THEIR stories are varied, their backgrounds are also wide-ranging.

But the people who worked together to create their own oasis of tranquillity have a common cause.

Julie Blake sums it up perfectly when she says: “I am living my life now, and that’s what’s important.”

Julie is one of the patients with dementia involved in the sensory garden project at the memory assessment clinic at The Emerald Centre in Turner Road, Colchester.

Today with staff and their families, they celebrate the completion of The Emerald Garden.

Brightly coloured benches are potted around the garden which is entered through a gate with another brightly coloured sign on the front of it, declaring what lies on the other side.

Julie donated some of the pansies that are planted around the borders.

There are also brightly coloured pots and bird feeders dangling from the trees, as well as some more curious and quirky features – such as a large papier mache Dalmatian.

All these features are designed to stimulate the senses and the sculptures have been made by patients from everyday objects.

Widowed Julie, 79, is picked up from her Langham home every week so she can visit the Emerald Centre to meet others in similar situations.

“It is wonderful,” she says.

“I am home all the time now. I used to work. I had a shop in Trinity Street called Butterfly but gave it up. Then I found this place.”

Julie’s dementia diagnosis only came recently, she tells me, and is still in its early stages.

It’s clear she prides having had a sharp mind and wants to keep making memories for so long as this cruel condition will allow.

“I don’t know how bad I am going to get but I love coming here and it is just something to look forward to,” she adds.

Geraldine Irvine takes a seat with us and I’m reminded to cast aside my assumptions that dementia only affects elderly people.

Geraldine is just 56 and was diagnosed with early onset dementia – the name given to sufferers aged under 65 - just six months ago.

She’d enjoyed a career as a therapy radiographer at Colchester Hospital and visits the Emerald Centre on Thursdays.

“I didn’t know what to expect but they are so upbeat, everyone is so light hearted and if you have a concern they will always listen,” she says.

Geraldine is equally as frank as Judy about her condition.

“It started in 2016, when I started to get a bit stressed and forgetful and in work I was getting quite tense and exhausted every day, because I was having to think more.

“I thought it was the menopause but the gynaecologist said I needed to see a neurologist to assess me.”

Tests and brain scans followed before Geraldine was given the diagnosis of dementia by her GP.

“Going from a Band Seven in my work department to a meltdown…but because the neurologists’ test I kind of knew it could be dementia of some sort,” she says.

Geraldine has had to give up her job and driving due to the impacts on her cognitive ability and lives with her sister in Colchester.

Day-to-day challenges face her including anxiety over mixing up dates and appointments, as well as PIN numbers.

Tablets will help to slow down the impacts of dementia but as is incurable the nature of it, only time will tell as to its severity.

Geraldine laughs when she says she was seconded to do lots of varnishing for the garden project, apparently being a bit of a dab hand at it.

And then there is former builder Terry Evans.

He’s brought wife Lynn and their daughter Louise and her young daughter to today’s opening.

Terry can be credited with painting the benches which many visitors have perched on to enjoy some celebratory cake.

“I have got onset vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s,” he tells me.

Vascular dementia is the most second common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s Disease and occurs when blood vessels in the brain are damaged.

“Terry was only 55 when he was diagnosed last year,” Lynn explains.

“I have to do things now like sort out the MOT and car tax – that was always a ‘blue job’, and I have to drive, he can’t drive anymore.”

Terry’s Wednesday visit to the centre gives her a break too.

Terry started to become confused and frustrated before he was diagnosed and is also taking tablets to slow down the impacts of dementia.

The enthusiasm and optimism of the people here is catching but the garden couldn’t have been possible without its staff.

Anastasia Barnes, senior occupational therapist, was central to its fruition.

She explains: “This was just a blank space before. Somebody was going to do some mosaics on the flower pots and then I decided to do the whole garden.”

The idea behind it is so dementia patients and their families can spend time gardening and relaxing together.

After applying for a charitable grant from the Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT), and successfully winning £1,000 funding from the Cosyfeet specialist shoe company, it was all systems go.

The garden will also provide a place where positive memories can be created for the families of dementia sufferers, and where community groups can gain a better understanding of dementia while assisting with garden development projects.

“The therapeutic benefits of horticulture and art are well documented,” says Anastasia.

Donations also came in thick and fast including materials from building suppliers Kent Blaxill, Care Direct and from the New Town Open Gardens event.

Not to mention the patients.

The total cost of the project was £3,000 but it was the combined effort and sense of achievement that has been key to its success.

“The more it grew, the more people became enthusiastic,” Anastasia adds.

“People with dementia feel scared but it has been giving them back a sense of self-esteem, achievement and the whole idea is for them to enjoy the garden.”

The garden was officially opened last week.

The memory assessment clinic sees more than 100 patients a month for an assessment of their memory.

The number of people under 65 who are being diagnosed with dementia is growing. Approximately 20 per cent of the patients seen by the memory assessment clinic are under 65.

Patients can be referred to The Dementia Service and Recovery Support Teams at The Emerald Centre, based at the King’s Wood Centre, by their GP.

It provides care for dementia sufferers in north Essex by hosting not only its weekly sessions but also has a 24-hour helpline, visits people in their homes, offers therapy and runs a dementia café from the Shrub End community and sports centre, allowed by Colchester United for reduced venue cost.