A memorial garden to remember people experiencing homelessness who have died was opened on September 6 by the Rt Rev Graham Usher, Bishop of Norwich. The garden is in the grounds of Bishopbridge House, the direct access hostel run by St Martins.
While many residents move on successfully to live independently, many are not so fortunate and the garden is a place for other residents, families and St Martins’ team members to remember those who have died. Given that the average life expectancy of a man on the streets is 47, 43 for a woman, loss of life amongst people experiencing homelessness is common.
St Martins CEO Dr Jan Sheldon said, “Here at St Martins we’re always counting. We count the number of people on the streets, we count the number of people in our properties we’re frequently looking at our move on rates and support hours.
Sadly we also count the number of people who have died while they use our services. For us it isn’t just about numbers and life expectancy. Everyone we support is an individual with their own hopes, fears and dreams. So not only do we want to try to encourage the people we support to look after themselves better we also want to remember the people we support who have died. They were special to their friends and families, to the people they shared their lives with here including fellow residents and our team members. Every death is personal to us.”
The garden was carefully planned by St Martins team members and residents have helped to dig over and stock the beds with plants. It is a peaceful and colourful space to reflect and remember loved ones.
At the dedication of the garden, guests, including residents, family members, St Martins team and supporters laid decorated stones on the garden to commemorate the life of somebody close to them.
The first stone was laid by Wayne, a current resident at Bishopbridge House in remembrance of his daughter Carrieanne.
Bishop Graham spent time talking to residents and team members. He said, “Every single person is precious and I hope this garden will be a place where you know you are precious. This is a place where we remember people whose names are written on stones. Not perhaps the manner in which they died or the manner of illness or the last few years of their lives, but as precious human beings.”
Team leader at Bishopbridge House Kate Riley said, “Most of us have experienced grief. It may have come about from the death of a loved one, a family member, a friend or a pet. Sometimes we grieve for those we didn’t know. We can grieve for what might have been or the times we missed. We decided to make a memorial garden, a place to remember those who are special to us.”
Kate was the driving force behind creating the garden. Other local businesses got involved, with plant donations from Thorpe Plant Centre and local woodcarver Jason Parr crafted two beautiful oak benches for the garden. Sue Huckle from Posh Plants helped with the planting and landscaping.
Trustee Brian Walker laid a stone for David, a resident at the Norwich Night Shelter in 1977. David’s loss had a profound effect on Brian who has never forgotten in and was inspired to keep involved with St Martins over the decades.
Brian said, “As a young probation officer, I met David at the Norwich Night Shelter. He had a drug problem with opiates. He was a very lonely, isolated young man and he used to come and see me and talk. One day he didn’t turn up, which was unusual for David. I went to find out what had happened and discovered he had died in the night. He’s the guy that always inspired me and stuck in my mind.”