On first impressions Sanctuary Garden is a simple design, with a calming pool and beautiful planting. But this garden has hidden layers and attempts to both convey a message and challenge popular misconceptions. It encourages visitors to reflect on how asylum seekers are treated in the UK.
Scratch the surface and the real story unfolds. At its heart, a tree, stripped of its bark and painted white represents the thousands of ‘Living Ghosts’: people now living in the UK without any support from the state, unable to work, homeless and destitute. Many consider starving and sleeping on the streets to be preferable to returning to the dangers from which they have fled.
Meanwhile in the public mind asylum seekers have become synonymous with benefit cheats, scroungers and parasites.
I believe a garden is a fitting symbol with which to win hearts and minds. Since I was a small child a garden has been for me a place of wellbeing and peace. I enjoy the mixture of recreation and creativity that it offers me and when I can find a spare hour I often choose to spend it in the garden, pruning, sowing, weeding or planting.
The Sanctuary garden is well designed with features that reflect some of the struggles faced by asylum seekers as well as aspirations to live a productive and fulfulled life in security. Gardens are a recurring motif in the Bible as places of flourishing and harmony, representing a balance between rest and relaxation with work and productivity
In a climate of misconception and prejudice can we dare to dream of offering a garden sanctuary to people who have reached these shores and asked for refuge? Can we begin to offer a welcome and hospitality that is generous and not grudging, magnanimous rather than meagre. Are we prepared to offer meaningful employment to those with skills, homes, shelter and food to those with no access to benefits or healing, therapy and comfort to those traumatised by violence?
It is equally fitting that this garden is being displayed days before the launch of Refugee Week. This year the overall aim of Refugee Week is to create a better understanding between communities by promoting positive representations of refugees.A new campaign, Simple Acts, has been launched which is about inspiring people to use small, everyday actions to change perceptions of refugees. These acts include reading an article about exile, watching a film about refugees, praying for an asylum seeker, or cooking a dish from another country.