Residents create urban paradise

Four residents who have recently moved on from Shakespeare Street Hostel have pooled together a love of the outdoors and a commitment to helping each other. They have created a warm, welcoming garden to be proud of at their new home.

Nottinghamshire YMCA supports homeless people in Nottingham rehabilitate themselves into the community through Stage Progression. Residents begin in one of our hostels and move through to transit housing- a step towards independent living- when they are ready. For these four men in particular, it seems the garden is a representation of how far they have come during their time with the YMCA and each other.

The group of four moved into their new home in June. By August they have already transformed their city backyard into an urban paradise. Judging from the surrounding gardens, the work the men have put into this masterpiece in such a short space of time is phenomenal.

They have repaved the floor, planted flowers and vegetables, cut back a tree – “it covered half of the garden before, it was really dark” – and added finishing touches such as solar lights, a washing line and a sun hat resting on a branch for the hot days we’ve been having. One of the residents chuckles when I point out the hat, “I’ve etched a face on the tree; 2 eyes, a smiley mouth”.

“We’ve all worked together, done our bit”, says Andrew*, before Lewis*, the youngest resident, objects “Oh I didn’t do much, just moving stuff and helping with labour. These guys are the creative ones”, Andrew* won’t have it “no, we’ve all done this together…” The camaraderie between all 4 of the men is warming. They’ve bonded over their time here, after meeting at the Winter Night Shelter last year and working with Emmanuel House on an allotment scheme and going on walks at Attenborough Nature Reserve. “we’re outdoor people” says Andrew* which explains why it’s been so important for whole group to have an outside area to relax in.

Sue, Lead Tenancy Sustainment Officer at Nottinghamshire YMCA, is proud of the work the men have done. “They’re my stars, they’ve done so well. They’re all very bright and they’ve all been grafters. They are so not afraid of hard work and they’ve got really good ideas.” Sue explains that at one point she told them that she would have someone in to help them chop the tree down in the back yard, she went back 2 days later and they’d already done it.

A piggy bank sits in the flowerbed, “that’s my son’s” explains Andrew*, “I’ve had that since 1983…” a little reminder to us that these men have families. Sue tells me that they’ve all managed to make a start on reconstructing their relationships with their families since being involved with the YMCA. A lot of that is thanks to our Stage Progression scheme, to the key workers and support work, to the churches who gave them hope during the winter months; but it’s also thanks to themselves and each other. “When one was down they’d boost each other’s morale” explains Sue, “they’ve been so supportive of each other”. They’re not stopping here either, they’ve got big plans to start a social enterprise scheme and help other people make the most of their city gardens.

I left our meeting with so much respect for these men. If they do half as much with other’s gardens, spreading the hope and warmth they have shown to each other, I think Nottingham will be a brighter place.