Working beyond the boundaries

14 April 2014 | News story

Parks Victoria in Australia is running a successful partnership programme that is helping refugees gain employment and language skills while connecting with their local park, to the benefit of both the people and the park. The programme includes a thriving community garden project, complete with a horticultural educational facility.

The location is Werribee, a rapidly-growing urban area just west of Melbourne, the capital city of Victoria, which includes people from a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds, many of whom have come to Australia as refugees from war and conflict.

In the grounds of the Werribee Mansion, managed by Parks Victoria, an historic home surrounded by gardens that include heritage listed trees and the State’s Rose Garden, is a revolution in community horticulture.

A group of volunteers from the Karen community – refugees from Burma – have helped to transform a dormant community garden into a thriving kitchen, full of vegetables and herbs.

“These volunteers were initially afraid of coming into the park, unsure that they would be welcome, and understandably wary of people in uniform,” said Dr Bill Jackson, Parks Victoria Chief Executive.

“The garden has become their outlet and a way for them to meet with other people from the community. The sound of laughter has become a musical soundtrack in the park.”

When the project started, it focussed on women from refugee communities, and aimed to address some of the mental health issues associated with the effects of post traumatic disorders, including depression and isolation. Now the project also includes younger members of the community that have left school and been unable to gain employment, mainly due to lack of English rather than lack of skills.

The programme has a strong social and educational component. It now includes a training organisation providing on-site classes in vocational English and horticulture as well as the Parks Victoria Traineeship programme, mainly aimed at people under 25 who are given the opportunity to work alongside rangers and learn park management and horticulture based skills.

The project is a partnership between the Adult Multicultural Education Service, Parks Victoria and the Brotherhood of St. Laurence. The Werribee Mansion Hotel on site gets a share of the fresh produce for its restaurant as well as a great story to tell their guests.

“This project shows the power of an idea - of reaching beyond the park boundary to bring people together and improve their health and wellbeing,” said Dr Jackson.

Delegates at the IUCN World Parks Congress taking place in Sydney, Australia in November will have the opportunity to learn more about this programme during a field trip to Werribee Park. If you would like to find out more or register to attend the World Parks Congress please go to: http://www.worldparkscongress.org