Refugees find new roots through the power of gardening

Share this with Email Share this with Facebook Share this with Twitter Share this with Whatsapp

After escaping the horrors of war and persecution in countries like Syria, Iran and Eritrea, refugees and asylum seekers are using the healing power of gardening in Tyneside.

Image copyright Caroline Briggs

For the last 16 years the Comfrey Project in Gateshead has provided the space and assistance for participants to plant, grow and harvest their own vegetables on two allotment sites.

Mwansa, 60 (pictured above), has been planting with the Comfrey Project for more than ten years, having arrived in the UK as a refugee in 2000.

"I like to meet people here and plant things from my home country, Congo, like African sorrel, cassava, sweet potatoes and lots of others. Maybe this year we will grow another plant from Africa," said Mwansa.

Image copyright Caroline Briggs
Image caption The allotments include a communal polytunnel, creating the perfect conditions for the warm-weather crops the refugees grew at home

For many, the project provides a vital source of nutrition, along with a sense of place and purpose after the turmoil of leaving their homes.

Image copyright Caroline Briggs
Image caption The allotment provides a sense of community and shared achievement

Photographer Caroline Briggs spent a season visiting the allotments to document the activities and community spirit, but also to highlight a funding crisis for the project and its uncertain future.

Image copyright Caroline Briggs
Image caption By late summer the polytunnel is a blossoming jungle of gourds, squash, pumpkins and peppers
Image copyright Caroline Briggs
Image caption The land used on one of the allotments is a former school in residential Gateshead
Image copyright Caroline Briggs
Image caption For many, the allotment provides a sense of peace and belonging
Image copyright Caroline Briggs
Image caption The shared preparation of meals can create a strong bond between participants

Fardowsa, 29 (pictured above), has been a project participant for two and a half years and has made lots of friends, describing it as "my home, my family and my everything".

But she wasn't always so sure about the power of gardening, adding "I was really stressed and didn't trust anyone, I had been crying at home for six months.

"I left everyone in Somalia. My country is not a safe place. I'm in a safe country now, with lovely people, but in Newcastle the weather is very different."

Image copyright Caroline Briggs
Image caption Donated tools and equipment, like these scaffolder's gloves, are used to keep the soil cultivated
Image copyright Caroline Briggs
Image caption Participants enjoy a weekly meal at a single table, sharing their crops
Image copyright Caroline Briggs
Image caption Participants can also share as much of their lives and experiences as they feel comfortable doing
Image copyright Caroline Briggs
Image caption Donated seeds, plants and compost help the project produce a year-round supply of fresh food
Image copyright Caroline Briggs
Image caption Organic gardening means some crops are slow to produce, and wild flowers can also take advantage
Image copyright Caroline Briggs
Image caption Food is also stored for the future, like these onions hung in late summer and drying in the warm air of the polytunnel

While looking to secure long-term funding, the Comfrey Project also needs regular donations for the bus fares of its participants. They have been able to employ new staff and are optimistic about the future thanks to all our individual and Trust donors. Raising money for bus fares continues to be a great demand.

Image copyright Caroline Briggs
Image caption Many of the project's most dedicated members are women who fled danger and hardship in their homeland.

All photos are copyright Caroline Briggs.