Jeremy Irons Launches Autistic Charity Gardening Project

Acclaimed British actor, Jeremy Irons officially launched the Autism at Kingwood‘s new gardening project at the charity’s Watermans allotment this morning.

The charity has recently appointed Gardening Coordinator, Caroline Powell who has been funded by a generous anonymous donator for the next three years.  Caroline, previously an NHS Occupational Therapist, will support autistic people to benefit from the therapeutic and well-being benefits of gardening.

The allotment project has also received support from two other local organisations. The Anthony (Tony) Lane Foundation, (a local trust in memory former mayor Tony Lane) has provided tools and seeds and the Rotary Club of Henley-on-Thames has donated funds for a poly-tunnel and a shed/shelter.  The allotment was taken over by the charity four years ago and has been transformed with raised beds growing an amazing array of vegetables and flowers.

Jeremy Irons said, “I’m delighted to be here.  When I say that I mean I’m never happier than to be surrounded by veg, flowers, peace, tranquillity, bees, birds and butterflies.  When we locked down like everyone my schedule fell apart. When I crossed out engagements in my diary, my heart lifted a little bit when I found myself free.  Where was I?  I was always in the garden.  I suspect being autistic is a bit like I felt on the first day in lockdown x 100.  If I found comfort going and sitting in the garden pottering and thinking a lot, occasionally sweeping, pruning and digging then how must it feel for autistic people? I think its a wonderful thing you’ve done here.  As a long-standing Patron on Autism at Kingwood, I know how hard they work to provide real added value to the lives of autistic adults. This allotment is an opportunity to have quiet, meaningful occupation in a safe place.  It’s an essential branch to the work. I’m probably going to embarrass myself with trying to cut the ribbon with these sheers.  I’ve looked at them and they couldn’t cut a daisy!  I’ve got some scissors here though if they don’t work.”

Autism at Kingwood Chief Executive Kate Allen says: “Thank you to everyone who has donated towards this facility to get it established.  The positive effects of green spaces and horticulture on human wellbeing has been evidenced in numerous research studies and Autism at Kingwood has a successful history of supporting autistic adults and young people to enjoy and benefit from horticulture experiences.  It provides a wealth of benefits.  By being able to introduce Caroline as our Gardening Coordinator we will be able to take this facility we have and give it some structure and meaningful opportunities, be that work, leisure or relaxation.  It’s all about creating a safe space for people.”

Caroline Powell said, “I’m delighted to be appointed as the new Gardening Coordinator.  During this time, many of us have gained a deeper connection and appreciation for the nature world.  We feel better in nature.  We know this intuitively and the research shows that this is true.  So the people that come here can dig, propagate and harvest but they can also just sit and listen and think.  They will all benefit from this wonderful green space.  I relish the opportunity to develop it further.  I look forward to expanding its reach to the wider community and to engage with those who might not otherwise be able to access nature independently. I’d also like to thank Ben who is here today, Paul (my predecessor) and others who have been an integral part in making the transformation along with their families and support workers.”

Angela Thomas from The Burnside Partnership (Trustees of the Anthony Lane Foundation said, “We’ve donated selection of hand tools, spades, gloves, selection of vegetable, flower seeds and a cold frame.   It’s a community project that the Trustees very much wanted to get involved in and support. It’s definitely very important to them that Tony’s legacy is kept going certainly within Henley and the surrounding areas.  I think he (Tony) would have been delighted to have supported this.  It’s a fantastic cause.”

Brenda Gaunt from the Rotary Club of Henley-on-Thames said, “We are very proud to involved with this charity and we were glad to help.  As a Rotary Club we’re involved in lots of charities around Henley and giving funds as well as working with our international foundation which works abroad.  We are very much charity based, trying to help the welfare of of human beings around the world and in Henley.

Autism at Kingwood was set up by entrepreneur and local resident Dame Stephanie Shirley. Dame Stephanie says: “I founded Autism at Kingwood in 1994 to support my autistic son Giles, taking him out an institutional environment and into a house in the village of Kingwood Common, just outside Henley. He was supported by kind and caring support workers, who enabled him to make his own decisions about his life.

The charity has retained its caring approach and perseveres with highly vulnerable clients – some straight from long-stay hospitals – and sometimes where other services have given up. During Covid-19, I was particularly impressed by many of the staff who cancelled their holidays, to maintain consistent support for those they
support. I am delighted to see the launch of this allotment project in Henley; people will be able to enjoy a peaceful environment, whilst learning skills and enjoying the fruits of their labour – quite literally!”

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