Posted on 10 April 2015.
Gosia Glinska, Work and Learning Mentor at Conway House, a Sheltered Housing scheme run by Saphire Independent Housing shares the latest progress of their gardening group and the welcome involvement of Master Gardener Helene Guild.
”Up until September 2014 the garden of our hostel was underused and crying out for attention, so I spoke to some of the residents about the idea of developing the garden into a more attractive and inspiring space. I was delighted when a few people expressed an interest in getting involved in a gardening activity even though some had never been involved in any form of gardening before.
I had been recommended to get in touch with The North London Master Gardeners Programme and spoke to Nynke Brett the Programme Co-ordinator to explain our intention to set up a regular gardening group.
I then organised a planning meeting with residents to provide an opportunity for them to express their wishes for the use of the garden space. Many ideas emerged including growing vegetables that could be used in the cooking classes at Conway House. It was the first time the group were going to have the opportunity to gain ‘hands on’ food growing experience. We were quite excited!
In September 2014 volunteer Master Gardener Helene Guild joined the gardening group and set about preparing the garden for growing. Ever since then, Helene has been leading weekly sessions with residents who meet for a few hours each time.
Residents have learned how to recycle garden waste by using a compost bin and how to build a mini greenhouse from discarded materials like off cut wood. A number of sturdy planters with wheels were built and in them we planted garlic, onion and shallots. We also learned woodwork skills and watched some ‘How To’ videos on growing potatoes and sweet peas.
In March 2015 a cooking session was held using pea shoots and fava beans grown by The Conway House Gardening Group. We felt so proud! And during the Easter week we planted potatoes as well as some Wild Flowers donated by the project ‘Grow Wild.’
Part of my job is to go round knocking on bedroom doors each week to remind the residents to attend the sessions, but I know they enjoy it as feedback has been hugely positive.
Some residents now use the garden every single day to check up and water the plants and vegetables. They have told us that being involved in the gardening group has helped improve their confidence and self-esteem, They enjoy the physical activity and taking responsibility for essential gardening tasks like watering and weeding.
The amount of food growing has definitely increased since Helene started, in fact no food was grown here before.
Quotes from residents:
I now eat more fruit. Before I never eat fruit;
My physical activity levels have definitely gone up since joining the gardening group. I now love going to the park and jog down there to use the outdoor fitness machines;
As a group the gardening has made us closer. We’ve become friends, it brings us together, and we are no longer like passing strangers;
It takes my mind off my own thoughts, as I don’t want to think about my past, I was on the streets, since then its helped me ‘think less’ and not worry;
I feel more confident, I wouldn’t have come down from my room if it wasn’t for the garden;
It’s relaxing, takes your mind off the madness of my past life of drink and drugs;
Best thing about the garden project is being outdoors and having fun!
The staff at Conway House would like to thank Master Gardener Helene for her hard-work; dedication and enthusiasm in helping us transform and develop our garden this year. She’s so knowledgable. Before she arrived the garden was a mess with long grass and weeds. It’s now un-recognisable and looks 100% better. We can’t wait to harvest our crops this summer!
We hope to keep the gardening group going for a long time to come and I have registered on the Project Dirt website to keep in touch about relevant funding opportunities being advertised. We also hope to apply for an allotment from Camden Council.
A big thank you to Public Health Camden & Islington and The Master Gardener Programme as none of this would have been possible without their funding and help,”
Conway House is a modern 60 bed hostel providing en-suite accommodation for males with a range of support needs. The Conway House development also includes a Training Resource Centre which includes courses on IT and basic literacy skills as well as a range of activities including art classes, yoga, acupuncture and cooking. Referrals to Conway House are accepted from designated agencies in the Camden Hostels Pathway.
The Growing for Health programme is an initiative in the boroughs of Camden and Islington to encourage more residents to get involved in learning to grow their own food. The initiative is primarily targeting individuals who are socially isolated, have mental health conditions or long term health conditions who would benefit from more physical activity, social engagement in their communities and a healthier diet through easier access to local food. Read more about the Growing for Health programme Here