively involved in their local communities, helping to combat social isolation and loneliness.

Ambition for Ageing Oldham is led by Age UK Oldham in partnership with Action Together and is aimed at people aged 50 and over living or working in the Alexandra, Crompton and Failsworth West areas.

John Matthews, who set up Dog with a Bone, said: “This initiative is to reach out to older people who would not normally be able to afford such a course.

“We will teach the basics of how to build a drystone wall, and a little of the history of the craft.

“But also we teach simple ways of learning how to relax and enjoy being out in the countryside.

“There are courses throughout the year for people who would not normally be able to do this kind of thing.

“We are particularly interested in reaching out to isolated people,” added John.

Nicola Shore, Ambition for Ageing Manager from Age UK Oldham, said: “The volunteers on our decision-making panel are keen to fund new and interesting ideas that help make our communities more age-friendly – keeping traditional skills alive and helping people’s mental wellbeing are both really important.

“We are very pleased to be able to test out this new project and learn about the benefits.”

John added: “We have big ambitions for Dog with a Bone and are currently in discussions about some substantial funding that will help secure the courses for those that could benefit most for years to come.

“We have already had backing from Tameside, Oldham and Glossop Mind.

“Drystone walling, an activity that requires focus, concentration and an ability to see things through can help those suffering from anxiety, stress or loneliness.

“Loneliness in the ageing community is becoming a big problem.

“Our courses help people connect with others and pass on skills that enable people to be active and also help themselves deal with issues themselves in a very simple way.

“I saw the therapeutic effects building walls in the traditional dry-stone manner has first-hand.

“It seemed an obvious thing to me as soon as I did it, being outside in the quiet, getting lost listening to nature.

“When we looked at it with Mind and Age UK Oldham we could not believe just how relevant this activity is with regards to wellbeing.”

Jenny from Mind, who recently attended a course, said: “Learning to drystone wall, an activity that cannot be rushed, outside in the fresh air, amongst nature, really does tick every box for helping improve mental health.”

Dog with a Bone have 10 places on offer for the over 50s who can benefit most.

Anyone interested should call Dog with a Bone on 0161 234 0099 or Martin Morris via Age UK Oldham on 0161 633 0213/ 0161 339 2345 or email: martin.morris@actiontogether.org.uk

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