Reconnecting with Nature: NFA Foster Carer’s ZenCube Creation

Tuesday 17 December 2019

Foster carer’s immersive ZenCube invention helps bring a sense of calm to stressful lifestyles

Finding the right work-life balance represents a difficult task for many people in the modern age. Whether it’s juggling the increasingly ‘always on’ nature of work commitments combined with raising children, caring for elderly relatives or managing social gatherings, it can be harder than ever to find time to look after our own mental wellbeing.

Plymouth based Susan, who fosters with the National Fostering Agency, has cared for 16 children in as many years. She believes that the knowledge she has gained around the impact that early-life trauma can have on children and young people has led her to this stage of her life. This involves the creation of a therapeutic, nature-focused private space known as The ZenCube, which she hopes can make a big difference to those who are experiencing mental health issues or lead particularly stressful lives.

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Susan has recently graduated from Plymouth College of Art with a degree in Interior Design, which she completed while fostering 14-year-old Callum, and it was during the second year of the course that the earliest examples of The ZenCube were formed.

There were one or two other people there with children on the course and I think that being a parent and especially a single parent, you become very good at being organised, because you have to be‘, said Susan.

I wasn’t always at college and could quite often work from home, which meant it was possible to fit in around Callum and my older birth children; my son who is 17 and my daughter who is 18 years-old and now at university’.

‘There were times when it was really hard, but sometimes I would just take Callum down to college with me and he always enjoyed that because he was then exposed to all the interesting and creative things that are going on there’.     

Susan Clements nature photo

We were asked to design a micro living space. This became something that I originally created for use in hospitals, where people with mental illness or those receiving chemotherapy treatment could spend time in a room that created a relaxed atmosphere”.

Appealing to all five human senses

Having come up with the original design for The ZenCube, Susan has since been encouraged to work on two different versions of the relaxation room. It is hoped that this will allow her idea to reach people across a wide range of industries by flexibly incorporating both indoor and outdoor locations; each designed so that they can appeal to all five human senses.

There is now an exterior ZenCube and an internal one. The external one, which was the initial concept, relies heavily on the location and planting around it because the connection to nature is really important‘.

In terms of being able to fully immerse people in the experience in terms of our senses, they will be able to choose from a variety of sounds inside depending on personal preference and location. This can include everything from sounds of nature to music, rain, the forest or even the ocean. There are also herbal teas for tasting and essential oil diffusers for smell, while there are lots of natural fibre throws to appeal to the touch‘.

‘It’s all designed to be sustainable, and it’s solar powered so it doesn’t have be connected to any mains electric. The design also incorporates one-way glass, so no one can see you when you are it for complete privacy”.

The original ZenCube repurposed for indoor use

“In terms of the internal rooms, which could be really useful for city offices where people don’t have as much chance to get out and be with nature, there are many similarities with the exterior design, although there is a projection of nature on the wall instead of the view outside of your actual location’.

‘I’ve just done something like this for Crowdfunder down in Newquay. This version specifically represents Cornwall, so I’ve changed it a bit so that there are scenes of the area, and everything within the room has been made by Cornish designers’.

‘I’m also doing a room for John Lewis in the New Year, while there is another company from Exeter who are doing luxurious holiday lodge developments, and we are in discussions about having ZenCube’s in some of these and even multiple ones in a nearby woodland area’.

Mock-up of interior ZenCube

Setting an inspiring example as foster family project takes off

Because many vulnerable children and young people who are cared for by our dedicated foster carer community across the UK arrive after a period of emotional instability, there are fewer better lessons to pass on than to set an example of how hard work can pay off at any stage of life.

Having studied for a degree and started a business idea on the scale of The ZenCube while fostering, and after experiencing a significant family tragedy when her husband passed away five years ago, foster carers like Susan are able to highlight an important message for young people coming into her home; that you can come out the other side of hardship and still thrive.

On how her family have pitched in to her ZenCube vision, Susan continued: “I think it’s really important that my children and any young people in fostering households are able to see that you can achieve things like this at various points of your life’.

Callum is very much involved with everything that goes on – all the children are. When I first came up with the concept of The ZenCube, he came down and helped while we built it, as he’d always been in and out of the college for the three years with me anyway, so he’s definitely been on the journey’.

He’s very curious to always find out what’s happening with it, and because I often work from home now, there are related models and things often positioned around the house’.

My daughter’s boyfriend is a carpenter and he has built two ZenCube’s for me so far, and she will also get involved when he makes them too as she likes to help him’.

‘Six months ago I wouldn’t have thought anything like this would happen, it’s all gone a bit crazy…and exciting!”, Susan concluded. 

Becoming a foster carer means that you must be able to meet the specific needs of the children or young people in your care, although as Susan’s story demonstrates, it is still possible to make time for your existing hobbies and business pursuits, as well as being able to advance your skills as a foster carer through our specialist training courses.

Find out more about a National Fostering Group agency near you!