The Memoir Garden

The Memoir Garden

Launch of garden 500

The Memoir Garden book of poems – £4.99

The Memoir Garden front cover

We have now reprinted The Memoir Garden book of poems having sold out!  They are available from our Farm Shop at Hemel Food Garden which is open 10-3 Monday to Saturday.  The books are priced £4.99 each.

Read Emma Claire Sweeney’s blog which she wrote recently for about “Speaking Up”

Audio Clips

Here are two audio clips of poems from The Memoir Garden recorded for us by two professional presenters. Enjoy!



Tring School Media Students Film

Launch of a garden full of memories

A special and innovative garden was launched by Councillor Allan Lawson, Mayor of Dacorum Borough Council for Sunnyside Rural Trust. The garden, which is a physical representation of the poems collected in The Memoir Garden, has been created as a place for remembrance. Councillor Peter Matthews, Mayor of Berkhamsted was also in attendance.

The Memoir Garden was written by Emma Claire Sweeney with words from the 18 participants, all from Sunnyside Rural Trust. At the launch, Roxy Simmons 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.“.

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 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.

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’.

The physical Memoir Garden

We are creating an actual Memoir Garden which our trainees can visit and spend time in.  The garden has now been planted with perennials and new sleepers put in place.  Bluebells and snowdrops have also been planted for the Spring.  Seating has been made, stained and put around one of the trees for trainees to sit on.  We were very fortunate to have the help of a team from Waitrose who helped with weeding and moving pea shingle and gravel for the garden. The space will be ready for an official launch at the end of June.

The Memoir Garden

This poetry collection documents Emma Claire Sweeney’s Arts Council writing residency with Sunnyside Rural Trust.  Drawing on regular workshops and interviews she held over the course of a year Emma Claire Sweeney collaborated with eighteen participants to create poems from their own words.  All the poems offer rare insights into lives that have too often been silenced.

(There is much more about the book below Emma’s poem)

Read Emma Claire Sweeney’s own poem

written for the October launch of the book with inspiration from her work with our trainees.

Anything else you think we should know?

 Dear claimant of Personal Independence Payment:

 Please list the documents you’re sending to DWP with claim PIP2: The Memoir Garden

Q1. Please name the professionals best placed to advise us on your claim: All my carers read my book, little tears in their eyes.

Q2. What are your disabilities and when did each of them start?

Problem is, people don’t realise we’re here.

Q3. Please tell us about your ability to prepare a simple one course meal for one.

However life is, in the summertime we can have picnics outside.

Q4. Tell us more information about the difficulties or help you need to eat and drink.

I was once eating a bacon sandwich, when a tonic-clonic hit, my teeth clenched.

Q5. Do you use an aid or appliance to monitor your health?

You know like when you’re going to cry, and you get a lump in your throat? It’s the same sensation as that.

Q6. Please tell us about your ability to keep your body clean.

Easter Sunday: clean clothes and a shower.

Q7. Do you need help from another person to dress or undress?

Saw the Beatles in Kilburn on my twenty-first. Mummy put my hair up then.

Q8. Can you speak to others in your native language, safely, to an acceptable standard, as often as you need to and in reasonable time?

It was hard to talk, what I said, difficult to say, but when I said it, it came out properly. Know what I mean?

Q9. Do you need help from another person to understand signs, symbols, and words?

My nieces go to school. They are good girls, they learn to read and write. They’ll get the good life.

Q10. Do you find it difficult to mix with other people because of severe anxiety or distress?

I’m going to put my poem on Facebook. It’ll get over 100 likes.

Q11. Do you need someone else to help you understand how much things cost, or how much change you’ll receive?

Money I can’t do, can’t do to the full. I’ve been tested, tested by the doctor, tested, backwards and forwards.

Q12. If you need help from another person to get out of the house, tell us what kind of help you need: for example, planning your route, encouraging or reassuring you, helping you to make sure you don’t go the wrong way.

People don’t know where we are. Nobody tells them, know what I mean?

Q13. How far can you walk taking into account any aids you use? To give you an idea of distance, 50 metres is approximately 5 buses parked end to end.

Didn’t know anything about it until the bus driver told us that Leon was dead. And he was only a lad.

Q14. Tell us anything else you think we should know that you haven’t mentioned already:

You should know that we got our books home safe, that we keep them on coffee tables and in bedside cabinets; you should know that seeing our names makes us proud; readers learned new things about us, you should know that. But we don’t know what. They won’t say. You should know that we’d do it again. Just come up and have a look. We won’t hurt or nothing. You might like to know there are nice people here.  

The Memoir Garden

This poetry collection documents Emma Claire Sweeney’s Arts Council writing residency with Sunnyside Rural Trust.  Drawing on regular workshops and interviews she held over the course of a year Emma Claire Sweeney collaborated with eighteen participants to create poems from their own words.  All the poems offer rare insights into lives that have too often been silenced.

Emma Claire’s personal connection to disability inspired her to set up this project.  Her own sister is severely autistic so Emma Claire knows first hand  the importance of listening with the heart, and helping people with learning disabilities to challenge the systems that silence them.

Keely Charlick, Chief Executive at the charity, encouraged the project from the outset feeling that the trainees had much to contribute:  “Emma Claire’s belief in supporting people to tell their stories was compelling and fitted with my own experience of people with learning disability being seen as “less”- as a burden, simple, child-like and worse.  The book demonstrates quite beautifully that these adults have rich and textured emotions and memories and makes it impossible to treat people as anything less than you yourself would tolerate or expect.”

In a review of the book by Kim Stafford, American poet and essayist, he says, “Emma Claire captures the poetry of these lives with such grace and courage.  The voices make me think of E.M Forster’s ‘true aristocracy of the plucky and good’. In these voices I see how simply and directly to honor a meal, a friend, a bus ride to a known place, the honorable satisfaction of a job, the precious memory of a loss, the way something is known inexactly and yet cherished.”

Dr Linda Anderson, Reader in Creative Writing at the Open University shares his enthusiasm:  “It is very moving with a strong sense of capturing voices. The book is an honouring of these people and of the people they miss and mourn.”

Profits from the book are to be used to create a physical Memoir Garden space at one of the charity’s sites which will represent the poems in a tangible way and can be used as a reflective area.

The book is available from Berkhamsted Waterstones priced £5.99 or from the office £4.99 (plus £1.20 postage) 01442 863364