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Discover The Lighthouse & Gardens

Approaching the little building flanked on either side by grassy verges and trees, I see through floor-to-ceiling windows the welcoming space known as The LightHouse.

What was a property marketing suite for 10 years has been reimagined as a community empowerment and wellness space; an incubator for ideas, and a place for people to connect. It includes a community garden on Celebration Avenue in Stratford, a ‘meanwhile’ project which seeks to provide support, collaboration and opportunities to the community.

Its joint managers and co-curators Gabby Briscoe and Su Winsbury joined forces many years ago to form The Heart to Heart Collective, a corporate wellbeing provider with a mission of bringing a new body of wisdom and health to the wider population. Both Gabby and Su started out as reflexology practitioners before teaming up over a broader definition of wellness that includes fun, laughter and creativity as much as physical and emotional health. And they are a formidable team, bringing almost 40 years of experience combined through their modalities as EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) Practitioners and EAM (Energy Alignment Method) Mentors.

Over the last few years, we have suffered a collective trauma that has impacted every single one of us to a greater or lesser extent. “Even if people hadn’t identified big emotions prior to the pandemic, like fear, anxiety, loneliness, worry”, Gabby explains, “we’ve all collectively been there over the last few years.” The pandemic isolated and disconnected us, depriving many of us of valuable human connection. After a difficult few years, their hope is to bring people back together, to offer a sense of community. The LightHouse and Gardens is inclusive, open to all, and perhaps most importantly, a place that people can just ‘be’.

Together, Gabby and Su understand that wellness is about more than just nutrition and yoga. They don’t want to be prescriptive in their approach to wellness, “it’s not a one-size fits all approach,” explains Su. Instead, The LightHouse offers a wide range of activities, workshops and groups. On the schedule are QiGong, yoga classes, a men’s meditation group, drumming classes and Zumba.

Gabby explains that the vision is to continually ask questions and refine what is on offer to reflect the specific needs and wants in the area. This information is also fed back to site owners The Hadley Property Group to shape what will be there in the final build, for which planning meetings are underway.

The Gardens are open and free to access. They offer people an opportunity to learn things that they may not have had the confidence to do before, led by Jimmy Wheale of Nomadic Gardens, who loves to help people of all ages and abilities come together and learn skills like gardening and using tools. ‘Growing’ is a great metaphor, and Jimmy helps people to focus on and nurture something outside of themselves. In the first month alone, all the planters were occupied by local residents keen to grown their own vegetables. With plants and materials donated from The Chelsea Flower Show and Tate Modern, the garden continues to take shape and welcome new visitors. There is a public access pathway that runs through the middle of it all and is an important thoroughfare for local residents. A practitioners networking group, LightHouse Luminaries, is hosted once a month. Being a wellness practitioner can be quite a lonely existence, often lacking opportunities to work alongside others. The LightHouse wanted to create something nurturing and connecting that gives practitioners the chance to come together and organise events. They also want to provide support in the form of offering business skills and a platform to develop ideas. Many practitioners have been working over Zoom since lockdown, and Gabby is keen to encourage people to start working face to face again.
“Empowerment is an important theme at The LightHouse,” Su explains. They work with young people and local schools, providing tools and techniques to improve employability skills. Su thinks that people aged 16-25 have probably had the hardest time over the last few years. Many graduates have struggled to find work, and being stuck at home with your family can present all kinds of challenges. There is a focus on providing opportunities for the younger population of Newham, and plans to expand to include a maker’s yard with workshops and courses for all levels of experience.
As humans, it can be hard to embrace change easily. Su and Gabby’s purpose with The LightHouse is to steer people through change in a positive way. “We’re here to send light out – we’re not sending out rescue boats!” Gabby says. They want to plant the seeds for those who are ready to make lifestyle changes to support their wellness. This process takes time, so it’s great news that they’ve been given the space for at least two years. Hadley is in the early stages of working up proposals for a mixed-use development on this site, to be delivered over the coming years and informed by feedback on its current iteration. “Having the LightHouse and Gardens welcoming people to our IQL North site has given us the opportunity to show exactly what kind of development we’re aiming to deliver here – and also, hopefully, to illustrate our own values too,” says Hadley Property Group’s Matt Griffiths-Rimmer. “Meanwhile and pop-up uses have been an integral component of our development strategies for a number of years. Done properly, they can take you way out of the traditional cycles of public consultation and enable much more genuine, meaningful conversations to take place. You can’t hope to curate new neighbourhoods without understanding what makes a place tick – and the only voices that can really give you that detail are the ones who already live there.”
With the constant regeneration that characterises Stratford, Gabby and Su agree that it’s particularly important to keep a sense of history and continuity through the development. They are looking at gathering some of the stories that have come out of this project for a book. One lady tells of how she’d always grown things from seed, and when she was nursing her mum through dementia, she planted a lot of plants as a way of managing her stress. When her mother passed away, she donated all the plants to the garden for others to enjoy.

 

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