Bosco Bees Help Syrian Refugees

Local MP and patron of Bosco House, Peter Dowd, popped in for a coffee in the garden where we sit as he inspects his jar of honey with a custom signed label, writes Danny Rigg for the Liverpool Echo.

There were once busy beehives behind Bosco House, in Bootle, before the colony flew away. But one day in the quiet corner of this Bootle garden, a man traumatised by war restored life to a deserted beehive, and with it, he built back part of the life he left behind. This Syrian man was one of the first five families who arrived in Bootle as part of the Syrian Resettlement Programme in 2015.

Six years ago, project manager Alan Matthews invited some of the men from those first families for a cup of tea and a chat in the Bosco House garden. As he showed them around the flower and vegetable beds of the garden, a jet flew overhead. Fear washed over their faces as they ducked to the ground with their hands covering their heads. Alan told the Echo: “They all ducked and hit the ground, and I was like, ‘No, it’s okay, it’s okay’. But that was just their immediate reaction, and just the trauma on their faces was, like, my god!”

This year, one of those fearful men offered to rekindle the colony that had since absconded from the Bosco House beehives, like he had left behind his own beehives when he fled Syria. Now, Alan often finds himself at the table beside the greenhouse, drinking tea with volunteers. Their conversation dies down as their attention is drawn to the bees buzzing as they come and go from the hives in the corner. Alan said: “The ebb and flow of life, it’s marvellous.”

So too is the contrast between Alan’s first memory of the traumatised man dropping to the floor at the sound of an airplane above, and what he sees now of the Syrian beekeeper lost in space as he calmly tends the hives. They harvest the honey once a year and sell it to help raise funds for Bosco House. And, since starting up the hives behind the supported accommodation, the Syrian beekeeper has fostered hives across Sefton, each colony producing honey with distinct flavour from the area they’re in.

Alan told the Echo: “I think the reason he’s rooted in the beekeeping experience is that it takes him to a better place. The place he has been is just unbelievably horrendous, I can’t begin to imagine what he, his wife and children, have been through. But he’s picked up something that he did to two, three thousand miles away, and he’s been able to do it here.”

The garden at Bosco House is something of a sanctuary for the homeless residents and local volunteers. Alan said: “We use the garden as, if you like, a sort of a therapeutic tool for people who’ve had alcohol and other drug problems, which a lot of our residents have. Because, with gardening and horticulture, you have to keep planning for the future. But when you’re taking heroin, for example, you have a very limited scope of what you’re going to do that day. You’re going to do one thing. You’re going to get the money to buy heroin, then you’re going to take heroin, and then it’s the next day and you’re going to do the same thing.”

“So you’re never planning more than eight hours ahead. With gardening, you have to plan nine months ahead, three months ahead. We’re planning now what we’re going to plant in Spring. So getting people into a mind-set where there is a long term vision is a really useful therapeutic tool to reorient the thinking towards long term goals instead of short term goals.”

The garden also gives people space to bond and lay down roots. It helped a banker, bricklayer and beekeeper from war-torn Syria acclimatise to life in the UK, both culturally and in terms of weather. For the Syrian beekeeper, it was a building block on the way back to normality.

“For him, it was at least one building block in re-establishing his life: ‘Here’s something that I know about, here’s something that I’m comfortable with, here’s something I can do, and I can do it here in Bootle’”, said Alan. “And that’s given him a base to work from and extend that, and now he’s working with Green Sefton. That’s put him on a better level for him to move on with his life and his family’s life.” Alan added: “When you meet, and you talk to, and you listen to, and you work with people from situations like that, you realise we’re all human. They love their kids just as much as I love my kids. They hope for prosperity and a peaceful life, just like I hope for prosperity and a peaceful life. I want to fit in with my community and have friendships, and they do too.”

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