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A Tale of Inclusivity and Growth

Jun 23, 2024

The Secret Garden at Western Sydney University is a delightful haven nestled in the heart of the Hawkesbury. One local recently described it as “The very best the Hawkesbury has to offer.” 

It’s an excellent place for a meander, a coffee, or some plant retail therapy – and it’s all for a good cause. The Secret Garden is not just a garden; it also provides a nurturing haven for people with diverse abilities and a fantastic environment for community volunteers. Managed by North West Disability Services, the Secret Garden is a testament to the power of inclusivity and the joy of nurturing plants and people. 

Caroline Cunningham, the assistant coordinator of North West Disability Services, explained: “The Secret Garden offers a safe and supportive environment where people with a range of abilities can participate and learn skills through our programs.”

“North West Disability Services was created in 1984 in the inaugural International Year of People with Disabilities. Since then, we have grown in leaps and bounds. NWDS continues to strive to Turn Dreams into Reality by focusing on opportunities to improve the daily lives of the people we serve. We aim to open up opportunities for all to flourish,” she said.

At the heart of the Secret Garden’s ethos is cultivating skills and community engagement. The garden offers several programs, including horticulture, permaculture, sustainability, animal husbandry, and mud-brick making. Through these initiatives, NDIS participants have the opportunity to flourish and grow, contributing to a thriving and inclusive community.

Nurturing Growth, One Plant at a Time

A garden is a place of learning, engagement, and a space where individuals can find purpose and fulfilment. Penny McKinlay, the Garden’s Manager, explained: “Our clients have various disabilities, and we can cater to whatever level people are at. If they’re here for an hour and pot four or five plants, that’s fantastic.” 

The Secret Garden empowers individuals to embrace new skills, fostering a sense of achievement and self-worth, as Penny explains: “Often they’re sitting at the bench producing plants along with all of our volunteers, who are marvellous, and just help those clients with their what they’re up to. If there’s any questions, anybody can ask anybody, because we’re all just about learning from each other. So it’s a really nice environment for our volunteers as well.”  

Penny highlighted the unique aspect of the garden’s plant nursery: “The good thing or the difference with our nurseries is that everything we sell here, besides the citrus, has been grown on-site, so it’s all good for the Hawkesbury conditions. So if they can over-winter here in Richmond, they’ll be good in your garden over winter. You’re not buying stock from Queensland or anything like that. It’s all tough local plants that like our conditions.” 

A Welcoming and Accessible Haven

The Secret Garden is accessible for all ages, ensuring that everyone can immerse themselves in its beauty regardless of physical ability. Penny explained: “It’s wheelchair friendly, or you can push prams. It’s built for older people or people with disabilities, and it’s just a pretty place to be, where you can just come and get a coffee and hang out.”

A Café with Heart

The on-site café provides coffee and toasties and gives clients valuable opportunities to participate in food preparation and service. The café is open six days a week between 10 and 2 pm. 

Embracing the Community: Fundraising and Volunteering

The Secret Garden actively involves the community through fundraising events such as the Spring Scarecrow Festival (14 September) and the Christmas Fair (7 December). These events raise vital funds and serve as opportunities for the community to come together and support the garden’s fundraising efforts. 

A Beacon of Inclusivity and Growth

The Secret Garden at Western Sydney University is a testament to the transformative power of nature, community, and inclusivity, nurturing plants and people, and fostering a sense of purpose, belonging, and growth. 

Whether you’re a seasoned gardener, a novice, a parent looking for a lovely afternoon with the kids, or a carer looking for a nice day trip, the Secret Garden is a great local destination for everyone to visit.

For more information and inquiries about volunteering at the Secret Garden or Opal Cottage (where NWDS is based), go to:

Secret Garden Address: Clydesdale Lane, Richmond NSW 2753 (enter the uni via Londonderry Road)

Opening Hours: Monday– Saturday: 9 am – 4 pm


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