Soil Sisters Away Day: A time and place to share experiences, to reflect on our successes and our struggles, and to reconnect with nature by Alexia Shakos

Finding my way through Mudchute Farm in the Isle of Dogs – the Soil Sisters’ mutual destination for the day – on a sun-drenched Saturday morning set the tone perfectly for the Soil Sisters Away Day: the serenity of green fields, flowers in bloom and horses rambling by quickly cast off any reminders that I was still very much in the big city of London.

The idea behind having an Away Day for the Soil Sisters project was to bring everyone working on or involved in the project together in a positive, green space to connect and share experiences. Given the remote nature of the project, in that it involves work spread out across a number of separate, individual sites in East London, much of the work carried out and achievements made are consequently hidden away. Organising an Away Day is an important way of ensuring that the work and achievements carried out so far are highlighted and celebrated, as well as offering a chance to offer support and encouragement, to share advice and to talk through challenges.

Soil Sisters Away Day by  Merlin Strangeway

Soil Sisters Away Day by Merlin Strangeway

The day started off as every day should: with abundant tea and coffee. After we had all settled in, under the guidance of our lovely workshop facilitator Tessa, we had the opportunity to interact with each other and to get to know any new faces, which encouraged a sense of togetherness. The Active Hope workshop reminded us how we are not alone in our pain when facing personal struggles, as well as the wider struggles our societies and planet are facing, which can often make us feel daunted and helpless. Instead, the workshop taught us to take the time to acknowledge and honour our pain which should not necessarily lead us to despair; instead this pain can be channelled in more creative ways with nature as the ultimate inspiration, for example, by using leaves, flowers and the rocks from the ground to create a beautiful collage.

At the conclusion of the workshop, the Soil Sisters team then discussed what lies at the heart of the project, the gardens. This discussion was really beneficial as a source of encouragement, support and advice; one Soil Sisters Therapeutic Gardener felt a great sense of renewed motivation, strength and faith in the progress of her garden despite the challenging work ahead.

What were the outcomes of the Away Day? For another volunteer like myself, the Away Day was yet again another indication of the really unique and special atmosphere of support, togetherness and community that marks the Soil Sisters project, as well as WEN. As for me, I left the Away Day feeling cheerful and rejuvenated; although certain aspects of the day were emotional, instead of feeling despair and despondent as I usually do, I felt more positive and a greater sense of gratitude. By the end of the day, based on what I had learned from the workshop and from hearing everyone’s experiences, I pledged to appreciate the small things in life – such as how flavorsome and satiating eating a single strawberry can be, the beauty of a cherry tree in bloom and the opportunity to share a wonderful, sunny day with my fellow, very inspiring Soil Sisters!