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Mindfulness gardening project brings peace to refugees and asylum seekers


Posted on Monday 20 December 2021
Staff from the refugees and asylum seekers service

Staff from the Refugees and Asylum Seekers Service

Refugees and asylum seekers supported by Guy’s and St Thomas’ celebrated completing a mindfulness gardening project to help them cope with anxiety, stress and pain.

Many of the participants have experienced traumas like physical violence and torture before arriving in the UK. They are helped by the Trust’s Refugees and Asylum Seekers service with their health problems and learn mindfulness techniques and gardening skills to improve their well-being.

The scheme, which was supported by the Lambeth GP Food Co-op who provided an experienced gardener, is a 12-week programme run in the outdoor space of a Brixton restaurant. It ended with participants receiving certificates at a special event.

The group practise mindfulness techniques and grow flowers and vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes and aloe vera.

Refugees and asylum seekers in south east London may be helped by the service which is made up of GPs, nurses and therapists. The team provide clinics in health centres, a hostel, day centres and hotels in Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham. Patients receive health screening for a range of conditions including TB, Hepatitis B and C, HIV and diabetes, and are supported to register with a local GP.

Muajiz Singh, 39, lives in a hotel in Croydon. He is awaiting the outcome of his asylum application. Muajiz, a former farmer, came to the UK from India after his uncle took possession of the family land and killed his parents.

The Refugees and Asylum Seekers team at the Pavilion Medical Centre have been supporting him with his diabetes and cholesterol and recently referred him to the specialist team at St Thomas' Hospital for latent Tuberculosis (TB), which supports people who have been infected with the TB bacteria but do not have an active infection.

He said: "I have depression and I am taking medication for this. The team at the Pavilion have helped me with the gardening sessions as well as exercises. This has helped me to relax, it helps me a lot.

"Martine helps me with the exercise programme while Hilda helps me with the gardening. They both are very nice, good-natured people. We are all people who have cases as asylum seekers and refugees, and they are also waiting. All of those things have helped me."

Dr Shazia Munir, a GP and joint clinical lead for the Refugees and Asylum Seekers service at the clinic in the Pavilion Medical Centre in Brixton, said: "The project has been a great success – helping our patients with physical and mental problems, social isolation, with the added bonus of providing them with healthy home-grown fruit and vegetables."

Martine Burke, the well-being practitioner who leads the group, said: "We create an opportunity for people to socialise with one another, to break away from the isolation of their day to day lives.

"When they experience unwanted thoughts, feelings or pain, they can use ‘breathing’ or ‘mindfulness movement practice’ as an anchor, to guide themselves back to the present moment. These techniques are particularly useful for managing fear, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and pain.

“Participants practise new skills and take these home with them to help them to relax, sleep and function better."

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