Lady Ryder Memorial Garden
The words of Margaret Mead are often quoted when groups come together and get something done. The Lady Ryder Memorial Garden near Henley on Thames illustrates the great anthropologists point perfectly – we should ‘never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can make a difference’.
The peaceful walled garden adjoining St Katherines Parmoor, home to the Sue Ryder Prayer Fellowship, supports a flourishing gardening project that helps young people to cope with the problems that homelessness, unemployment or learning difficulties can bring. It’s a role that fits well with the ideals of the Fellowship’s founder.
The garden was built in the late 19th century and provided the large adjoining house with fresh produce. It was well cultivated until the 1940s and then lack of time and resources led to a gentle decline. The house has been run as a retreat centre since Sue Ryder took it over in 1996. While the garden continued to be used by visitors after her death, it wasn’t until 2010 that its journey back to full production began.
As so often happens when the idea for a new project is emerging, several residents of the hamlets that surround St Katherines were considering restoring the garden. At about the same time, Jo Pearce, the chef at St Katherine’s, realised that, sitting on her doorstep was a space that could produce food for the retreat centre’s many visitors. Not only that, but it could be the kind of carefully grown food that they would really appreciate.
All it took was a fortuitous seating plan at a village cricket club dinner to bring all the interested parties together and the project began. It was quickly agreed that the garden should be restored with the help of and for the benefit of local homeless and unemployed young people.
During the following two years, planning permission to replace the garden’s glasshouses was obtained and volunteers from the YMCA, the Old Tea Warehouse, Green Gym and the Watford Hope Trust were recruited. Without the help of these volunteers and the support of the organisations they represented, the restoration could not have progressed as it did.
In 2012, after many hours of hard physical work and enormous fundraising efforts, the garden was opened by Sir Terry Wogan. An education centre and a kitchen were added in 2015.
The Lady Ryder Memorial Garden is now linked to Berkshire College of Agriculture and is able to offer its young people the City and Guilds Level 1 Diploma in Horticulture. During 2015, all eight candidates were presented with their diploma – one student completing his in a record-beating three months.
Of course, the diploma isn’t the only benefit of the project. As Anne Parmoor, a leader in garden work, explains, ‘the walls generate a sense of security. In this safe environment the students are given responsibility, many for the first time. They’re also away from corrosive peer pressure for a good stretch of time every week’.
‘We sell the produce we grow in ‘Veg boxes’ and at local events. The young people are brilliant at selling and are very good with the public. Quite apart from the wonder of growing, the confidence they gain from knowing that someone else is wiling to buy something they have grown is enormous’.
‘There’s plenty of laughter and banter here. Of course, we have a policy of no recreational drugs or alcohol in the garden but the only other thing we will not tolerate is unkind or disruptive behaviour. It’s so important that we maintain a warm and friendly group atmosphere’.
It’s remarkable to realise that everyone involved with running this project is a volunteer. Anne suggests that the fact that they have chosen to spend time with these young people makes a big difference.
For volunteering opportunities or for information about the garden visit –www.lrmg.co.uk