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UK Hemp Co-Op Honored As Refugee Sanctuary

The United Kingdom’s hemp farm is recognized for being a refuge for refugees. Its program helps immigrants to better their lives. City of Sanctuary recognized Hempen as a Garden of Sanctuary. This group works to provide welcoming environments for refugee communities in UK cities and towns.

Hempen’s community outreach project Growing Solidarity hosts weekly events on Tuesdays that give refugees the opportunity to be in nature and meet new friends. They also learn how to plant their own food. Participants can either grow it on the farm or from their gardens. 

Every Wednesday volunteers bring food from the farm to the Reading Refugee Support Group’s food banks. Growing Solidarity coordinator Sophie Gale stated that Growing Solidarity was started to aid refugees in gaining self-reliance in new homes.

“We want to develop sustainable food chains for people, going from the food bank model where they are given food to a more participatory relationship, growing something and being part of it,” Gale told the Henley Standard. “We focus on building resilience in different members of the community with nature being our foundation. It’s possible to grow, appreciate the natural world, and chat about your life. It’s very special.”

Lorraine Briffitt was the Chair of City of Sanctuary Reading and presented the award at a recent Hempen visit. Hempen is in Goring Heath, in South Oxfordshire. 

“We are delighted to work with Hempen. It’s amazing to see the energy they’ve poured into becoming recognized as a garden of sanctuary,” Briffitt said. “This comes at a time when solidarity with refugees and asylum seekers is needed more than ever before. It’s inspiring to see community organizations playing their part by stepping up.”

Hempen is run as a workers co-operative producing a variety of hemp and CBD products and was the UK’s first certified organic hemp farm. The farm does not have a license to cultivate hemp but it partners with organic farmers to develop and grow their hemp crop. This hemp is then used to make culinary, cosmetic, and health products. 

“I helped found it in 2015 as a not-for-profit workers’ co-operative offering hemp solutions. Hemp products are amazing for health and amazing for the planet,” said Hempen co-founder Patrick Gillett. “The community aspect of Hempen is really important to us.”

“It gets people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get here to come down, grow veg and be part of our community,” Gillett added.

Skyrocketing Refugees to the UK

Over the last two years, there has been a surge in refugees arriving in the UK as people flee poverty and unrest throughout eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. A report from the The reveals that less than 2,000 refugees traveled to Britain in 2019 – a risky journey. New YorkerIn December. The number was 8,417 a year later. In the first eleven months of 2021 more than 250,000 people made the journey to Britain in search for a better life. Many refugees arrive in uncertain situations as they try to adjust to new homes.

“Many are traumatized and exhausted from having nowhere to go and feel belonging when they make it to the UK,” said Gale. “The project aims to offer such a space and we know that the individuals and families that we work with get a lot out of visiting the farm and spending time engaging with meaningful activities, relaxing and socializing.”

Mary, one the Growing Solidarity refugees, stated that she was thrilled to have gone to the farm with her new friends and made many connections, including volunteer drivers who give rides to people in need.

“I learned many things about agriculture that I didn’t know before. It was so wonderful. The staff are wonderful and kind to everyone,” said Mary. “They take us in the car to the farm and drive us back home, which means we are able to take part without spending the little that we have on transport. When they accompany me to the farm, they are friendly and kind. We are also able to take whatever vegetables we want home with us.”

Eric, another refugee, agreed, saying, “It’s good to be in a community and learn things.”

“I’ve learnt how to make things and how to build,” he added. “It also helps to perfect the language by talking to more people.”

Growing Solidarity’s coordinator said that Hempen’s recognition as a Garden of Sanctuary “is a way to communicate with a bigger audience the importance of working with people from different backgrounds and supporting people who through no fault of their own have had to leave their homes.”

“There are complicated messages in the media about people seeking sanctuary,” added Gale. “It’s important to show our care and solidarity, and it’s quite positive, building resilience and community.”