Thursday, 27 June 2013

Helping Scope Renovate their Garden

Az and I (Kingston University students and KUSU Volunteers) began the year with one thought in our heads, ‘This is our last year, we want to do to something that we’ve never done at uni before, but what?’

We’d seen and heard of lots of other KUSU Sports clubs and teams, from Cheerleading to American Football, taking part in KUSU Volunteering, so we took it to our team, Ladies Basketball, and said, ‘Hey guys, fancy a spot of volunteering?’ We got a unanimous positive response! 

In the first few months I helped Az from the sidelines. I had never volunteered with KUSU before, however I had taken part in other volunteering ventures outside of KUSU from coaching at a local football club, bag packing in Asda for charity, to being a Games Maker at last years London 2012 Games.

Our journey began with Az our captain deciding to take the lead and contacting Jemma Houghton, the lovely KUSU Volunteer Coordinator, who supported us throughout the project. There are dozens of volunteering opportunities which KUSU Volunteering promotes on a weekly/fortnightly basis and as a team we wanted the chance to take part in one of these exciting projects and help out our local community in anyway possible.

KUSU Volunteering came back to us with a project that would prove to be both challenging and involve a fair amount of planning, but which most importantly would be fun and allow us to help out in the community. Lingfield Avenue a local residential home run by Scope for 14 people with cerebral palsy and learning difficulties, were in need of some volunteers to renovate their garden. Scope is a national charity that has one clear vision, ‘A world where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else.’ Az contacted the team and everyone decided it sounded like the sort of volunteering project we wanted to get involved with. As the garden needed a lot of TLC KUSU Volunteering recommended we have two co-leaders on the project, which is when I started and began helping Az.

KUSU Volunteering supported us by making the initial contact with the excellent and hardworking staff at Scope and helped us to set up a meeting with one of their supervisors. We went round to the residential for a scoping visit, to assess the garden and find out exactly what Scope wanted help with. This is where we realised there was more to do than just planting a couple of bulbs! The garden had over grown plants, pesky moss on the decking and concrete, weeds that knew no bounds, a real lack of colour and was a haven for dead plants with the deepest roots known to human-kind! So the Ghostbusters were sent in, oops, I mean the totally cool and green fingered Weedbusters to create designs and plan out a new garden.

Luckily enough Az is an Architecture student so she drew up the plans and we used these to show Scope what we intended on doing for the gardening makeover project. KUSU Volunteering very kindly put us in touch with the amazing Rachel Burgess, the Biodiversity and Landscape Administrator at Kingston University who gave us some expert advice. She was extremely helpful in giving us tips on how to design a garden for people with disabilities, focusing on how to make it more sensory and thus more enjoyable to use – ie bright colours, wind chimes etc to engage people’s visual and auditory senses.

Upon working out what types of plants we needed and what tools, Az and I went on a shopping spree! We were lucky as Scope and the university let us borrow some of their tools, which meant we could use most of the budget KUSU Volunteering allocated us with, to go on lovely flowers for the garden, which we were all very excited about! We purchased potted plants, plenty of flowers, a bird feeder, wind chime, trowels and other gardening necessities. After completing a risk assessment which KUSU Volunteering helped us with, we were able to begin. We had to pick a date quite late in the second semester as the frosty weather kept getting in the way. This meant we weren’t able to recruit all the girls from the team as we’d hoped, so we opened the project up to all university students. On the day we had KUSU Volunteers, KUSU staff and KUBAG volunteers helping out!

So the Weedbusters united, fought the dirt and the usual bit of expected British drizzle, to prevail and create a beautiful garden that we hope the residents of the home will now be able to use in the coming Summer.

To someone considering leading a project or volunteering I’d tell them that it’s one of the greatest opportunities they will have at university. Many people on a day-to-day basis do not have the time or the contacts to get involved with volunteering but KUSU gives students that opportunity. Grasp the opportunity while you can. It’s not always easy, especially leading on a project, but at the end of the day if a project finishes a success then that’s what really matters.

There is still more work to be done so we hope KUSU and Scope can continue to work together. It was an exciting, fun and really rewarding project for all those involved and I encourage everyone out there reading this to try your hand at volunteering because you never know, you might find out your hands are far greener than you ever thought!

Have a look at the rest of the photos on the KUSU Volunteering Facebook Page!

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