Soil Sisters is a Green Care project working alongside four women’s refuges in East London. Social and therapeutic sessions take place weekly across the different sites.
Maria Papoui is a Soil Sisters Therapeutic Gardener. She is also a Horticultural Therapist at Thrive Battersea Park. She has supported many community greening projects across North London and co-founded The Green Firm CIC. Maria shares her thoughts and photos from the many workshops and activities she has enjoyed delivering with the amazing women, in one of the refuges.
I have been part of the Soil Sisters team from the onset. It has been a privilege to be welcomed into this 8 bedroom safe house to help turn an unloved concrete yard into a garden. Over the past three years I have been invited every Friday morning to garden, cook, laugh, cry, dance and walk with these remarkable women trying to piece their lives back together.
Running the project has been so much more rewarding with the commitment of two fantastic volunteers. Klaudija and Siham have been with the project from the beginning, building trust with the residents, bringing their skills and there to listen. Thank you.
Returning after lockdown, socialising in the garden and cooking lunches were a priority for the women. The dolmas in the pan are from the vine leaves in the garden.
With limited space and quite a lot of the garden in shade our harvests are limited. But what is grown gets a lot of love and attention.
This pumpkin was named Alli as it was getting plucked from the vine.
PAINTING THE GARDEN
To make their mark in the garden the women decided to decorate the newly stained wood with recycled paints.
Often happier memories from childhood are recovered during gardening sessions. Whilst painting the rainbow in the picture, this was said:
“When I was a child I would chase them, to see where they would go”
As the weather gets colder and the garden less enticing, crafts take centre stage. This jewellery making from a kit online was a winner. Something the women can take with them too, a memory of a positive shared experience.
From discussions with the women there was a desire to celebrate seasonal rituals, perhaps this came from the monotony of being in a hostel or a longing for home. We fitted in Diwali, Halloween and Christmas. There was a playfulness to each of these activities.
Diwali pattern on the kitchen table with petals and rice flower
One of the younger women lit the Halloween candles at night filmed it with her own soundtrack and proudly showed it to us the next week
Bought a real tree and flamboyantly decorated it, which helped make up for the annual Christmas dinner being cancelled due to Covid.
Looking forward, the project is funded until the end of August. Started chitting potatoes for the third season and getting ready to sow seeds for the summer. We will welcome new women and say goodbye to those waiting to move on.
Pictures from winter walk in a local park