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28 Oct 2020


How a garden fostered lasting support networks for the community

The Friendship Garden connects participants with nature and with each other.

Since 2015, the garden welcomed many people from diverse backgrounds, languages and abilities who worked together to build an inclusive and cohesive community.

On July 18, 2019, the last day of SSI’s ownership of the project, an olive tree, traditionally a symbol of peace and friendship, was planted at the Friendship Garden to mark the great achievements made together and the community’s commitment to continue to support the garden and one another in a positive, united future.

SSI Community Engagement Manager Trina Soulos takes us through the evolution of the initiative.

How did SSI first become involved with the Friendship Garden?

SSI collaborated with Auburn City Council (now Cumberland City Council) in June 2015 to support the expansion of the existing Friendship Garden and transform it into a productive and inclusive community garden project.

What did the project involve?

People involved in SSI programs and members of the public would come together to socialise and learn new skills during regular gardening mornings and workshops. Anyone from the community could volunteer their time to transform the disused land into green space for the community. The gardeners planted vegetables, flowers, whatever plant life they wanted really. Participants would sometimes bring a crop or seed to plant that reminded them of their homeland. I recall white mulberry being planted, which is very popular in Iran and Afghanistan.

We also organised excursions, workshops and external projects in collaboration with other groups.

For many participants, the gardening days became a regular part of their routine. Many were people seeking asylum without working rights in Australia and were waiting on the outcome of their refugee visas. It was a way to keep active and busy, and meet people and learn new skills at the same time.

Others participated because it was a reminder of home. They may have had a big garden in their home country, but only a small balcony in their apartment in Auburn.

We also initiated a playgroup in the garden for families from varied backgrounds to meet new people. It enabled parents to find new ways to connect with their children when they might have limited family or social support in Australia.

Playgroup NSW now runs the garden playgroup.

Each week brought a mix of locals, SSI clients and volunteers from a range of backgrounds. The gardening sessions would often conclude with a shared lunch, either made from the garden produce or brought in by a participant, and a good chat.

What were some of the highlights/milestones of the project?

The evolution of the garden was an example of collaboration between community, an NGO (SSI), and local and state governments.

In 2018, in consultation with community members through every step of its upgrade, SSI and Cumberland City Council worked towards increasing the garden’s accessibility. We received a grant as part of the NSW Community Building Partnership program that allowed us 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. We also raised garden beds, paved pathways and built lots of signage to make the garden more accessible.

What was the impact of the project?

This project facilitated tremendous social and economic growth in the community. The social interaction allowed participants to improve their English skills, enhance their self-confidence, make friends and establish support networks, attain TAFE certification through courses, and for some, secure employment.

As part of the handover, we hosted a Community Voice consultation where participants could voice their thoughts on how to retain, improve and share the garden with the Auburn community, and they were able to express how being involved had impacted them.

Many participants agreed that the Friendship Garden had helped them feel like they were not alone, as it connected them with nature, and with each other. They had enjoyed diversifying their skills and enjoyed the common goal of developing the garden and watching it grow.

The project was an ideal example of how SSI’s Community Engagement practice helps to connect people from diverse backgrounds and make them feel included and welcomed in their community.

On behalf of SSI I can say that we are proud to have built a space where people respect and support each other, work as a team to build something beautiful and sustainable, and communicate and laugh together despite language barriers. We know the garden is in good hands for the future!

The Friendship Garden is located at 44A Macquarie Road, Auburn.

SSI’s self-funded Community Engagement function enables participants to form strong links in the community and feel better connected. You can support these initiatives by making a donation.

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