When Sarah Watt needed surgery two years ago to remove a tumour from her spine, her life as a professional gardener changed forever.
From being full-time in a job she loved, Sarah found herself restricted to tasks such as sowing seeds because she was unable to use a spade or push a mower.
But she has been able to continue her passion by managing two community gardens near to her Hackney home, transforming previously neglected areas into flourishing green spaces.
By co-ordinating weekly workshops for a small group of residents on the Kingsmead estate, Sarah, aged 45, has retained her skills as well as passed on her knowledge to others.
The sessions, which run on Wednesdays and Saturdays, teach people of all ages how to sow seeds, grow their own fruit and vegetables and maintain the gardens.
Over the past 18 months the workshops have been supported by Sanctuary Housing along with environmental education charity EcoActive, Marks and Spencer and the People’s Health Trust.
Crucially, the workshops serve as a cornerstone of the community as it gives residents the chance to socialise and interact with their neighbours.
Such has been the success of the gardens that Sarah won the Green Hero Award at Sanctuary Housing’s Hackney Community Awards in June.
Sarah, speaking as part of Housing Week, under the theme ‘Real People True Stories’, said: “These gardens are really helping the community by getting people out of the house to meet up and have chat and a cup of tea. Even if they are unable to do anything, at least they are getting out and talking to people.
“It has been very rewarding because although it is such hard work, people are always popping in and saying hello. It takes me about an hour to walk across the estate now because everybody wants to talk to me.
“The gardens have been a Godsend to me because they enable me to still do some things in the garden without having to give it all up completely.
“My life changed completely when I had the tumour and I just felt so lost and I didn’t know what to do with myself. Now I have got all these really good friends and they brighten my day. It makes me really cheerful.”