Sowing the Seeds
The seeds of The Comfrey Project were sown in 2001, at Moorside Allotments in the West End of Newcastle. During our first summer, we worked as a pilot project with six refugees and asylum seekers who were referred through GPs, housing associations and the West End Refugee Service.
In 2002 The Comfrey Project became a registered charity, with five trustees to help guide our growth.
Putting down roots
As The Comfrey Project began to work with larger numbers of people, we acquired two new allotment sites – one in Walkergate in Newcastle and one in Felling, Gateshead – in 2005.
In 2007 then-Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, included The Comfrey Project in his book, Britain’s Everyday Heroes: The Making of the Good Society, and in 2009 The Guardian newspaper named us as its Charity of the Year.
In 2015 we moved to the Windmill Hills centre in Bensham and from 2016 we had 21,000 square feet of land under cultivation on our three sites: Windmill Hills, Moorside and Whinneyfield allotments.
Cultivating our offer
In 2016 we welcomed thousands of new residents to our Windmill Hills site in the form of a swarm of bees, and we worked with a local contractor to excavate a pond, which became a haven for wildlife.
The Windmill Hills site has been transformed into a bustling urban garden, complete with a polytunnel, bee garden, pond, wildflower meadow, herb garden, bird habitat, and a workshop for woodworking.
And a new partnership with Freedom from Torture meant that, from 2017, we could offer more intensive support to refugees and asylum seekers who are survivors of torture.
In late 2017 we had a break in service to review our strategy and staffing, making sure that The Comfrey Project is equipped to take on ever-changing challenges. We soon resumed activity and since early 2018 The Comfrey Project has been growing and branching out.
Since having our own indoor space, we have been able to increase the range of support on offer: newly-arrived refugees and asylum seekers can now take part in the weekly Language and Skills Café, while the wider community is welcomed to our creative drop-in, the Culture Hub.
Our focus is increasingly on supporting the progression of our volunteers to develop and deliver their own community projects using skills and knowledge developed at The Comfrey Project. This has led to successful projects with local care organisations, schools and other partners.
Having registered as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) in 2018, plans are underway with Gateshead Council to secure the long-term future of our base in Gateshead and The Comfrey Project is looking ahead to a positive future, helping more refugees and asylum seekers to create a better life in the North East.