The Comfrey Project was founded in February 2001 as a pilot project, offering one session a week on an allotment in the West End of Newcastle, with the first referrals coming on board in April 2001. Referrals came through GPs, housing associations and the West End Refugee Service. During that first summer there were six project users participating regularly, with one member of staff employed ten hours a week and one volunteer.
In February 2002 the project became an unincorporated association and later that year was granted charitable status. Five trustees with a wide range of skills began meeting every two months to steer the development of the project. The main object in its constitution is:
To provide facilities for the recreation or other leisure-time occupation of refugees and asylum seekers with the objective of improving their conditions of life and general well-being, primarily though not exclusively through the provision of horticultural activities.
The organisation gradually expanded, acquiring a site in the East End and then following that with a site in Felling, Gateshead in 2005. Over the years, work has been carried out in partnership with many organisations including British Red Cross, Freedom from Torture, the RHS, Baltic, Federation of City Farms and many others.
In 2007, our work was recognised in Gordon Brown’s book Britain’s Everyday Heroes, and in December 2009, The Comfrey Project was named as Guardian Charity of the Year.
In the past few years, we’ve expanded our work to include winter sessions in cooking, horticulture and arts and crafts, and (with help from Local Food) have created a community garden at our Moorside allotment.
We’ve also seen a shift to participation, with an advisory group of participants involved in regular decision making on issues around all our activities. And perhaps last but not least, we’ve now moved to our own Centre in Windmill Hills, Gateshead.
In late 2016 the Comfrey Project had 21,000 sq ft of land under cultivation on it’s three sites: Windmill Hills, Moorside and Walkergate.