What is your name and how long have you lived in the community?
I’m Paula. I’ve always lived in Hackney and I have been working at St Mary’s Secret Garden for 15 years, but the Garden has been around for 30 years. It was originally a disused green space.
What is your involvement in the community?
I run the Garden. We mainly work with those with disabilities, autism and long-term health issues. However, we also get a lot of elderly people and school groups such as Randal Cramer and little Happiness Nursery (the local primary school and nursery). We provide work placements and encourage those who have interests in gardening to plant and take part in beekeeping and whatever they produce they sell through a local business enterprise; such as honey, jam, art, flowers and plants.
We work with around 25 volunteers, who are locals in the community. As a registered charity our management are all volunteers. We deliver wellbeing services to individuals and try not to be ‘post-codey’ by welcoming everyone, even those from out of the borough such as Enfield, Islington and Camden. We have created zones or ‘rooms’ of the Garden, such as the Urban Centre and Wish You Well zone, which was designed years ago by people with mental health issues. We try to be as biodiverse as possible.
How do you think the area/community has changed? Is it for the better or worse?
Our plot of land is getting more expensive as the days go by, not even months, but days and we are continuously fighting to keep hold of the green space for the benefit of the local community. Of course it is still owned by Hackney council so we have to negotiate with leases. As we are a charity, we deliver services and we get funding for that.
How do you think regeneration should benefit those living in the community?
For us we feel the opportunity it is supposed to bring should really be for those in the community, especially the youth. It is so hard for young people, even with qualifications to find a job, let a lone those without any so we try to instill confidence and self-esteem, which is so important for young people. Last year we worked on ‘partnership working’ with young people in NEETS (Not in Education, Employment of Training). We love partner work and are always connecting with small organisations locally such as the one over Fellow Court which has its beehive training here for young people in Hackney and also provides business skills - even if we don’t deliver, we find someone else who does!