15 years of a growing community
The early days
The meeting was very well attended – around 40 people if I remember correctly. The year was 2002 and the venue Sydenham Green Health Centre. The purpose – to discuss forming an association to provide gardening and creative activities for local people coping with serious illness. We were addressed by Tijno Voors – the wise and experienced director of the Blackthorn Garden in Maidstone which to this day remains a wonderful example of how such a project can develop. The meeting was followed by a group visit to the Blackthorn Trust and the formation of the first Sydenham Garden committee.
The committee began meeting regularly at the Health Centre, and soon after a weekly Art and Craft group started helping our first co-workers (the name we have always given to our beneficiaries) who were referred by members of the practice team. The search for a piece of land on which to begin using gardening in the same way was not easy. However, we were enthusiastically supported by Lewisham Council and were eventually granted a lease on the Queenswood Road Nature Reserve. The main condition of the lease was that we continued to manage three-quarters of the land as a Nature Reserve and could utilise the remainder for horticulture and buildings. There began a huge effort by a large number of faithful volunteers to clear the site in preparation for our first co-workers.
Sydenham Garden was formally constituted as a charity in 2005. With the appointment of Nick Fry as Garden Manager in the same year we began welcoming our first co-workers to the garden. For several years we operated with only a portacabin and gazebos for shelter but then received Heritage Lottery funding to rebuild a Victorian greenhouse and in 2010. After seven years of patient fundraising, our wonderful sustainably-built Resource Centre was completed.
It would be impossible for me to mention all the Trustees, staff, volunteers and co-workers who have contributed so much over the last 15 years but I would like to say a huge ‘thank you’ to everyone who has in any way been part of making Sydenham Garden what it has become – a place where people in distress can begin a journey of recovery.
Jim Sikorski, Founder and Chair of Sydenham Garden
Recovering & finding hope
It was 2012 and Sydenham Garden was going through a period of uncertainty. After the quick growth that had resulted in the opening of the Resource Centre, the funds had almost run out. There were no paid employees left, and hardly any money committed. A valiant group of about 20 volunteers kept the charity running, and ensured we survived. It had become clear that something needed to change before Sydenham Garden became confined to the vaults of history.
Change came in 2013 with new funds from Lewisham Council and Lewisham NHS and I was appointed to take the charity forward. It also saw us establish a new project specifically for people with Dementia in partnership with Bromley & Lewisham Mind.
This flourished into a service which now runs weekly sessions for more than 60 people with Dementia each year and runs alongside our Garden and Art & Craft projects which also grew during 2014 to run weekly sessions for more than 70 people a year.
It was around this time that a group of intrepid volunteers starting trying to reclaim some old allotment land that lay derelict. This land is now called the De Frene Market Garden. We had purchased the lease from a committee of local residents who were committed to keeping the land for the use of the local community. In 2015, after many volunteer hours, we finally launched our first formal project at De Frene called Growing Lives. This is a follow on from the Gardening and Craft activities we were already offering, and includes the opportunity to gain qualifications and a whole day of work!
Over the past 15 years Sydenham Garden has been a “Growing Community” in many senses of the word. With 2 centres, activities for over 200 people a week and events that attract up to 400 people, we are close to becoming the busy hub the original group dreamed of. We face the same challenges as many do in the current age. Funding cuts and increasing costs continue to threaten the future sustainability of the charity. However, if we have learned anything from these 15 years, it’s to trust that we can and will overcome, and continue to grow.
Tom Gallagher, Sydenham Garden Director
A place to belong
A therapeutic garden wasn’t something I had heard of before. Yet there was one in my area within walking distance! After booking an appointment with my doctor, I was told I was suffering from depression. This was due to my husband having diabetes and leukaemia and being completely blind, as well as having been diagnosed myself as having multiple sclerosis. I was feeling very moody and quite frankly sorry for myself and reluctant to go on medication. Sydenham Garden was suggested.
I had no idea what happened at Sydenham Garden! My Doctor told me it had been formed for people with mental health problems to go to and either do art and craft, or gardening as a way of learning and for a couple of hours to put my worries and troubles to the back of my mind.
When I walked through the gate I couldn’t believe my eyes. Here was a peaceful sanctuary with flowers, vegetables, birds and peace in the middle of a bustling community but felt like it was in the middle of the countryside.
Of course, I decided I would like to attend weekly. I went regularly and even did an OCN course on horticulture. When I came to the end of my year my emotional health was so much improved that I applied to be a volunteer, which I still am.
Christine, Sydenham Garden Volunteer
Celebrate & Support
We are celebrating 15 years in style! As such, throughout our events a commemorative calendar will be available to buy and an extra large raffle will run. Also a special 15k fundraising walk will be taking place on the 24th September 2017. Keep up to date on our events page (click here), facebook (click here) or twitter (click here)