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Helping hand: A gardener pitches in at St Mary’s Secret Garden, Pearson Street. Photograph: Hackney in Bloom

“Medicine moves fast. Faster than society in some ways,” says Paula Yassine, referring to the speed at which science has progressed in the fight against HIV, compared to how slowly society has accepted its victims.

Yassine has seen this play out from the front lines, as a specialist in intensive care at St Thomas’ Hospital in Westminster, during the 1980s.

“At that point we were seeing many beautiful young men coming in dying of the most hideous things. I was nursing at the start of what was to be termed the AIDS epidemic”.

Now, Yassine is director of St Mary’s Secret Garden, a quarter-century old therapeutic gardening project in Haggerston, supporting people living with HIV and Associated Neurocognitive Disorders (HAND), and a range of other complex needs.

Yassine was selected by Hackney Giving, which gives local charities chance to pitch for project funding from a live audience of benefactors , as one of the three charities to state their case to the audience at the Hackney Giving launch in February at BL_NK in Shoreditch.

Paula’s funding pitch to expand her services won the charity £4,888 out of a total of £10,767 donated by the audience that evening.

The money has changed the game for St Mary’s: “With the grant from Hackney Giving we were able to provide enhanced therapeutic horticultural activities for people living with HIV and HAND, who consequently have a range of profound and complex issues.

“Gardening is such a great tool to help people experiencing life changing illnesses and disabilities.

St Mary’s is the only garden of its kind in working with this specific group in the country. We have been also been able to evaluate this unique piece of work thanks to people’s generosity’.

Hackney Giving is a partnership between Hackney Council for Voluntary Service and the East End Community Foundation and is supported by Hackney Council. Since its launch in February, the group has raised just under £200,000 for local charities and comnunity groups.

This article is part of a Community Partnership between the Hackney Citizen and Hackney CVS.

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