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Story 65 - The Garden at the Surgery

When Lindsay met Lindsay
Written by Lindsay Caplen, Regional Minister, WEBA - December 2020

The story thus far…. ‘When Lindsay met Lindsay.’
My husband and I moved to Portishead, North Somerset in 2019. Determined to find out as much as I could about the town, I went to the library, walked/prayed around the ‘patch’, attended local cultural events, threw a party for neighbours, followed local social media sites and generally spoke to a whole bunch of people. I wanted to know - What really matters to people here? What do they desire? What questions are they asking? What might God be ‘up to?’ I listened and I prayed.
One of the people I spoke to was the practise manager at a GP surgery. She explained that they had a ¾ acre plot of land adjacent to the surgery but needed someone to cultivate it. Did I know anyone? I said that I did not, but that I would have a think and pray!

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God intervening?
A few weeks later, as part of ‘attending local cultural events,’ I went to a local music evening and briefly met another person called Lindsay. We didn’t talk about God or gardening but sensed that we should meet for a longer conversation. A few weeks later over copious cups of tea from a large Brown-Betty teapot at a local café, I asked Lindsay to share her story. Amongst other things, it emerged that she was considering training for Anglican ministry, expecting to have to move location to do so, and yet feeling a strange longing to stay and serve in her hometown. Almost by way of an aside, she mentioned that she was a trained horticulturalist and that she had always hoped to use that skill locally.  
My brain started doing somersaults! We finished our drinks, wandered over to the surgery and sat on the grass. I told Lindsay about the conversation I had had with the practise manager. There was prayer. There were tears and there was a sense that God was in this!
Some months later, Lindsay was accepted to train as a C of E deacon pioneer. Her placement coordinator agreed to her primary ministry context being ‘The Garden’ and agreed to me being her placement supervisor.
Socially Prescribed Gardening
The project has moved from simply being one where a gardener was needed to being one where there could be socially prescribed gardening and much wider community involvement. We will potentially work alongside approximately 50 socially prescribed patients in the first year. Those signposted our way will include, but not be limited to, patients with depression, anxiety and other mental health and mood disorders. Hopefully, this will increase wellbeing and reduce the need for GP interventions and prescribed medications. The intention is to provide a space where patients can get involved in sowing, potting up, planting, pruning, weeding, cultivating etc…as well, of course as enabling them to meet others and to meet with one of ‘The Garden’ team. This will, of course, be accessible to people of all faiths and none. We will also ensure that the design is such that it is accessible by people with a range of disabilities.
Community Engagement
The community, local organisations, colleges and businesses increasingly want to contribute in some way and be part of ‘The Garden’ community….and this before we have even ‘cut turf.’ We anticipate starting planting and digging in December 2020, but launching more officially, and with further community involvement, once Covid-19 permits. We have already put some Christmas lights on some of the trees as a sign of hope of things to come!
A local wildlife expert has offered to lead regular walks for us from ‘The Garden’ to the nature reserve, woodland and coastal path. We also hope to enable the space to be used by older people, dementia groups, young people’s groups, outdoor fitness classes, environmental groups, those made redundant through Covid-19 and arguably all residents and workers of Portishead!

Where are we up to?
Covid-19 has certainly delayed the project start, but things continue to shape-up behind the scenes. Policies have been written, grants applied for, license agreements sorted (allowing us to use the land) and publicity considered. Whilst Covid-19 has delayed things, it has also increased awareness of the need for a wellbeing project in the town!

The importance of a cosy space for a decent cuppa, a bit of cake and a chat
It’s vital to have somewhere to work from, shelter from the weather and a space for users of ‘The Garden’ to have a cup of tea, drinks, chat, access resources and be signposted on to service providers – essentially a ‘wellbeing space'. Ideally, we are looking for a container (like one from a ship) that can be kitted out with a simple kitchen.

(If anyone knows of anything like that we could have/buy for not a huge cost, please, please drop me a line!)
This facility could potentially host something along the lines of a Renew: Wellbeing café. As we grow, we also plan to facilitate faith-based wellbeing courses throughout the community, as well as providing opportunities for conversations about life.
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Where is God in this?
He was there right at the start and we are determined to keep him at the helm! It has already grown from simply being the provision of a gardener, to being a Baptist led project working in partnership with the surgery and the C of E.
As ‘The Garden’ develops, we will develop more active links with local churches. We will need volunteers and hope that at least some of these will be from local churches. We also hope that some of the benefits of looking after wellbeing will trickle back to churches. We have a sense however that God might be wanting to shape some sort of community of faith through this. We don’t know what this will look like yet, but with soil, seeds, planting, cultivating, growth, pruning, fruitfulness - there are certainly plenty of inspiring metaphors to help people explore faith, growth, their relationship with God and his Kingdom!

Lindsay Caplen
Please pray and if anyone knows of a potentially suitable container (as in container from a ship), or how to access at an affordable price, to put kitchen facilities in, please let me know on: lindsay.caplen@webnetwork.org.uk
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