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Accepted Paper:

Running a community garden, remotely: Responsible care for refugees and asylum seekers in Covid time  
William Wheeler (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores how volunteers in a community garden for refugees and asylum seekers balance care and responsibility in discussing how to operate safely in the time of Covid while continuing to support participants, whose challenges have been severely exacerbated by the pandemic.

Paper long abstract:

Growing Together is a community garden in Manchester offering therapeutic gardening for asylum seekers and refugees. Asylum seekers in the UK often lead precarious lives, facing periods of destitution, exclusion from vital services and often living in fear of the Home Office. In this context, Growing Together creates a therapeutic space operating on an ethic of care: caring for people through caring for plants.

The project has been closed since lockdown was imposed in March. The challenges facing participants have worsened dramatically because of Covid, so support for participants, practical and emotional, has continued, but remotely. In this paper, drawing on ongoing ethnographic engagement, I explore how the project has been transformed, focusing especially on volunteers’ discussions about reopening the space. I examine the balancing of care for participants’ wellbeing, which would benefit from access to the site, with a sense of responsibility to minimise public transport use that could exacerbate transmission. Since the project remains closed, I also look at the creative efforts to care for participant wellbeing in a ‘responsible’ manner. Finally, I explore discussions about risk of transmission on-site in the event of reopening: how far should participants, who may justifiably fear the state, be encouraged to engage with test-and-trace (run by Serco, the security giant that also, notoriously, provides asylum-seeker housing)? As volunteers weigh concerns about public health, participant safety, and an opaque, chaotic, increasingly privatised state, they negotiate the fraught terrain of how to be responsible citizens and activists in the time of Covid.

Panel Heal10a
Care, responsibility, and COVID-19 social restrictions I
  Session 1 Wednesday 31 March, 2021, -