At the beginning of July, Centre 404’s Leigh Road supported living project were extremely fortunate to welcome a team of amazing volunteers from the M&S in Marble Arch, who worked tirelessly over the course of several weeks in order to transform our shabby overgrown garden into a stunning, accessible and sensorially stimulating environment resplendent with its own charcoal barbeque and pizza oven

It was clear after day one how impressive this project was going to be in scope and detail. By 5 pm the entire space was dug out ready to begin planting and already the space seemed far more open and inviting, despite being bereft of any greenery.

The guys from M&S spent several weeks going back and forth with us and our tenants about what they really wanted from the space and a key theme was accessibility. Although our garden had paths that lead to different areas, huge parts were still inaccessible to those with wheelchairs, poor vision or other physical impairments due to grassy slopes and areas of uneven terrain. M&S went over and above the call of duty in this regard by digging out the central area of the garden and laying wheelchair friendly AstroTurf. They also wrangled a load of concrete from some local builders working in the area and used it to build up the ground around the new vegetable garden so that less mobile service users would be able to help tend the vegetables.

Another area that the tenants picked out as lacking in the current garden was the provision for people with higher sensory needs. To remedy this, M&S brought in hundreds of plants in dozens of different varieties, colours, smells, shapes and sizes. The visual and olfactory experience of moving through the garden was completely transformed and the arrangements of colours really highlighted the skill and dedication of the volunteers completing the work. We were also given several lovely bird houses and feeders to encourage noisy local wildlife to the space, adding to the auditory experience.

Although we had a fair amount of space in the garden, it was not necessarily laid out in a way that was conducive to large group activities happening out there. There was not enough seating which meant that if all the tenants wanted to sit and have a meal together they would need to be inside the lounge. M&S brought us a load of new tables, chairs and benches, and supported our tenants to repaint the old ones so that there was room for everyone to be together.

A huge part of what made the experience so amazing for the tenants was how much M&S involved them at every stage of the process. This ranged from supporting the tenants to help clear weeds to setting up painting sessions for them to decorate their own pebbles and flower pots. Despite having no previous experience of working with people with Learning Disabilities, the demeanour and attitude of the volunteers was always consistent from what we would expect from our very best trained support workers and we would happily employ any of them in a heartbeat. They didn’t just fix our garden but also built firm and lasting friendships with Leigh Road’s residents.

Our warmest thanks go out to Ann, Sarah, Pablo and all the amazing team of 30 odd volunteers who helped make such a difference to our tenants’ homes and their lives. They will always be welcome at Leigh Road and we will do our best to repay their kindness by remembering to water the strawberries!