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New community garden in Brent will ‘help people in crisis’

Official opening of Sufra’s community garden

A charity in Brent has opened a community garden aimed at providing “therapeutic help to people who have experienced crisis” and a way of “bridging cultural divides” among people of different backgrounds in the area.

Last weekend, Sufra NW London, a food bank charity, celebrated the transformation of a desolate piece of unused land in the area into a community garden.

Sufra was established in 2013 to deal with impoverishment in or around the St. Raphael’s Estate in Brent, the London borough’s most disadvantaged neighbourhood.

Raphael’s Edible Garden has raised growing beds, an event pergola, tipi, polytunnel, an Indian garden, a flock of 20 chickens and a DIY shed. Gardening activities will take place on Wednesdays to Fridays, both in the morning and afternoon.

Sufra offers support to vulnerable people who are in desperate need of food supplies, providing additional social services, including therapy, to “alleviate what problem is there in the first place”.

“In a really deprived estate, we’re trying to bring nature to people, we’re trying to teach them about something that is completely different to what they might have been exposed to before,” Jim Sheeran, Sufra’s Irish Community Garden Manager, told the Irish World.

“We’re encouraging people to grow, to beautify the whole area, and to understand a little bit more about nature.”

The local residents association had initially approached Sufra over three years ago. They sought advice from the charity about whether anything could be done to transform a derelict piece of land near the estate into something productive for the area.

Sufra spoke to several contractors in the UK – John Sisk, Lamabuild, Quintain, Carey Group – who all “willingly” helped create the garden.

“It was a desolate site three years ago. Now, it’s been transformed into a really beautiful space,” Sheeran said.

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Sufra will provide social therapeutic horticulture to all users of the food bank, local residents and visiting groups from schools and organisations supporting people living with support needs.

The garden’s official opening last weekend – a “celebration to thank all of our volunteers, supporters and funders who made the project possible” – was attended by Brent’s Mayor Councillor Ernest and Leader of the Council Councillor Butt.

Sheeran, a Social Therapeutic Horticulturist who previously worked in social housing at Innisfree Housing Association, said that something he noticed when working with Irish people in the past can be applied to people of all nationalities and backgrounds.

“I know from being outdoors, and getting your hands dirty, is something Irish people take to very easily,” he said.

“I’ve also discovered that people from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh all have growing in their DNA as well. We’re discovering common themes in how people live to bridge the gap between cultural divides.”

The garden will cater to people with learning difficulties, elderly people, groups with dementia, food bank users, and people living with PTSD.

Alongside Irish firms like John Sisk, Quantain and Careys, several Irish organisations played a role in, as Sheeran put it, “making this dream a reality”.

Daniels Estate Agents and Diarmuid O’Hegarty, Chair of Sufra’s Board of Trustees, helped ensure the garden’s creation went smoothly.

“My skills involve helping people carry out growing activities by getting their hands dirty and watching things grow,” Sheeran added.

“Growing is the medium to helping them to feel better within themselves – to calm down that voice inside.”

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