Swan Lodge residents transform garden for summer thyme

published on 12 Jun 2024

Swan Lodge garden
Andy, Erin and Tonk

Residents at The Salvation Army’s Swan Lodge Lifehouse in Sunderland, which provides supported accommodation to people who are homeless, have transformed its garden creating a welcoming outdoor space in thyme for summer.  

The garden, which used to be a muddy patch of grass, now has new gravel, decking, plants and seating areas after residents used their skills to give it a makeover. 

It will be used for social events like barbecues and watching Euros 2024, but will also provide a peaceful place for residents to reflect and enjoy being outside. 

It was resident Tonk, 40, and Swan Lodge support worker Erin who planted the seed for the project. Tonk, who has a background working on building sites, said: “Before, people didn’t enjoy coming out into the garden, but now residents have been helping out, which helps with their mental health. 

“It’s been a group effort and that’s been the enjoyable thing, you find that people who keep themselves secluded or don’t interact very much have started to come outside. The weather has been alright so it’s brought people out of their shells. Everybody enjoys it and it’s there for everybody to use. In the summer we can have barbecues, sit out in the fresh air and sunshine. 

Swan Lodge garden
Residents working on the garden

“The work has also kept my mind occupied. It’s something to do. When lads come out and sit quietly we encourage them to have a go, it’s good because it gets everyone mixing together and having conversations.

“People have such a wide range of skills from painting to joinery, they may have worked on sites before or done groundwork, they know what they are doing. Others who didn’t have that background chipped in with painting and helping to plant. It’s been really good watching them, because you could see how it sparked an interest for them.” 

Another resident Andy, 42, who is a qualified painter and decorator, said helping out gave him the chance to thank staff at Swan Lodge. He said: “They have helped me out phenomenally since I’ve come to Swan Lodge, and it was a way for me to give back and to say thank you in return. It was a chance to muck in and say ‘we’ll take that on’. 

“It makes all the residents want to look after the garden and respect it because they’ve done it themselves. People have different abilities, they have been learning and taking part in something they probably would never have thought they would take part in. The next project is the front garden. We want to keep the momentum and motivation going.” 

Swan Lodge garden

Using a lot of items that were already in storage at Swan Lodge, the residents helped rip up the old grass and lay the foundations for a gravel area, painted the walls and put down decking, hanging baskets, flower planters, an insect home, seating areas and a small stage area. There is solar lighting so it can be used in the evening and a Sunderland AFC badge to be painted on the wall. 

Support worker Erin said: “It’s been a project for everyone, loads of people have come and helped and they’ve done a fantastic job. 

“We’ve also got a few dogs so people can come and bring their dogs out, they love it out there. You see the amount of residents who come out now compared to before, there’s been loads of people. 

“I have learned so much myself from doing this with the residents, the amount of stuff I think ‘right I’m going to go and do that at home now too’!” 

Swan Lodge garden

Swan Lodge provides accommodation for up to 65 people who are homeless with support including educational and volunteering opportunities for residents. Manager Christine Ritchie and her team encourage them to take pride in Swan Lodge and see it as their home. In recent months residents have helped design murals that have been painted on the outside of the building in High Street and in the reception area. 

Christine said: “This was their vision, it all came from the residents and what a space it’s going to be when the weather is better. 

“People who are homeless are used to being overlooked and treated as worthless. Folk forget that they have skills and qualifications and have had lives and jobs. It’s a shame people do not see what’s inside and what talents they have when they see someone without a home. 

“We are finding out what our residents’ skills are and what they want do to with them, then we can facilitate that.” 

For more information on Swan Lodge or if you would like to donate to them visit their website or search for them on Facebook. 

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