IT’S taken a year of hard work and fundraising and has had to recover from repeated thefts, but one man’s vision to create a special sensory garden for his village has been realised.

Last summer, pensioner Ernie Malt decided to create a garden in Evenwood, near Bishop Auckland, that would be peaceful and stimulating for residents, particularly those with disabilities or suffering dementia, like him.

With help from friends, £5,000 of neighbourhood budget funding from Durham county councillors Heather Smith and Andy Turner and fundraising events such as parties, craft and bric-a-brac sales, the grounds of the Cornerstone Christian Centre were gradually transformed.

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On Saturday the community turned out to celebrate the opening of Cornerstone Sensory Garden, officiated by Mr Malt and Maggie Lee, the church’s oldest member at 96.

Mr Malt, who was diagnosed with vascular dementia four years ago, said: “It hasn’t been easy, people thought I’d taken too much on at first but lots of people helped.

“Now it is here it is wonderful and will only get bigger and better.”

The 70-year-old has been the driving force behind making the village ‘dementia friendly’ runs a dementia cafe at the church and has been recognised for his work with an award from the Alzheimer’s Society.

Rowena Carr, a dementia support worker with the charity, said: “This is a safe space, accessible and available to be used by people with dementia, or not.

“The beauty of it is, people with dementia or disabilities will find it relaxing, be able to smell the herbs, work on raised beds and meet and talk to people but it will hopefully appeal to loads of other people too.

“It is about bringing the community together rather than labelling people and boxing them off.

“As a society we need to stop doing that, remove the stigma and move forward to creating communities that are inclusive and that is what Ernie and others are doing here.”

The garden features wheelchair accessible paths, a community hut, raised beds, fragrant and colourful plants, wind chimes, a barbecue, gazebo, seating and a vegetable patch.

Mr Malt has big plans for its future which include adding a pagoda and running activities such as building bird boxes and is hopeful of securing extra funds from a supermarket to develop the garden.

He said: “I think this will be a nice place to sit and meet people, to join in with our activities and be a positive for the community.”