Our Team

Eleni Venaki


Eleni leads the team and is responsible for overseeing the direction of The Comfrey Project, including being responsible for fundraising and financial management.

Eleni is originally from Greece but has been in the UK since 2006 so she considers herself a little bit of a Geordie! Having grown in a small farming village she has a deep appreciation of the benefits from connecting with nature. She enjoys hiking, languages and books, and loves travelling and meeting people from around the world. 


Mike Blenkarn-Durning

Administration and Finance Officer

Having previously worked for The Comfrey project for three years, Mike rejoined the team in May 2023.

Mike’s role is crucial in making sure the organisation is in good financial health and it complies with laws and regulations.

Mike is very passionate about the charitable sector and has worked in similar roles for the past 17 years. His other passion is music; he has a PhD in music and plays regularly in a band.


Nicola Bushell

Session Coordinator

Nicola responds to the needs of our community by developing, coordinating and delivering a range of sessions and activities that support our volunteers and participants to use and develop skills that connect with each other, nature and our garden.

Nicola comes from a rural, farming town in Cumbria. She grew up in the hills and fields and found her love of nature at a a very early age. Even when Nicola is not working in our garden, you will find her in the hills, or making friends with the bees and the butterflies!

Peter Casson

Volunteer Coordinator

Peter joined The Comfrey Project in April 2023. He works alongside Nicola and our volunteers and participants to develop and deliver a number of sessions and activities across all three sites, and also makes sure people are being signposted to external opportunities to meet their extended needs.

In his spare time Peter enjoys playing football, tending to his allotment, going to watch live bands and looking after his cat, Jess!


Mufida Abdualla

Peer Enabler

Previously a Comfrey volunteer, Mufida has been employed since 2020 as part of Gateshead Bridge Builder project. She is currently a Peer Enabler, leading on a project which examines the barriers people face to influence change.

Since building her life in the UK, Mufida has completed her PhD Chemistry degree at Newcastle University. She lives locally with her lovely family and likes to spend time with people learning about their cultures. Mufida loves to cook, draw and read.


Eric Bamela

Bridge Builder

As a Bridge Builder for the Gateshead Bridge Builder project, Eric is part of the Coordination Team, ensuring that the voices of communities are included in the decision-making process.

Eric is originally from Cameroon and has been in the UK since 2014. He started volunteering for The Comfrey Project in 2017. He has been involved in many humanitarian and volunteering programs from Africa to North America. Eric is also a member of the African platform Handing Hand community (APHHC).


Hakan Akarli

Bridge Builder

Hakan is also part of the Coordination Team of the Gateshead Bridge Builder project, and supports communities and local agencies to connect.

Hakan taught in Turkey and Azerbaijan for 16 years. He enjoys volunteering; he volunteered at The Comfrey Project when he arrived in the UK, he helps coordinate the activities of the Turkish community in the North East and helped establish the North East Diversity, Education and Solidarity group. Hakan also enjoys learning about different cultures and reading books.


Our Trustees

Penny Schofield (Chair)


Kevin Douglas

Tedros Gebregyorgis

Joanne Jopling

Melisa Maida

Felour Moghadamy

Felicity Shoesmith

Mustafa Ustuner

Sally Young