Green fingered volunteers needed at Salvation Army Lifehouse in Reading to help transform lives and green spaces

published on 12 Apr 2017

Staff and residents at a Salvation Army Lifehouse for people experiencing homelessness in Reading are looking to develop their garden area to make an attractive space throughout the year. The centre has, so far, managed to raise £600 towards transforming the garden. The Salvation Army are asking local people and businesses with gardening know-how to join in with a garden transformation project.   

Willow House is accommodation for local people who have experienced homelessness. It has 38 beds for men and women and runs activities, including gardening, across the week. It helps to transform lives for vulnerable and marginalised people in Reading and has helped 22 local people to move on to independent living over the past year.  

Major Edwina Cussen, Chaplain at the Lifehouse said: “We have a vision to transform the derelict-looking garden we have into a sanctuary away from the busy roads surrounding the Lifehouse. Volunteers and residents are transforming the building already and lives are being transformed here, we are now looking to use the garden space, so that residents can use it to spend time with their family.”    

The Salvation Army welcomes working with local businesses, social and volunteer groups, other charities and gardening groups as well as individuals in helping to transform the space over the coming year. The project’s aim is to provide garden furniture and seating space, areas to grow vegetables and fruit, trees and plants and any other resources that would help make the space a haven for people seeking to positively change their lives.   

The staff and residents at the Lifehouse are planning to work on the garden on the 5 and 6 May and are inviting volunteers on these days.   

Major Edwina said: “Many of our residents are trying very hard to turn their lives around so that they can go back on a road to independent living. Gardening is part of our weekly activities and this helps residents to relax and focus on the present, when very often, people are getting over bad experiences from the past. Gardening and being outside offers something different to our residents.”   The manager of the centre, Chris Scott said: “The residents at Willow House are from all walks of life. There are a range of issues that affect people who have experienced homelessness. Homelessness can come about due to the break-up of a relationship, a change in circumstances with accommodation, loss of work or illness, as well as other issues that affect people.   

“Many just need a place of their own so they can really start to rebuild their lives. We see the whole person here at Willow House, it’s not just about their needs. We help residents to live life in all its fullness by seeing the God-given potential in every person.”  

An ex-resident of the Lifehouse, Francis McPadden, originally from Co. Leitrim in Ireland said, “I started my recovery in Willow House, I don’t drink today and I don’t want to drink tomorrow.”  

Francis has had a recurring battle with alcohol for several decades, he said he began drinking at the age of 26 as a social drinker. However, after two attempts at rehabilitation and drinking strong beer regularly, he was admitted to hospital with chest pai

ns in 2015. The hospital consultant told Francis, “Your main problem is that you are a heavy drinker.”  Years of drinking had affected his heart and lungs.   

Francis said, “I had to get my act together, it was always in my mind to give up drink, I don’t know why I drank. After the experience in hospital, the doctor decided to keep me in for a detox. I decided that I didn’t want to drink again and I have been sober since 28 March 2015.”

After coming back to the Lifehouse from hospital, Francis engaged on the rehabilitation programme called ‘IRIS’ (Integrating Recovery in Services). Francis moved on from the Lifehouse over two years ago and is happily living in supported housing.    Darren Layne moved out of Willow House in February this year and is now living locally in shared accommodation. He has also been supported through IRIS and has helped maintain the garden in the past.

He says, “I want to get my own place, stay out of trouble and keep positive. I’ve learnt not to be afraid to ask for help.” Darren experienced homelessness in 2014 for five months after losing his tenancy.    “Since leaving the Salvation Army Lifehouse, the door has always been open to me. If you work with what they offer you, then you can get there.”   

The Salvation Army is passionate about breaking the cycle of homelessness and addiction and constantly seeks to innovative and personalise ways to support people in addressing this to achieve sustained change.   If members of the community feel they can donate goods (furniture/timber, plants, compost or other), design services or would like to volunteer for the project, they are encouraged to contact the Chaplain, Edwina Cussen email:  or phone 0118 959 8663.