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28 Nov 2018


Friendship Garden now more accessible and helping everyone to grow


The sensory garden at the Auburn Friendship Garden.

Since 2015, Settlement Services International’s (SSI) Friendship Garden in Auburn has welcomed people from many diverse backgrounds. The garden brings together locals for community gardening, horticulture courses, community development initiatives, and a fortnightly playgroup. However, it was limited in what it offered to people living with disability.

But this year, the garden has seen an unprecedented evolution. From a place where people go to garden, grow vegetables and connect with others, to a place where the community, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or ability are able to interact and engage with their community and community members.

In collaboration with Cumberland City Council and in consultation with community members through every step of its upgrade, the garden has worked towards increasing its accessibility, not only in physical ways, with raised garden beds, paved pathways and lots of signage, but also through the award of a NSW Government grant. Part of the NSW Community Building Partnership program, the grant allowed SSI to expand the garden and install an accessible children’s sensory garden offering an inclusive environment for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) families and children of all abilities.

The garden features were chosen through a consultation with garden designers and a large group of children. The design incorporates frog ponds, spiralled textured paths and sand pits that simulate participation in sensory based play, enabling children of all abilities to express themselves freely.

The sensory garden was officially opened on 24 October 2018 with an open day attended by school children, community members, regular garden participants, and government representation.

“The open day was a chance to celebrate people of all abilities being able to express themselves freely and participate in an inclusive community environment,” says Diana Nguyen, SSI Community Engagement Practitioner.

“We see the garden as an inclusive space that supports everyone, and where everyone is equal. The NSW Community Building Partnership grant to build the sensory garden and make the garden more accessible has propelled this vision into reality. The scope for how this space can be used for all groups of people has widened dramatically.”

“Our hope is that aspects such as the mobility-friendly pathways, considered design of sensory based features, such as sand pits and herbal plants, and the overall tranquillity of the sensory garden, have removed any previous barriers to inclusion and have created a welcoming space for everyone.”

Regular garden playgroup volunteer June Simpson has seen the positive impact of the garden and is excited to see the future of the garden grow further, “Each time I come something new is happening. To have more people coming in and accessing it; it’s such a wonderful community accessory to me. I’m looking forward to seeing more people come in and have the enjoyment of it.”

Samar Etri has been bringing her children to the garden playgroup since it began. Her eight-year old daughter Sophia attends the playgroup during the school holidays with her younger brother, Niyazi. Sophia is a confident, bubbly and well-spoken girl living with a disability. Sophia is just as capable as everyone else, and doesn’t let her disability stop her from being a leader and role model for other children.

“It’s been a fantastic experience for [Sophia]. I think it’s given her a lot of confidence. It’s been such a wonderful experience for her, being in an environment that’s just so positive and welcoming. In terms of [similar] opportunities, it would have been very limited.”

“The garden has helped her grow.”

Sophia agrees with her mum.

“I love the Friendship Garden – it makes my heart so happy. It’s always so much fun exploring the garden, and there’s always so much happening around. The Friendship Garden is a beautiful place to create special and happy memories and make new friends.”

The evolution of the garden has been an example of collaboration between community, an NGO, local and state government.

“The garden has changed significantly. Our collaborative effort has enabled us to build the sensory garden, which is now one of the main highlights,” says Ms Nguyen.

“My vision is that this place will be utilised by everyone, for everyone who may or may not have a disability; to meet, to do gardening, and to look at their potential. It’s a place for everyone to feel like they belong.”

To find out more about SSI’s Auburn Friendship Garden, visit our Community Engagement page.

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