Chuck Whitehead of Transition Town Tooting shares exciting news from the ‘Gardens of Refuge’ partnership project.
This 2017 project with local south west London refugees and asylum-seekers is a partnership between CARAS (Tooting charity Community Action for Refugees and Asylum-Seekers), Transition Town Tooting and The Grange (a permaculture-based respite centre in Norfolk).
Last week the Aviva Community Fund announced that we’ve won the award we sought! We’re thrilled – here’s our blog post – not only about the grant (£10k) or even that the project can now be developed. Our joy is also about winning recognition that the rights and lives of refugees are valuable, and that what CARAS (and we) do at community level is not invisible.
In October and November we had a month of seeking online votes; our total of 600+ put us in the top three in our category so we went through to the finals. There’s a blog post here about that experience, called it what it felt like: ‘Riding the Wave’. After that it felt like an anti-climax to do the formal application and then….wait for January 10th Aviva Announcement Day.
The announcement itself was…strange. Marketing must have taken over from relationship management, and while Aviva publicised that 5 million votes had been cast, and put the awards online, on twitter and in mails to voters, we did not hear a direct ‘yes’ for 24 hours.
“TTT and CARAS volunteers will be working with refugees and asylum seekers living in and around Tooting. We’ll be designing, building and growing to brighten our community centre, spending time together at Tooting Community Garden, feeling the benefits of being outdoors, sharing skills and learning together”.
What did we do in that ‘waiting’ month?
In fact we made it add a lot of value to our partnership. We were jointly getting the message out about the social sustainability of refugee rights plus community action:
- We were invited to present our 2015/16 ‘Rooting in Tooting’ project to the International Volunteering Conference in City Hall, London.
- CARAS ran a funding appeal which TTT helped promote, sharing stories of individual refugees’ experiences, the services CARAS offers, the newly-created CARAS Youth Council and a join-in video by Arthur Smith. Here’s a short video with the views of volunteers, young people and staff. (Nice shots of mural panels from ‘Rooting in Tooting’!)
- We built on local serendipity. We spoke at the annual awards dinner for the biggest local voluntary community organisation; we joined in at a showing of the film ‘Sea Sorrow’, including a Q&A with the director Vanessa Redgrave and Lord Alf Dubs.
“We’ve already witnessed the transformations that take place when people can use their skills and knowledge to create something shared. We know that learning together and growing plants brings beauty, hope and a sense of purpose when times are hard”.
- We’ve written a vision for the year’s project that emphasises feelings and outcomes.
- We’ve used plenty of post-its to start to map out what we must do / what we could do.
- We’ll get to planning the year more operationally, soon. We are consciously not rushing that. There are many individuals and groups who might contribute, so we want to take time to develop project details together – and so it feels like one team.
- And we’ve recognised that Gardens of Refuge is not the only thing we’ll all be working on in 2017, so keeping it do-able is a ‘note to self’.
This project was grown and launched in public. Now we’re getting mails and messages with ideas, requests to share, and simple well-wishing from many people new to us and maybe far afield. Plus, we just don’t know who voted for us.
- How can we involve and share ideas, experience and resources with our voters?
- How can we best communicate regularly with supporters near and far and to other projects that mix refugee rights and value with community action? One method we want to keep doing is face-to- face sessions to share learning.
- How can we work with the new CARAS Youth Council so their voice is another valuable contributor?
- How can we make the most of learning from the permaculture experience at The Grange, to stimulate what we do in Tooting?
So – we’re feeling affirmed and can-do. We want refugees to be safe, happy and recognised as active contributors within their communities. We want to enjoy 2017 together, do a mix of things we know will work alongside experiments and new things. We want to share learning.
Please get in contact to explore any of these topics with us – thanks as ever for your support!