A group of Lewisham volunteers is being honoured with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the highest a voluntary group in the UK can receive. 

Sydenham Garden, a group of more than 90 volunteers, helps people get back on their feet mentally and physically through social activities like gardening, art and craft, and cooking.  

The award, created in 2002 to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee, recognises outstanding work by volunteer groups to benefit their local communities. 

Kate Lake, who has been volunteering at Sydenham Garden for nearly five years, said: “I help on a programme called Growing Lives which helps co-workers who have mental health issues improve their mental and physical health and therefore their sense of well-being and social inclusion.   

“We aim to make everyone feel included, supported and valued through everything we do.   

“Volunteers work alongside the co-workers doing all the tasks involved in gardening: sowing, growing and harvesting food and flowers.   

“Growing plants can provide a great sense of purpose and achievement. 

“Every session we cook a healthy lunch together, using food we’ve grown as much as possible, so they can also improve their cooking skills. 

“We offer qualifications in organic gardening skills, helping to make co-workers more employable.”  

Kenton Brown, another volunteer, said: “I volunteer with the BAME group, running short gardening sessions and using gardening as a tool to support peoples mental health. 

“I feel welcomed at the garden. Feeling welcomed makes me want to help, I have experienced my own mental health difficulties and know where some of the people are coming from.  

“I enjoy doing it because I know the people who come are benefiting like I have. 

“I feel very happy that Sydenham Garden has won the QAVS award. Sydenham Garden has given me hope and a future.” 

Julia Brandreth, chair of the trustees at Sydenham Garden, said she was delighted the group has been recognised. 

“It is a huge tribute to the hard work and outstanding commitment of our volunteers who make Sydenham Garden a success in so many different ways.   

“I am particularly pleased that this award has been received now as it gives me the opportunity to thank my predecessor as chair, Jim Sikorski, who founded Sydenham Garden along with a small group of local residents in 2002.   

“Their vision and dedication turned a neglected nature reserve into the wonderful therapeutic resource we have today,” she said. 

Councillor Chris Best, deputy mayor of Lewisham and cabinet member for health and adult social care and member of Sydenham Garden, said: “During these difficult times, it is so welcome that this marvellous group of volunteers who focus on people’s recovery from mental ill-health and other significant illnesses, are being recognised in such an acclaimed way.  

“Volunteers from the community work with the co-workers, who are recovering from mental and physical ill health, in particular dementia, and I am proud to be part of them.” 

Representatives of Sydenham Garden will receive the award from Sir Kenneth Olisa OBE, Lord Lieutenant of Greater London, later this summer.  

Two volunteers from the group will also attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace in May 2021, along with other recipients of this year’s Award.