ROOM FOR GROWTH

Most of the families who come to the Cardinal Hume Centre, as well as the homeless young people living in the hostel, have little to no access to gardening, let alone a garden of their own – for them the struggle to survive takes priority.

Gaia teaching some of the children all about plants and wildlife

Many have told us they would appreciate access to an outside space. Green areas and natural daylight – not always readily available to those living in cramped rooms or built-up cities – can promote both physical and mental wellbeing. Gardening, particularly as a group activity, can help to combat isolation and loneliness, as well as fostering a sense of personal agency and stewardship – a sense of belonging.

For these reasons the Centre was delighted to receive funding from HSBC Bank to help us create in the heart of Westminster a wellness garden for the young people and families who use our services. These outdoor spaces will allow them to connect with nature, take ownership of the garden whether by growing their own herbs and vegetables or simply enjoying the opportunity to be outdoors.

As preparation for the project we organised an outing for young people to some local gardens, asking them for their thoughts on our plans and inviting them to help create the garden. One young person, a refugee from Sudan who has just moved into the Centre, said, “I’m so excited by the idea of a garden I can spend time in and help look after. My father owned a farm in Sudan so I like to be outside.”

A gardening workshop – photographs shown right – was organised by the Centre’s life-skills coordinator Gaia and family-support practitioners Entsar and Magda to give children the opportunity to develop their understanding of nature and to get the whole family to enjoy gardening. The day began with a “treasure hunt”, and the children were supplied with gardening gloves and spades. As they explored the garden, the children identified and collected such natural “treasures” as daffodils, dandelions and mushrooms – an opportunity not just to get close to nature but to learn new vocabulary.

Heading off on our brand new nature trail!

In the afternoon the children and parents were each given their own pots to plant up and take home. The sun shone as the children filled their pots with soil, popped in sunflower seeds and learnt how to water and to look after their flowers at home. Adults planted their pots with rosemary, thyme and mint, with one mother confessing, “I think I am enjoying planting as much as my children are.”

We then showed the parents our plans for their gardens to get their thoughts and feedback; parents welcomed the opportunity for their children to get to explore nature, and were excited by the plans for new outdoor space.

“It is wonderful to give children the chance to explore outside, to see the children so excited to learn about nature, learning new vocabulary and just appreciating the what nature has to offer,” said Entsar. “We can’t wait to explore our new garden.”

The project is now underway with the help of the social enterprise Urban Growth, our young residents and more than 20 volunteers from HSBC. We will soon have three new outdoor spaces that clients, volunteers and staff can all enjoy. We plan to hold regular gardening and planting workshops and begin to grow our own fruit and vegetables that people can take home to cook with.

Watch this green space!