In March 2014, Forest Farm Peace Garden celebrated its 10th anniversary!
Today we work with a wide range of groups, but we first began as a permaculture-based ecotherapy project for refugees and asylum seekers. The garden was founded by Joanna Burch-Brown and Stefan King, with a generous grant from The Compton Foundation of San Francisco.
The original aim of Forest Farm Peace Garden was to help refugees and asylum seekers improve their mental and physical health through gardening and socialising outdoors in a beautiful environment. In our first few years, we worked with people from over twenty different countries, including Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Congo, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Members of the project gardened together, shared lunch and food, met new people, and had a chance to practice English and learn new skills. Our work during these first few years was supported generously by funders such as the Home Office Refugee Integration Fund, and Comic Relief. The name ‘Forest Farm Peace Garden’ was chosen by the very first members of the garden.
In 2006, we asked the members of our refugee programme about their vision for Forest Farm Peace Garden, and they overwhelmingly agreed that they would like for the garden to be open for everybody, and not just refugees. So we expanded the project and began a Community Volunteering programme, as well as a Mental Health project, funded by Capital Volunteering, and working with volunteers referred to us through local doctors and GPs.
These days our Ecotherapy project has grown and developed into an outstanding support for mental health. Ecotherapy is based on growing evidence that spending time being active outdoors in nature, being with other people, and taking part in exercise and activities all help to improve mental health. At the heart of our Ecotherapy Programme is our Buddy Scheme, which supports mental health service users. Volunteers on the buddy scheme come one or two days per week (Wednesdays and Fridays) to garden together in small groups.
Over the years, we have been fortunate to have many wonderful staff members. Joanna Burch-Brown founded the garden originally, with the support of a $40,000 fellowship from the Compton Foundation, and she acted as project manager for the garden’s first three years. In 2006 she headed on to do her PhD at Cambridge and is now a lecturer in Philosophy at University of Bristol. Joanna continues to be involved as a trustee and director for FFPG. Stefan King was Forest Farm Peace Garden’s original Garden Coordinator. He led the permaculture side of the project for the first 7 years, and designed the garden’s beautiful layout, with forest gardening and communal areas and as well as individual plots, ponds, a pergola and picnic areas, wind turbine, polytunnel and willow domes. It is thanks to his great sense of design that we have such a beautiful plan to the garden.
Gareth Morgan joined the board of trustees in the garden’s first year, and in 2006 he took over from Joanna to become Project Manager. He ran Forest Farm Peace Garden for several abundant years, before going on to become People and Wildlife Projects Manager and then Director of London Regions for the London Wildlife Trust. Mairead Lineen became our first Ecotherapy Worker (originally called ‘Bridge worker’) in 2011, and she established our original Buddy Scheme, funded by EcoMinds and City Bridge Trust. She stepped down in 2013 to pursue a Permaculture Diploma, but has stayed involved with the garden as a volunteer. In 2011, we were very fortunate to appoint as the new Project Coordinator the superbly talented and capable Natalie Szarek (previously women’s office for Cambridge University Student’s Union). She steered the garden expertly through a major period of development from 2011-2014. In April 2013 we appointed Naomi Clarke to the role of Ecotherapy Worker, and in April 2014 she became Project Coordinator.
Spring 2015 saw the arrival of the immensely talented Anna Konarska as the new Project Manager and Autumn 2015 brought in our new Ecotherapy Worker, Sarah-Jane Childs. The project re-focused and shifted away from being primarily about food growing and became a Social and Horticultural Therapy project. February 2016 saw the departure of Natalie Szarek to her own project and the arrival of Nicky Quinn as our Head Gardner.
Forest Farm Peace Garden today is supported through generous funding from Redbridge Strategic Partnership, Henry Smith, Redbridge Community Fund, and the Reaching Communities Fund from the Big Lottery.