Salvation Army Reading Lifehouse is looking for Volunteer Gardening Enthusiasts

Written by: Posted on: 3 May 2017

Salvation Army Reading Lifehouse is looking for Volunteer Gardening Enthusiasts

If you have green fingers and want to give back to the community in Reading, you can join staff and residents at The Salvation Army Lifehouse on the 5th and 6th of May. The idea is to provide an attractive green space which residents can tend throughout the year.

Major Edwina Cussen, Chaplain at the Lifehouse said, “We have a vision to transform the derelict-looking garden we have into a sanctuary away from the busy roads surrounding the Lifehouse. Volunteers and residents are transforming the building already and lives are being transformed here, we are now looking to use the garden space so that residents can use it to spend time with their family.”

Residents get a helping hand

The Lifehouse, Willow House, can accommodate up to 38 men and women experiencing homelessness in Reading. In addition to providing safe accommodation, the Lifehouse also offers a variety of activities to keep residents busy and to provide essential skills. Gardening is just one of the activities available.

The Salvation Army invites local businesses and individuals to help residents make the space a calming, relaxing environment. Plans include creating garden furniture and seating spaces, a vegetable garden and small orchard, and various trees and flowering plants and shrubs.

Major Edwina said, “Many of our residents are trying very hard to turn their lives around so that they can go back on a road to independent living. Gardening is part of our weekly activities and this helps residents to relax and focus on the present when very often, people are getting over bad experiences from the past. Gardening and being outside offers something different to our residents.”

The manager of the centre, Chris Scott said, “The residents at Willow House are from all walks of life. There are a range of issues that affect people who have experienced homelessness. Homelessness can come about due to the break-up of a relationship, a change in circumstances with accommodation, loss of work or illness, as well as other issues that affect the people.”

“Many just need a place of their own so they can really start to rebuild their lives. We see the whole person here at Willow House, it’s not just about their needs. We help residents to live life in all its fullness by seeing the God-given potential in every person.”

In residents’ words

The difference the Lifehouse makes is significant, as you’ll see from some ex-residents.

Francis McPadden struggled with an alcohol problem for decades and all the drinking had taken a toll on his heart and lungs. He said, “I had to get my act together, it was always in my mind to give up drink, I don’t know why I drank. After the experience in hospital, the doctor decided to keep me in for a detox. I decided that I didn’t want to drink again and I have been sober since 28 March 2015.” After coming back to the Lifehouse from hospital, Francis engaged on the rehabilitation programme called ‘IRIS’ (Integrating Recovery in Services). Francis moved on from the Lifehouse over two years ago and is happily living in supported housing.

Darren Layne recently moved out of Willow House and into shared accommodation. He also benefited from the IRIS programme and spent time maintaining the garden. He said, “I want to get my own place, stay out of trouble and keep positive. I’ve learnt not to be afraid to ask for help.”

“Since leaving the Salvation Army Lifehouse, the door has always been open to me. If you work with what they offer you, then you can get there.”

If you can’t volunteer your time, you can donate to the garden fund, which has raised £600 to date.

You can also donate goods (furniture, timber, plants, and compost, etc.) or design services. Contact Major Edwina Cussen at Edwina.cussen@salvationarmy.org.uk or phone 0118 959 8863.