One of the pleasures of working as Community Engagement Officer is having the opportunity to design projects that bring the values of the Skip Garden to the wider community, writes Ciara Wilkinson.
As the development continues, we find ourselves closer to residential buildings, and we have been keen for some time to begin engaging with those residents who pass the garden by every day, but who have never, or rarely, ventured inside it.
There was a certain air of sadness as I laid down my hand-trowel this week and said “Goodbye” to Eddie and Martin, Tile House residents, who have been working alongside me since the Skip Garden Sessions began there in May.
We rounded off our Master Gardener project with a celebration; a celebration of the time we had put into creating our garden, of our (modest) harvests and of the friendships made. Planting bulbs and gnawing on corn-on-the-cob we were proud of ourselves and bright-eyed about next year’s spring.
Tile House is a semi-sheltered accommodation building, nestled in the residential area of the Kings Cross redevelopment site. The residents have all worked their way through the mental-health system, and for many, Tile House is one of the final steps towards independent living. Sitting in the residents' lounge on a rainy May morning, I cradled a cup of tea and waited to talk to whoever came in to do the same.
Early on in the project there was a lot of tea-drinking and talking to be done! It seemed more important to be getting to know as many people there as possible, both staff and residents.
Gentle encouragement from the staff meant that by the third week I was regularly meeting with Paul, John, David, Eddie and Martin. Talking with residents, I quickly realised that the workshops needed to encourage a sense of ownership and pride in the local area as well as giving the volunteers the responsibility that they, at times, crave.
As time elapsed, Eddie, Martin and I formed a good little working unit. Eddie talked with me about how, before he had begun to experience depression, he had worked in grounds-maintenance in London cemeteries. Martin was very honest with me – he didn’t like gardening but wanted to join in anyway.
We began by sowing seeds, then gave our hand at growing herbs from seed and built raised-beds. Some weeks we did odd jobs around the Skip Garden (which is where I discovered Martin’s love-of and steady hand for painting), we designed signs to decorate our ‘garden’ and watered the courgettes endlessly.
And it is this way that the months passed so quickly - leaving us, last week, standing around the planters that we three had built, filled and planted – wishing the bulbs below the surface “All the best” in the cold winter months to come while we wait for their emergence in Spring.