Isabel and Germain – a garden story

At Sufra, we often write about what we call ‘The Guest Journey’.

From the moment our guests access our services and speak with our volunteers, our aim is to provide them with all the support they need to transition from crisis and desperation to independence, wellbeing and re-integration in the community. And in their well and integrated states, we encourage them to return to Sufra as volunteers or visitors, so the cycle of support is complete.

Our Garden in particular, is a great space for guests to return to so they can continue their mental health journey – which is one that, as we all know, never stops.


Our Garden Learning and Outreach Coordinator, Jim, recently ran into two guests and frequent visitors in the garden. Here is their Guest Journey, as written by Jim:

Isabel called into the garden one spring day three years ago. She had just moved to London from Spain with her husband Germain and their young son Samuel.

Isabel spoke very little English, but she taught me how to use Google Translate to have conversations with her on her visits. Germain was seeking work and was out most of the day.

Isabel visited most weeks and offered a hand in the garden. She emigrated from Colombia to Spain and when the job dried up in the motor industry, they had to move once again. Learning English was their aim to help secure Samuel’s future and they thought it was best to relocate to the UK.

Isabel discovered many herbs growing in our garden, but the best one was the Oregano. It reminded her of home and when she told me, she had tears in her eyes. No Google Translate necessary to see how much the garden meant to her.

They found a house to rent and, with help from Sufra, they applied successfully for the benefits. Germain was helped to find work from the DSS. Their contact became less as they set up home, but Isabel kept on the Garden Volunteer WhatsApp group.

I received a message recently from the family. Isabel wanted to start her own small chicken flock. I directed her to an organisation where chickens were offered for rehoming. They plan to keep four to six birds in their garden.

We found and donated a small chicken coop which was starting to fall apart and would be too small for our needs. We also offered some used chicken wire to help them build a back yard run. The chicken project is now off the ground and they only need to find some birds to keep.

I asked Isabel and Germain to visit the garden to collect the unused coop. Today, I hardly recognised them. They look confident, happy and work together as a couple making their way here in London. Isabel is working as a cleaner at the DPS parcel depot. Germain is a Cab driver and Samuel aged six now started school. His English is better than either parent!

Sufra are in the business of supporting people for the long run. This is one story of how our help at the start can bring people off their knees and find a way to make a new start. It’s also proof that our community garden brings people together and we all find ways to work out problems.

Isabel owes us 24 fresh eggs as payment for the coop once their chickens are laying properly. We are looking forward to that omelette…

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