After the long haul of communicating near and far for voting in the Aviva Community Fund last year, winning funding in January, and getting on with the planning for 2017…we’ve begun the project!

Our first session with the CARAS refugee and asylum-seekers has been a Family Activity Day on Valentine’s Day..
It was a familiar mother-and-children event like many repeated all across Britain when it’s half term, and that everyday normalness was exactly the point: creating a safe and friendly space for some fun and practical family time together as a community.
That’s the purpose of Gardens of Refuge: to create with asylum-seekers and refugees a therapeutic sense of wellbeing and feeling at home, plus growing activities and meeting members of the wider local community.

Run by CARAS staff and volunteers, plus more from TTT, by 11:30 the church hall at All Saints Tooting was transformed with friendly faces and drop-in games and toys for all ages.

Egle from CARAS ran a 90-minute programme while lunch was being prepared:

  • In a circle of chairs: welcome, introductions & ground rules for inclusion and safety.
  • In a big burst of energy – playing ‘fruit salad’ to get us all interacting, adults and children alike.
  • At 3 tables: looking at images from the Tooting Community Garden and saying which kind of activities individuals would like to try out this year- gardening, picnicking & cooking on a fire; garden crafts; and enjoying nature. Everyone had 5 votes to distribute using sticky stars…results to be shared.
  • Continuing at the tables to decorate flower pots using stickers, feathers and pipe cleaners.
Carefully writing a plant label
  • Transplanting growing pots of supermarket herbs (donated by Waitrose Balham). Each pot was divided into 5 or 6 smaller pots, so the roots of basil, parsley, coriander, and greek basil have room to grow on windowsills back at home, and so they could all be shared out between 45 people.  
  • Meanwhile lunch was being cooked by Rama, one of the Chickpea Sisters, plus Georgie and Sara from Abel & Cole (who donated fresh salad).
  • To really get an appetite, we played another active circle game: ‘change places if you are wearing stripes…’
  • Then everyone sat down together to enjoy a hot meal.
  • Departure at 2:45 was a balancing act as there were a lot of plants to carry home – some families had three buses to catch – and another time we’ll bring some extra paper bags.

    Thanks to the CARAS volunteers: Rama, Vicky, Ruby, Susan, Nadia.
    And to the TTT volunteers: Resina and her children, Rose, Georgie, Sara, Chuck and Chris from the Royal Horticultural Society. Chris helped us through 2015 and 2016 with ‘Rooting in Tooting’ our first project with CARAS, and is continuing as a mentor in 2017.

    We’re making plans for Gardens of Refuge activities both with the CARAS Women’s Group and the Youth Club. Yesterday we met the Club’s Youth Council to see how they can be involved in guiding the project. The Council is great – 8 young people from 3 countries who are gaining experience of leadership, communication and self-confidence. More on that group later.

    PS – CARAS and TTT both share other updates on our respective facebook pages and on twitter – do follow if you want to be closer to the action! And, do get in contact by email if you want to offer volunteering time or resources – or ideas – to the whole project; we’d love to hear from you.

    In the kitchen
    Our motorscootering mentor