Why support gardening at Yarl’s Wood?

With a crowd funding campaign running from 2nd March – 20th April 2017, I feel I should remind people of the importance of a gardening scheme for the women at Yarl’s Wood, and also give an update of the plans which are now taking shape.

Having been a befriender for 3 years, one of the things that stood out was the lack of activities to occupy the women’s time. This leaves a lot of time to worry – and the more you worry the less motivated you are to take part in the activities that are on offer. This decline in wellbeing is quite obvious to befrienders as they visit women over a period of months.

One of the issues about detention is that it is indefinite. Imagine getting up every day not knowing if you will hear news about your case, be given removal directions, be taken to the airport, or hear that you are being released have just a short time to pack say your goodbyes. This is an important point in the lives of detainees – even being released comes with it’s stresses as you re-settle and try to come to terms with the past months.

Women need to be emotionally strong to cope with these changes – but life in detention leaves them anything but. Having walked through the centre a few times, Serco do try to make it as homely as they can, but there are obvious limitations due to its prison like design and purpose.

Ever since I started  visiting, I have been asking women about the gardens. They did not seem very inspired but still I encouraged them to walk round them each day.  Then at the end of 2015 I threw caution to the wind and approached Serco to see whether I could set a social and therapeutic gardening scheme at the centre. This was met with enthusiasm by everyone I spoke to. Even better, once I was able to see the gardens their potential was obvious. I am attaching my sketches of 4 of the gardens (in total there are 6) – although I can’t vouch for their accuracy! A lot of effort had gone into their design and hard landscaping and they include paths and raised beds to aid access. However they are all planted with shrubs for minimum maintenance and as such look rather dismal and uninspiring. With so much untapped potential they form an ideal blank canvas for the gardening scheme.

Through taking part in weekly gardening sessions the scheme should provide many of the opportunities that are denied to the women; purpose, meaning, planning, decision making, problem solving, creativity, responsibility, ownership, self-expression, achievement and a good measure of fun and enjoyment! Women will be able to share a few hours of sowing, planting weeding and digging; feeling the sun, wind and rain and connecting with nature – and then throughout the week the results will be enjoyed by gardeners and non-gardeners alike.

It is now hoped that gardening will start in the first week of April and prior to that I will be busy making plans, tidying up the storage area and clearing out the poly tunnel so that we can bring on seedlings. There is a reasonable size poly tunnel along one of the perimeters and in time it is hoped we can use it with the women. Health, safety and security procedures are almost in place having agreed a step-by-step approach with Serco, gradually building on our experience. At first we will start running sessions in the closed garden which is looking particularly neglected. This garden is not normally accessible to the women and so it will provide an excellent space for the first group of gardeners to find their feet.

Over that past 14 months there have been many up and downs. The ups include the many, many people who have shown enthusiasm and support for the scheme. The downs have been the continuous struggle to find the funding to get the scheme up and running. Security constraints make it a scheme that cannot be run, in the long term, by volunteers. By reaching the current Crowd Funding target, it will be possible to get the scheme up and running offering 1-2 sessions per week with me giving my time on a voluntary basis. If the campaign succeeds beyond that it may be possible to employed staff and hence increase the number and quality of sessions – but for now that is a distant dream. Sadly, if the crowd funding fails, it will be time to put the scheme to rest, at least for a while,

Despite the ups and down, I have continued to try and set up the scheme for the past year because I can see the value it will bring. I hope that readers will see this too and do what they can to support the crowd funding. Please pledge what you can and recommend to you friends.

Thank you for reading.

Emma