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Therapeutic Gardening

Room to Heal began in a garden. Born out of the wish of five refugees desperate for some green space in which to feel free.

The Garden – a short film

Room to Heal was born out of the wish of five refugees desperate for some green space in which to feel free. A corner of the beautiful Community garden was found, where each week, they would sit and talk in a therapy group, eat together and work on the allotment.

The need for connectedness to nature, and to each other, was the genesis of Room to Heal. This small patch of earth has grown and taken on huge symbolic significance, informing our entire holistic therapeutic approach.

We currently run regular garden sessions at our Community Centre and continue to meet once a week in a local community garden for a big home-cooked feast, gardening and a music-filled social.

Watch our short film The Garden to get a glimpse of what it means for members to feel this sense of belonging and peace.

“To plant a seed you have to have hope”

Mary Raphaely, Psychotherapist

Reconnecting with the land and the self

For many Room to Heal members, life ‘back home’ involved working the land, tending to plants and working on farms or smallholdings. Violent rupture from the land and the challenges of life in the urban jungle of London mean that gardening together as a group can take people to a happier time of life, connecting people to their pre-traumatised selves.

Relating to life through the metaphor of nature, the changing seasons, the responsibility of tending to something, slowly helps to heal the “shattered self” that had been deeply damaged through torture.

“You give life to something that didn’t exist before and that is exciting!”

Planting bulbs in the October cold with people from hot countries brings many questions: how is this going to grow?! Can this tiny bulb survive the frost? When it comes to Springtime, people are often astounded that what they had planted has survived and flourished, despite the odds. As one member said: “I had not known Spring before.”

“Plants are living things and so am I. Very often I forget that I have a life or I am living!!!!! It’s amazing to see the plant grow and bear beautiful fruits.”

We witness how working together as team strengthens the bonds in the community, sharing in the beauty of the garden, collaboratively planning what to plant, harvesting sukuma wiki (purple sprouting broccoli), potatoes, callaloo, courgettes, tomatoes, sweetcorn, sweet potato, and even peanuts. The home-grown, organic produce often ends up as the star ingredient in one of our communal meals.

“Nature-informed therapy can allow the therapeutic encounter to work as a vehicle for engendering ecological or nature conservation awareness and expand individual points of view to encompass social and collective perspectives.”

In the words of one member…

The garden is like paradise for us –
when I came here I was very depressed and without hope.
It was winter and now for me it’s spring.
When I’m working in the garden,
my mind goes quiet
and I’m peaceful for a while.