Saturday, 28 Mar 2020

'Gardening can be a really positive outlet for mental health' – students and asylum seekers create garden for local direct provision centre

STUDENTS and asylum seekers have worked together to create a garden for people living in direct provision.

Students from the University of Limerick and people living in the Knockalisheen direct provision centre worked together to clear an abandoned patch of land that lay within the confines of the centre.

The Knockalisheen complex is on the outskirts of Limerick city, and came under fire last year when staff allegedly refused a sick boy a piece of bread.

Katie Coughlan, Co-Leader of the ReStart Project who helped initiate the garden, says they have an agreement to use the land with the direct provision centre’s management.

The students know people living in the centre and some are also students in UL.

“The land was in a fierce state, it was neglected and looked horrible. It was perfectly good and it was going to waste,” says Katie.

“There was so much potential there. One of the people living in the centre who we work with, Adel, had tried to start gardening there a while ago but it never took off, so we took inspiration from him,” Katie told

The land was in such an overgrown state that a large group of people were required to clear it. “It was a lot of hard work. There were people from the centre and people from ReStart involved.”

Katie is currently on work placement as part of her course, so has not seen the garden yet. She says she can’t believe how quickly the space has been beuatified. “They were out rain or shine, with shears and strimmers. The last time I was there the grass was very long and it was muddy. The progress is amazing.”

The group also put out a public request on Twitter for the loan of a tractor. This gained great traction online, and a woman who worked in UL saw the tweet.

“Her husband is a landscaper and he is going to plough the land for us for free,” Katie said.

The  benefits of the garden should not be underestimated, according to Katie. “People living in direct provision do not have a lot of outlets. Gardening can be a really positive outlet for mental health.”

According to Katie, there has been a lot of research on the potential negative effect direct provision has on mental health. “People are sharing rooms, and with this garden they can get some fresh air, clear their head, and excersise.”

Many of the people living in Knockalisheen centre come from a farming background, and Katie says they have “brought their skills to us.”

ReStart is a project set up by students involved in UL’s Enactus Society, which is a social enterprise organsiation.

ReStart aims to integrate refugees into Irish society, and provide them with skills such as gardening and cooking.

The group has also organised a cooking project this year. Students, refugees and asylum seekers set up a weekly food stall on UL’s campus.

The stall sold food from different countries around the globe and people living in the direct provision centre helped cook the food.

It was operated by refugees and asylum seekers involved in ReStart.

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