An innovative community gardening and arts project supporting five Syrian refugee families was celebrated yesterday (25 July) at Guildford House Gallery.

The project was a collaboration between a range of Guildford Borough Council services from Family Support, Community Wardens to Heritage to Arts officers. Special expertise was added by prestigious local artist with residency at the Houses of Parliament and Watts Gallery, Mary Branson and professional local gardener and RHS Gold winner, Jo Carter.

As part of the ongoing initiative the group have redeveloped part of the courtyard garden at Guildford House taking inspiration from its history dating back to 1660.

Guildford Mayor Cllr Richard Billington attended the event and spoke to the families through an interpreter. He explained:

‘We’ve been working with the families since last year initially comparing life and environments in Guildford to Syria. Guildford House Gallery and its rich heritage as a Grade 1 listed townhouse was a great starting point. The families have learnt a lot about the building and gardening in the 17th century and how it was used to brew beer, bake bread, do laundry and even keep horses. They have also regenerated these previously tired flower beds with traditional fruit and herb seeds and plants.’

He added:

‘Projects such as this are so beneficial to wellbeing. Huge thanks to everyone involved in making this happen. The  theme for my mayoral year is ‘supporting health in our community’ and helping the families settle into our borough in such a collaborative way, provides us with far greater understanding of the world they are used to.

Lead Councillor for Arts, Parks and Countryside Cllr Pauline Searle said:

‘We have so much art and heritage in our borough and we are committed to making it open to all of our residents and visitors to enjoy. This wonderful arts activity project promoted real collaboration and has educated and inspired us all in our respective cultures. Guildford House Gallery celebrates its 60th year as a gallery this year and there some great exhibitions taking place. This summer’s People and Places will show among others, many of local Royal Academician John Russell’s portraits.’

Mary Branson, the local artist who is involved in the project is also Patron of Guildford’s annual Big Draw event. She provided creative ideas for the group and as a special treat is taking some of them to see her contemporary light sculpture ‘New Dawn’ dedicated to celebrating Women’s Suffrage at the entrance to St. Stephen’s Hall, Westminster.

The group are taking English lessons and have expressed their thanks and have described how much they are enjoying both living in Guildford and taking part in the project.