Our Memoir Garden

Our Memoir Garden

by Maggie Grand on July 1, 2014

IMG_5527 (Copy)We launched our Memoir Garden at the Activity Centre with the Mayor of Dacorum and Mayor of Berkhamsted as our guests.  The garden, which is a physical representation of the poems collected in The Memoir Garden, has been created as a place for remembrance.

Local Author Emma Claire Sweeney met regularly with a group of 18 trainees from Sunnyside Rural Trust, who all have learning disabilities.   She explored their reminiscences and collaborated with each one to produce a poem.  The resulting book, The Memoir Garden, was well received both by literary critics and by the learning disability community.

The participants valued this all too rare validation of their experiences. At the launch, Roxy Simmons, one of the 18, read a speech prepared by the group, saying “We thought it was important for people to understand about our lives. We don’t want people to think that we are thick. We want people to know that we have the same feelings, relationships, and experiences as everyone else. We will maintain the garden together as a place of peace and quiet where we can sit and reminisce. In particular, this is a space where we will remember our old friend’s Leon and Marie.“.

“I think we all underestimated the effect that seeing their name in print would have on the trainees, “ remarked Keely Charlick, Chief Executive of Sunnyside Rural Trust. “It is so important for them to feel that their voices are being heard. The poems are beautifully crafted and offer an insight into the rich and textured emotions of these adults, who are too often silenced. It’s wonderful that they now have a beautiful place for quiet contemplation”.

The garden was completed within 107 days to support the Justice for LB campaign (#107 days), which highlights the case of Connor Sparrowhawk (LB) who died drowned in the bath 107 days after being admitted to an assessment and treatment unit – an entirely preventable death. Connor had learning disabilities and the campaign seeks to share and collate positive actions. All different kinds of organisations have adopted one of 107 days to raise awareness of the campaign and our day is July 1st.

The garden itself works with the existing landscape and includes seating areas and a new bed with plants grown by trainees at one of Trust’s other sites along with donated bluebells and snowdrops for spring colour.  The garden was made possible through generous funding from Patron Arabella Stuart- Smith and the Neighbourly Charitable Trust.

The work on the garden has been carried out by the team at the Activity Centre along with volunteering help from Berkhamsted Waitrose. Painted glass bottles, depicting images from each poem along with the poet’s names, hang from the trees. The garden’s centrepiece, a wooden sculpture of a book, was unveiled at the launch. The sculpture is engraved with the words ‘Voices to be heard’.

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