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“Room to Heal is my second home”

News 8 March 2021

I happened to join Room to Heal in November 2018. To my surprise, it started from Gumtree, a British online classified advertisement. However, the encounter should have been inevitable, not by chance and I think it was a gift from God.

I came to the UK to change my career. I had wanted to work for a charity to support the disadvantaged children and young people in Japan whilst I was working for a Japanese bank. Unhappy memories of my teenage years drove me to seek jobs in the charity sector, but the charity sector in Japan was not developed enough and I chose the corporate sector as my first career choice. When my partner took the opportunity to work in the UK, I thought London would be the best place to learn how charities are managed as the charity sector in the UK is the most advanced in the world.

After completing a Masters course in Social Policy at LSE, I struggled to find a good charity among the thousands of organisations in the UK. It was truly very difficult as a foreigner. My English teacher (who I found on Gumtree), Sally who is open-minded and has a big heart, became my mentor. She knew that I would struggle to find a charity and introduced me to Room to Heal. This was the beginning of my journey.

I started a new life at Room to Heal where I cooked on a Tuesday, carried out admin tasks on Thursday and Friday morning, and finished the week with cooking and having dinner with the staff and members on Friday afternoon. It was full of new experiences and discoveries; I had never been part of such a multicultural community, I had never cooked for 20-30 people, and had never used so many spices and garlic! Although I am not that good at English, all members and staff welcomed me kindly. I felt like I found a comfortable space that accepted me which would normally be difficult for foreigners to reach in London and especially when one has not got used to European/British culture yet.

I’m preparing for the Christmas party in Dec 2019. Making Italian Panettone (Sally’s recipe)

I had always been interested in how to run a small community-based charity and volunteered for those kinds of charities in Japan, but I learnt much more from Room to Heal. For example, I understood “boundaries” for the first time in my life which had not existed in my dictionary. It was interesting to see how to fundraise and I was sometimes astonished by Room to Heal’s ideas about fundraising. Seeing how to build a strong team gave me deep insight. Everywhere in my volunteer life, I sensed and recognized how effective Room to Heal as a community model works for healing traumatized people; dealing with individual’s needs carefully in a holistic way- an interwoven approach of therapeutic and practical support- through gardening and communal meals after the therapy session. This human-centered approach was applied to everyone including volunteers. The staff always cared about me and listened to how I felt and what I wanted to achieve. However, here, I cannot write about everything that I learnt from my experience at Room to Heal!

Room to Heal had gradually become “my second home” and “my sanctuary” as the members describe it. Room to Heal is a safe place to gently support not only members but also volunteers without any judgement. It seems like a beautiful secret garden which all members and staff have cultivated together and protected.

One member recently sang a song, Lean on Me in one of our online community gatherings:

We all have pain

We all have sorrow

But if we are wise

We know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me

When you’re not strong

And I’ll be your friend

I’ll help you carry on…

It felt like the song symbolised the relationship between the community and me. I realised that Room to Heal is the place for me to lean on. It seemed just having a cup of tea, making dinner and having it together sitting on the bench in the Culpepper garden. But it meant a lot to me. They were standing by me and listening to me. In the UK, I have always sensed that as a foreigner coming from a very different culture that I am marginalized and found it difficult to survive here. I cannot imagine how severe and painful the members’ lives have been however, despite the tough ways of their life, they have survived in the hostile environment. They are all heroes and heroines for me and their own existence encouraged me when I was faced with difficulties and was feeling down.

The community was forced to change dramatically when the pandemic hit the UK. We have not been allowed to spend time together in the garden since last March. Although our physical activities are lost, I have still been feeling the power of the community and the members’ resilience through the activities we do online. With a lot of anxieties and uncertainty, it was the community that supported me mentally. Having meetings with the staff and chatting with the members gave me energy and cheered me up. We went through the lockdown days embracing our bond; we missed and remembered the community activities as they once were, doing our case work tasks together (like online delivery) and talking about our hopes.

This was my last dinner in the Culpepper garden in March 2020 just before the lockdown.
Then, we tapped our feet instead of hugs as a greeting… 

I am now going to work for a charity which supports disadvantaged children and young people in Japan, where my role includes planning and fundraising in addition to some casework. Though they are not refugees and asylum seekers, I would like to dedicate myself to building a resilient beautiful community like Room to Heal. My ambition is to carry on Room to Heal’s ethos in Japan. And if I am fed up with the peer pressure of Japanese culture and feel as if I would suffocate under the homogeneous society, I will need to meet up with Room to Heal people in the garden and would like to chat over a cup of tea or meal sitting on the wooden bench. As a guest, please let me say “Big hands for the chef”. I hope my second home Room to Heal will thrive and will be there forever.

My journey will continue!

Mariko, February 2021

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