Carol Heron got involved with community-focused activities as she looked to create a community resource on land she owns. Now she’s connecting and sharing in all kinds of other areas. She’s taken on extra roles, started new groups and has admitted that ‘it’s infectious once you get going’.
Carol’s idea for The Land, as she calls it, is for children with additional needs. She was turned onto GP Gillian Orrow and Growing Health Together in Horley, Surrey.
“I met Gillian through the well-being lady, Sally Salter,” says Carol. She’d been put in touch with Sally as she sought assistance for a gym membership for her daughter Amy, who has additional needs.
The reason for transforming The Land is to enhance the provision of activities and environments. “I just think that they haven’t got anything now to accommodate children with additional needs,” says Carol.
Resource for everyone
The Land had been used for camping, fishing and family get-togethers. After losing her husband, Carol was keen to create something for the community to bring joy, connection and return the area to the space of fun it has been. She wanted to create a resource for everyone, which includes rewilded areas to create places of tranquillity. And to build a pizza oven to cook and enjoy food by the river with the ducks and the wildlife.
“I would want kids to come in and learn about sustainability, and enjoy being somewhere without being told off for it. And they can maybe learn something and not be stuck in a park in the middle of a town where they’re getting chastised all the time,” says Carol.
“My big vision is to accommodate that, but you’d have to ask them because they will know what they want. It’s about that engagement.”
Carol and Gillian went to the Patchworking Garden Project in Dorking.
“The reason it’s called the Patchworking project is because it didn’t have a plan. In each area, people have chosen what to do. Then they work their way down the garden.”
“I’m learning,” says Carol. “I want to go and observe other people to see what they do because I’m too old to make too many mistakes. I know I’m going to make mistakes and I think that’s obviously how you learn, but I don’t want to, and I don’t want to be making big mistakes bigger. By seeing what other people do, you’re going to learn, aren’t you?”
Gillian has been a catalyst. From their first conversation, Carol was convinced of Gillian’s ongoing enthusiasm.
“She’s got that ‘bedside manner’: she’s engaging; she’s passionate. She’s helped in so many different ways by just being honest, being real,” says Carol. “I’ve never ever met a GP that engaging. She’s just inspiring and you can see she wants to help you.”
Carol mentions and values the recognition that Gillian and Sally give her in meetings. “They are just pure women who want to go out there and make a difference,” says Carol.
Gillian has introduced Carol to Ian Solomon-Kawall at the May Project in Morden.
“He’s a lovely guy. And she’s introduced me to Hazel [Hazel Stuteley, C2’s founder]. I didn’t know that there were such nice people out there who wanted to make a difference.”
Carol goes to the C2 Natters and mentions encouragement from the team, including C2 peer mentor Tina Devereux. “It’s like you’re almost doing your homework,” she says about attending the informal online get togethers. “It’s a good support system. I think engaging with C2, Hazel and Tina, has definitely made me think more.”
Gillian’s involvement is part of the Growing Health Together initiative that is seeing a health-driven health-creating approach emanating from Horley throughout areas of Surrey. And it’s made an impression.
“Gillian is doing a fantastic job and at the health hub they are definitely listening – wherever Gillian is, whatever she’s doing, they are listening.”
Carol too has been making herself available.
“It’s got to be habit-forming,” says Carol. “GPs like Gillian are consistent. They’re staying. So something needs to change because they’re not stopping.”
So will this work be more than short term?
“It has to be,” says Carol, “because it’s an approach. It’s how you approach it by talking to the people, not making the decisions for them. But if you’re still writing things and not talking to people, then you’re not listening. It’s as simple as that.”
To help prepare The Land, Paul has been volunteering, including building built the office out of reclaimed wood. Carol is also encouraging other people to get involved.
“They’re older ladies that I’m recruiting, which is just quite inspiring. It feels like they’ve almost been written off by society, and they’ve got a lot of energy left and have knowledge and a lot of wisdom.”
Older people are an untapped resource, she says.
“Some have lost their partner, some of them are quite isolated and they’ve got a second wind and they’ve got a lot of knowledge as well.
“And they’re making me feel like I want to do more. When you’ve got a group of people and they’re feeding back, it is in fact infectious because we’ve been given a purpose.
“I’m finding a lot of the older generation have got a lot to say. What they say, when they’re not used to being heard, I think that will be quite powerful.
“It’s infectious once you get going,” says Carol.
That certainly seems to be the case. Carol has dived into community-focused activities. She volunteers at her local food club, and recruits volunteer young people with additional needs to help there. She’s set up a new women’s peer group at the Horley Health Hub, which helps each other with financial and IT issues while connecting and having fun.
And Carol is starting an English language group at the library, following an identified need from the Portuguese community in Horley for English language practice with native speakers. Also at the library, Carol is starting a bereavement group, with special support for survivors of suicide.
She has been working in the community garden at the Horely Health Hub and encouraging attendees of the Food Club to join the myriad of groups taking place there, from the women’s group, through to the gardening group, Men in Sheds and more.
Carol has also helped set up a peer support group for parents of children with additional needs, in collaboration with the YMCA. And she has now, not surprisingly, been appointed to a new job at the health hub.
The route may be as meandering as the river that runs around The Land, but Carol is doing more than creating spaces, she is connecting people from diverse backgrounds, uplifting and amplifying voices that have previously been unheard, encouraging and enabling others to improve their own well-being, inspiring them to become active citizens, collaborating to “put right” what she feels is not working in the local community.
“She is an absolute inspiration to me and others across our area,” says Gillian.
top image: On The Land – from left to right, volunteer Paul Haylor, who built the office in the picture out of reclaimed wood, Hazel Stuteley (founder of C2), Carol Heron and Sandhya Gulati (Face2Face parent befriending, YMCA, Surrey).