Daisy Haywood from the organisation Urbanistas, which aims to amplify the voices of women to make cities better for everyone, visited the women's only gardening programme at Kings Heath Park for an article in the organisation's Journal Commotion.
|Pictured near one of the greenhouses at Thrive is regional manager Amanda Fields |
On a cold December day, women’s laughter and chatter can be heard from a small greenhouse, tucked away in a quiet corner of Kings Heath Park in Birmingham.
The women are the participants of the Gardening for Good Health programme, which offers horticultural therapy to women who have experienced domestic violence and sexual violence.
The new six-month pilot project, funded by the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Victim Fund, is being run by Thrive, the national horticultural therapy charity in partnership with the domestic violence charity, Women’s Aid.
The weekly sessions are held in the TV Gardens in Kings Heath Park, which was once home to the television programme 'Gardeners World’.
The enclosed space is not open to the public, allowing the women to feel safe in the knowledge that no strangers will intrude on their sessions. The two acre mature gardens, which include a multitude of glasshouses, wildlife areas, vegetable plots and celebrity-designed gardens, are their’s and their’s alone for the duration of the session. It is a women’s-only retreat, providing a space of respite, peace and beauty.
Today, under the gentle guidance of Jacky, the horticultural therapist for the project, the women are busy planting bulbs and potting on shasta daisy cuttings.
Amrita, who has some gardening experience, shares tips and offers encouragement to the other, less experienced gardeners in the group.
Amrita still lives with her abusive husband and says that the project allows her 'two precious hours a week away from him’. She says that it helps her feel less isolated and alone: 'They know my secret, and I know their’s; I don’t have to hide’.
For survivors of sexual violence and domestic violence, many of whom develop post-traumatic stress disorder, public spaces can be frightening and stressful. The noise, jostle and crowds of our urban environments can cause sensory overload for women struggling with the mental impacts of trauma and abuse. The spatial consequences of sexual violence and domestic violence are two-fold: first, in the gendered experience of public space; and second, in the spatial exclusions that result.
Mallika, a single mother, credits the project for helping her rebuild her confidence after she left her abusive partner.
At the start of the project, Mallika struggled to leave the house and had to be accompanied to the park by her support worker due to her fear of being in public spaces and meeting new people.
She’s now looking into further education courses, after the support and encouragement of the other women: 'I hadn’t even thought that was possible, but now I do. Thank you for believing in me’.
With an estimated 1 in 5 women aged between 16 and 59 having experienced some form of sexual violence in the UK, there is a strong case to introduce more women-only spaces in our cities.
Spaces such as the one at Kings Heath can provide a transitional safe space, where women can heal and recover in the company of plants and other women.
*Names of the project participants have been changed to protect their privacy.