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Southbank garden helps homeless

How Eden helped create a rooftop garden that's transforming lives.

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Walking home past London’s dreary Southbank on a winter’s day it wasn’t hard to see why we had been invited to build a roof garden there with the Eden Project. It was a depressing scene; the only colour was a bright yellow staircase, which you couldn’t go up, and there were a few concrete planters with some dead looking plants in.

In London’s concrete jungle I struggle to find green spaces and, having suffered from depression, I instinctively seek out parks and other green spaces to walk in when I am low and want to clear my head. Not long before, I had been just getting myself back on my feet after suffering a severe depressive episode and was looking for voluntary gardening work, when I met a group of people who thought just the same way. Today I’m part of this positive force that is Grounded Ecotherapy.

Turning a bleak situation into a beautiful garden is a challenge that we relish. So when the Southbank roof garden build started on a suitably grey day in March and the site was just a concrete expanse with bags of compost, aggregate, palettes of turf and six large trees, we simply found a way to do it.

I can see clear parallels between the transformation of the garden and my own story.

Emily

We are used to working with little, under circumstances in which others would refuse to work, and together we always find a way. At the start we had no tea or coffee and few tools but we got stuck in building the lawn, moving all the soil and stones around with only one wheelbarrow. When the only way to get the plants, wood, vegetable boxes, logs and every other piece of the garden into the space was up seven flights of stairs we just did it. It might sound daunting, but this is the sort of challenge that pulls us together and makes our team so strong.

I have to admit that the day I got home to find my lift broken after I’d been carrying bags of compost up the stairs all, I almost cried – almost! Instead, I got up the next day and carried on. The great thing is that the laughs far outweigh the tears and no one takes themselves too seriously – we make sure of that.

I can see clear parallels between the transformation of the garden and my own story: having faced depression so severe that I could find no hope – or even the motivation to leave my flat – I had nevertheless still got myself back on my feet, and everyone in the group has been there too.

By the time the garden opened to the public we were hardly able to stand and every muscle ached, but the result was a spectacular garden. It’s a work in progress and there will always be more to do, but there is also something new for the public to see every day, either springing up on the wildflower meadows or in the vegetable plot. The public response has been amazing and everyone we have spoken to has been impressed.

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