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Volunteer blog: Missing Culpeper Gardens during lockdown

News 30 April 2020

As we exist in this suspended reality in Covid-19 lockdown, the Room to Heal (RTH) sessions at the garden seem like a different world entirely. The weekly rituals of unloading the shopping for the week’s meal, greeting each member as they arrive, checking on the seeds in the greenhouse and of course, putting the kettle on for endless cups of tea, all feel like a bit of a dream. 

Culpeper Gardens

In these uncertain times, feeling grounded and connected can be a challenge for everyone. But for many of the RTH members this is a daily struggle, merely exacerbated by this crisis. For those in the asylum system, it is often experienced as degrading, relentless and seemingly never-ending, pushing people to their limits as they wait year after year for a decision that affects every aspect of their lives. For people who have experienced torture and other human rights abuses, small aspects of everyday life may trigger traumatic memories, and navigating complex systems to access benefits, employment, housing etc., all in a language and culture they may not understand, can be simply overwhelming. 

Harvesting wild garlic at Culpeper

As a volunteer at Room to Heal, I have seen how spaces can be created to help people feel grounded and enable healing, despite the onslaught of dehumanising systems. The physical space at Culpeper Community Garden is a beautiful, lush haven within a frantic area of the city. It’s a small garden but manages to provide a sense of calm as soon as you step into it. Most weeks we do a little work to tend to our small patch in the garden; growing vegetables, herbs and flowers. Doing these simple tasks in the garden can give us a sense of purpose and connectedness to nature. My favourite times in the garden have been those small moments shared with members in the greenhouse planting seeds, or the little excitement when we harvest a tomato or two that we’ve planted earlier in the year. 

Another important element of the space is the collective meal we share together. Much love, laughter and garlic goes into the meals cooked by a different member each week. We often eat around a fire we’ve made, a true luxury in the heart of the city, and one that feels universally appreciated by staff and members. It’s someone’s birthday almost every week which leads to obligatory singing and sharing cake. The process of making and sharing food together creates a sense of group cohesion, as well as the opportunity for members to make and share food from their home countries. Without doubt, it’s also the most delicious meal I eat each week.

Enjoying a delicious meal at Culpeper

The opportunity for regular support and check ins are also central to this community gathering. With each member going through their own experiences, everyone has good and bad days, and members and staff are there to show support and solidarity to each other over a cup of tea or a stroll around the garden. There is an atmosphere of meeting people where they are at, not sugar coating or pretending that things are easy when they often aren’t. But there’s also beautiful moments of joy, such as meeting a member’s new baby, dancing together at the summer party, or quietly celebrating when a member gets refugee status after many years of waiting. 

It is a huge privilege to be part of this community, the strength of which feels in many ways like the best form of resistance to oppressive systems. My thoughts go out to all the members and everyone currently not able to access this space and I look forward to once again sharing a sense of peace (and a delicious meal) in the garden together.

By Cat Baker, Gardening and Community Volunteer

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