Gone, never forgotten – Remembering with thanks on #WorldHomelessDay

As part of YMCA Liverpool’s commemoration of World Homeless Day 2019, residents and staff gathered to celebrate the opening of a new Memorial Garden at its headquarters, Hope House.

The YMCA Liverpool Memorial Garden plaque

As chaplain for this extraordinary community which offers supported accommodation for people experiencing homelessness, it was my privilege to dedicate the garden to the memory of YMCA members who are no longer with us.

The Hope House garden is a partnership project led by YMCA Liverpool service users. The garden is a reclaimed area of the car park at Hope House. This is a busy centre situated in the heart of Liverpool on a busy A-Road so outdoor space is at a premium.

Residents said that a garden would provide a space for them to enjoy the outdoors, which could also be used for workshops and activities. Following consultation with service users, YMCA Liverpool worked with The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) to bring the garden project to life. TCV is a voluntary group which supports a wide range of adult volunteers from all walks of life to transform green spaces, including people with learning disabilities and retired people. An expert horticulturist led the clearing and development of the site using hand tools, heritage methods and a conservation focus. TCV also involved YMCA Liverpool residents, so they have a real sense of ownership of the garden.

The garden will benefit all the residents of YMCA Liverpool at Hope House, which is 69 at any one time. More than 4 out of 5 residents at the time of the garden consultation took part. The garden team was made up 15 residents who actively took part in the upkeep of the garden. Six volunteers from TCV regularly gave their time to this project, totting up 180 volunteer hours to create the garden space.

The volunteers cleared the site, carried out necessary groundworks, built, installed and secured raised beds, installed natural shield plants such as willow to create screening, built and installed picnic benches, put in topsoil, installed small animal shelters, bug houses and bird houses, and worked to engage YMCA Hope House residents to become involved and retain enthusiasm for the garden project.

YMCA Liverpool residents decorated the raised beds in the memorial garden

YMCA Liverpool’s service user group designed a programme of activities for summer 2019, including:

  • Making hanging baskets;
  • Planting a sensory area and a food growing area;
  • Painting the fence;
  • An arts project to decorate the raised beds.

The Project Lead for YMCA Liverpool’s Dutch Farm horticulture project, Liz Sabatini, who coordinated the Hope House garden project, said:

‘The garden has created a fantastic space that the people we support are really enjoying. Hope House is right in the middle of town and the garden has provided some much needed green space, outdoor seating and the opportunity to grow organic food and learn new skills. Our volunteer days made a real impact and we now have a great garden for people to enjoy. There is now a Wednesday garden club who are taking care of the garden and continuing the transformation of this once-forgotten bit of our car park!’

Funding for the garden project came from a Finnis Scott Foundation grant of £4750, and an additional grant of £2000 through the Tesco Bags of Help scheme, where members of the public voted to support this scheme.

We also received a donation following a memorial service for a resident who died last winter. This led to the idea of dedicating the garden to the memory of members of our YMCA community who are gone but not forgotten.

Business Development Mamanger Nikki Melia and Dutch Farm Project Lead Liz Sabatini plant the rose bush at the centrepiece of the Memorial Garden

To celebrate the completion of the project, on Wednesday 9th October 2019 (the day before World Homeless Day), I led YMCA Liverpool residents and staff in a simple dedication of the garden, and installed a plaque which says:

Memorial Garden
In memory of YMCA members who lost their way
Gone, never forgotten
Opened on 9th October 2019 in YMCA’s 175th anniversary year

Chief Executive of YMCA Liverpool & Sefton, Ellie McNeil, cut the ribbon to formally open the garden space, and Director of Business Development for the YMCA Liverpool City Region, Nikki Melia, planted a rose bush to form the centrepiece of the Memorial Garden. Residents planted bulbs around the rose bush to fill the flower bed with new growth and colour.

The opening of the Hope House Memorial Garden was a happy occasion where we gave thanks:

  • For the beauty of creation and for this place of peace and refuge
  • For treasured memories of those who once journeyed with us
  • For the comfort of friends for who still surround us
  • For those who made this Memorial Garden possible

and dedicated the space as a reminder for all who rest there of the promise of hope and new life.

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