Around 15 students at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL) planted 300 potted snowdrops and lavenders at Bruce Castle Park in partnership with Putting Down Roots.
Putting Down Roots is a project run by homeless charity St Mungo’s that uses gardening to build self-esteem and social skills among people who have faced difficulties in their lives.
Many ESOL students at the CONEL have fled war and persecution in their home countries and found the gardening project has helped with their mental health and settling into the UK.
Sahil Ferozie, 16, who is from Afghanistan and is studying ESOL Entry 1 course, said: “There were a lot of bombs and fighting. I lost my father two years ago and after that I could not continue my education at school. I had to work as a taxi driver to make money because I was the oldest child in my family. It caused a lot of stress and was not good.
“The gardening I have been doing has helped with my mental health. It’s good to get fresh air and it has helped me relax. I talk to my family every day and the problems are still there, but it helps me to take my mind off what is happening a bit when I am busy doing some work here.
“I enjoyed planting the flowers and seeing a tree that was 500 years old in the park. It helped me to meet other people, practise my English and learn some new skills. I’m very proud of what we have done. It’s good to be able to do something for the environment, it’s good for our future.”
“I am enjoying my course at college and improving my English. My teacher is very good and gives me advice. We have learnt how to order some food in a restaurant, buy a train ticket, make a doctor’s appointment. This is my chance to continue my education. I like it and I’m really happy.”
Last month ESOL students were part of a team of volunteers who planted more than 400 trees at Perth Road Playing Fields as part of Haringey Council’s efforts to tackle climate change and increase biodiversity.
They were joined by project partners Marlborough Highways and The Conservation Volunteers in planting native saplings including oak, field maple, wild apple, rowan and hawthorn.
Natanya Jeffery, Work Experience and Industry Placement Officer for ESOL, said: “Our ESOL students come from all parts of the world and including many who have experienced personal trauma. Despite what they have been through they are thriving and look forward to the future living in Britain.
“Our role as a college is about giving the opportunities to develop English language and skills for life including employability opportunities and volunteering, like the gardening projects with St Mungo’s and Haringey Council, to help them meet people and integrate into society.
“Many of them live in a room in shared accommodation or with foster parents, which makes them feel quite isolated, so it was nice for them to get out and do something different. They’ve told friends they have made in other ESOL groups how much they enjoyed planting the flowers and trees and other groups now look forward to more volunteering activities in the borough that they can participate in. It’s all been very positive.”