Green fingered ladies and gentlemen across Hertfordshire have been cultivating new friendships at ACE clubs around the county. The Active Community Engagement (ACE) project is run by HCPA’s SMILE team, with backing from NHS England. The project aims to reduce isolation and provide opportunities for people with mild cognitive impairment, or an early diagnosis of Dementia, to meet and work together to build a community garden. Families, friends, carers, and volunteers are also welcome to attend the weekly meetings, which makes for a very diverse and lively atmosphere. The clubs are based across Hertfordshire, at residential care homes, day centres or sheltered housing sites which are all easily accessible.

To find an ACE club near you or to start a new ACE club at your organisation, please contact the SMILE team at HCPA on 01707 536020 or email


Even if hands-on gardening isn’t your cup of tea, the projects are designed and lead by the group, so there is a chance to learn and practice all kinds of skills and pastimes. No two days are the same at an ACE club. Some of the clubs have seen woodwork sessions to build homes for wildlife, making seasonal flower arrangements, watercolour painting and nature photography, and even a fruit smoothie making session with some of the produce grown this summer. The fun doesn’t stop on rainy days or when the weather gets chilly, ACE attendees have recently been treated to a Harvest Festival session, with a slideshow, food tastings, and lots of singing! The gardening activities themselves can continue indoors too! People attending the sessions can take part in ‘table top gardening’, using large tidy trays to hold compost and pot up plants. These have proved popular with keen gardeners of all abilities. Table top gardening makes it possible to create an arrangement in comfort.

Attendees at Fountain Court in Borehamwood recently made up colourful autumn hanging baskets, from the comfort of their indoor lounge. Houseplants are a popular choice for this time of year too. Cyclamen plants are happy on a windowsill and will bear bright, cheerful flowers right through the winter.

ACE club members at Mary Barfield House in Royston have been busy creating ‘bulb lasagnes’ which are deep pots planted up with layers of Tulip, Daffodil, Hyacinth and Crocus bulbs. These will flower in succession right through from early spring to the start of summer.

As we move towards Christmas, clubs are looking forward to wreath making workshops, using some of the foliage grown to create seasonal arrangements.

Paul Bird, who attends the flagship Project, at Mary Barfield House in Royston on Wednesday mornings said:

“I moved into Mary Barfield House in April and had been having a lot of health problems, I didn’t have a lot to look forward to at all. I didn’t really get out into the garden much before this, now I really look forward to Wednesdays! I want Mira (the ACE tutor) to come back next year! This year we have made some hanging baskets, a raised herb garden, and I have designed the bed at the front myself with new rose bushes, spring bulbs and pansies. I am planning to build more raised beds next spring to grow vegetables. I just love it, it cheers me up!”

Residents from Saint Audrey’s, were asked if they were enjoying the ACE project so far, Ian said “I enjoyed it very much, it is good that we could go outdoors to do the gardening, and the fresh air outside is lovely.” Thelma also says, “I am learning all of the time,” she then said she feels a great sense of achievement and she can actually say “We did that!”

Dorothy replied “My parents had an allotment so I know what I am doing. I enjoy gardening inside and outside. I like working outside in the fresh air. I love the potting and planting!”

ACE clubs run throughout Hertfordshire and everyone is welcome. A new club can even be started at your organisation, and support with transport is available for those that need it. For more details or to find an ACE club near you, please contact the SMILE team at HCPA on 01707 536020 or email