This week’s blog is a bit different, and here’s why…..
It’s been a difficult year for a lot of people in more ways than one. Just when we need projects that use art and nature to build connections between communities, and improve peoples’ sense of wellbeing, they are faced with funding cuts. This is why I want to shine a light on a wonderful garden, with a very big heart.
Sydenham Garden lies quietly within a residential area of Lewisham. Before I arrived I lined up a few different meetings in the area as I’m not in South London often, so when Tom the Director of Sydenham Garden asked me how long I had, I told him a firm hour and a half, it was met with a sigh, apparently there was a performance that afternoon he thought I might like to watch. We went out into their beautiful garden, Tom showed me the old Victorian glass house and gardens that had been restored. This year they are looking at 600+ mental health referrals from the NHS. People with Adult Mental Health and Dementia are involved in various projects, training schemes and activity sessions tailored to suit their needs. I couldn’t believe they worked with so many people and Tom told me they are lucky to be supported by a lot of volunteers and they’ve also expanded to another site called De Frene.
When we reach De Frene I’m immediately impressed by what I see, someone busy pushing a barrow, cooking a massive pot of soup, digging out clay, mending a door. You name it, everything was going on: two cob ovens; an orchard with sun drying equipment; vegetable beds; compost; chickens; bees; a soon to be cut flower social enterprise. I was bowled over by their ambitions, and the relentless energy of everyone on a cold crisp December’s day. Transforming the land makes you feel better. You’ve used your initiative, worked as a team, worked on your own, nurtured and cared for something, talked to people and celebrated your successes together, as a community. It works this green care. I really believe in it. Evaluations show that people who come to Sydenham Gardens leave with an improved mental health score, but they don’t need to show me these studies – I can feel it.
As I walk back to the community centre I delay my next meeting. I want to stay for that play. It was a performance put on for people with Dementia about the four seasons, the sensations they evoke, memories of fresh washing hanging out to dry in the sun, and crisp Autumn leaves falling down around you. I sat back and watched the audience enjoying reliving these feelings, fully immersed and alive. I wanted to cry. But for a rare moment in 2016 it was tears of happiness. This is what life is about, sharing these beautiful experiences with other people, and Sydenham Garden is doing it brilliantly.
To read more about Sydenham Garden and see how you can support them, visit their website