My name is Meg Roberton, and it has always been my dream to create a Place, a safe house, a sanctuary in nature.
I first created such a place in West Wiltshire 1983 – 1992 when I rented a big house with gardens, woods and country all around and filled it with children, not only my three, and animals, ‘my menagerie’ as an old friend once remarked. I think that an injured rook named Edgar, after the poet, was living in the kitchen at the time and a neighbour had left his rather elderly golden labrador in my care.
I established a successful home education programme for my children and advocated for many families in strife with local education authorities due to their children either being a persistent truant, suicidal or school phobic.
As a single parent I fostered difficult to place adolescents for the local authority. This was a natural progression from my previous community work with adolescents in a multi-racial corner of Bath where I previously lived.
Sadly the house was not mine and I lost the tenancy just as I finished a Diploma in Social Work in 1992 and thus my social work career, which has encompassed adolescents and adults primarily in the field of learning disabilities, began alongside more community work with the youth of Bradford-on-Avon, the town we moved to.
In 1998 I went on a two week ‘local’ holiday to The Gambia. It changed my life.
Renting rooms in a community compound in Brikama town I established a community home which provided a meeting place, emergency accommodation, support to individuals and families, workshop space and daily food. In 2000 I hosted a Football Initiative and in 2001 I found myself back on the land.
So many things have happened since then it would be impossible to write them all here. Suffice it to say that I have seen and survived many things that people simply would not believe. And then the great storm late June 2005 came and went and we started again. Fifteen boys from Brikama walked out the day of the storm simply to help out. 2006 saw another delivery of football kits.
Nature Garden Gambia has become that Place I dreamt about. Many people have come and gone through its gates and many come still. Children come to play. Orphaned children in town know it is home and are supported by it, and nature is thriving. However, I am now facing a reality in which maintaining/sustaining here single-handedly plus providing for a number of children is seriously time and resource limited.
For years we got by via my months each year of well-paid agency social working in the UK, but after 22 years in the profession, and past retirement age, I threw in the towel when my last contract ended in November 2014. Savings from my work have carried things through but any savings I have now are simply my safety net. Nineteen years of The Gambia has taken its financial toll and all I own in the world is here. How one values it in the material world I have no idea. Its value is intrinsic, rooted in nature and it is the care and conservation of that over a great many years, combined with an ethos of simple living, which has created a place of great natural beauty. In environments which are being forever encroached upon, and in a world where technology is taking over, I believe the conservation of such natural spaces is vital for the future of all of us.
I welcome any form of help and support.
‘Forget the organisations, the systems, the paper politics, the endless rhetoric. They serve no useful purpose but to hinder the process out of poverty. Love, true care and wisdom do not need all of that and we have to act, not talk. No matter how small an act it is. Something is better than nothing, small is beautiful and we all have our part to play. To make a difference is what matters most.’ – Meg Roberton