Natural Growth Project

Collindale Allotments

Some memories cannot be unlocked by words.

Welcome to a world of plants – a place where survivors of torture can connect with nature and explore their experiences. Welcome to Freedom from Torture's Natural Growth Project.

Healing through nature

The Natural Growth Project is a unique service that combines horticulture with psychotherapy and facilitates the growth and healthy development of Freedom from Torture clients. Many torture survivors have difficulties talking about their past experiences – or the uncertainty and difficulties of their present. For some of the most physically and mentally damaged clients, being in the open and in touch with the elements can bring instant relief and can open the path to extraordinary change.

‘To begin with I tried anti-depressants. But nothing seemed to keep the memories away. Everything was darkness – and I hated the city, where I felt confined and unable to speak or do anything. Then I came here and everything seemed familiar. I am always at one with the earth. If the garden looks good, I feel good. When the soil sleeps, I sleep. Apart from these things you have, these snails and slugs which were new to me, there is no evil in the garden’. Suleyman, client of Freedom from Torture’s Natural Growth Project, London

Freedom from Torture therapists and a horticulturalist have been working with clients since 1992. More robust clients work on small pieces of land, cultivating plants on allotment plots in Collingdale and Ealing in London. For more vulnerable clients, the new Isledon therapy garden at the back of the London centre provides a safe, enclosed space for psychotherapy. It is here also that clients can choose and plant a memorial shrub; and it is thanks to the Peter Stebbings Memorial Charity that clients have been able to benefit from this project.

Nature informs all that we do at the Natural Growth Project. It is uncontrollable and has rhythms of its own. In learning to work with it, there are profound lessons for our clients. I have known clients who are mute when they come to us –with nature they can sometimes find just one initial spark of hope which takes them away from the pain and injustice of their torture' Mary Raphaely, Natural Growth Project co-ordinator

A new garden for the London centre

Thousands of supporters responded to a Freedom from Torture fundraising appeal in 2007, raising over £400,000 to transform a plot of land next to the London centre into a dedicated and secure space for psychotherapeutic work. It is a true sanctuary for clients, who have said of their time there: ‘Walking into this garden is like walking into the arms of my mother...’ and ‘this garden is my home, I am mayor here.’ With beds raised to waist height, quiet places for reflection, as well as spaces for individual and group sessions, the garden has been designed to be accessible to clients at all stages of recovery and physical health. There are also small area of the garden where clients have planted memorials to loved ones they have lost. Being able to tend to these memorials regularly is comforting for clients. Watch BBC Inside Out London's report on the Natural Growth Project...

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