This is a story of hope. Hope that a project already started pre-lockdown can resume. Hope that a fantastic fully accessible resource can be created and enjoyed as a sensory experience and a place to love and maintain for many.
At my last book talk pre-lockdown I visited and spoke at Chatham library. In the audience was Flick Foreman and we chatted afterwards. Flick mentioned a project in Rochester to commemorate suffragist Vera Conway-Gordon. I was intrigued. Vera sounded like a complete contrast to Ethel. I have since been (remotely) introduced to Natalie Poulton. Both Flick and Natalie are members of the Friends of Rochester Churchfields & Esplanade (FoRCE) whose projects include this suffrage sensory garden. They have had designs professionally produced for the refurbishment and enrichment of an existing garden in Rochester. The aim is to create a sensory garden accessible to all. The garden will use bee and butterfly friendly plants, herbs and other materials which will generate a range of aromas, colours, textures and sounds to encourage and stimulate the senses.
The garden will be a suffrage sensory garden in memory of suffragist, Vera Conway-Gordon. It will be created in an existing garden situated opposite Longley House where Vera, the President and Honorary Secretary of the Rochester branch of the NUWSS, lived. Vera (1876 to 1955) was a dedicated campaigner for women’s rights. Like others that fought for votes for women, Vera had hoped that there would be a change in the laws and equality for women. Following in her footsteps, FoRCE hope that they can continue with this project to commemorate Vera Conway-Gordon’s dedication to women’s suffrage whilst also creating a fully accessible and inclusive sensory experience for people to visit. The garden has the backing of Medway Council and will be the first official green space in the area which is dementia friendly, an area for those with autism and a place where people can relax.
A number of community groups have members who are looking forward to helping to care for this new resource. They include: the Plant and Grow LLDD Group (for learners with learning difficulties or disabilities), the Rochester Dementia Cafe and the Medway Neurological Network.
The design is based on the NUWSS pilgrimage of 1913. The longest chapter in my book is about the Kent element of this pilgrimage and it was a fascinating topic and set of stories to research and write about. Vera led pilgrims through Rochester to the Cathedral for a service, carrying a banner spelling out that they were law abiding (see the photograph above). I love the connection between sensory and suffrage, in particular the NUWSS pilgrimage. When the pilgrims made their way to London in 1913 their aim was to awaken people to the law-abiding campaign for women’s suffrage, in effect, to awaken their senses. What better legacy of this pilgrimage and Vera Conway-Gordon than a sensory experience facility.
To find out more about Vera, this project, how to get involved and/or make a donation, visit here.