Blooming brilliant! Abbey Community Centre Garden WINS Camden in Bloom award

Drum roll please… we are delighted to announce that after a good few years of going for gold, we have secured FIRST PLACE in the Camden in Bloom Awards 2018 for Best Community Garden!

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Here’s our head gardener, Maria Elena, with volunteer Violet. Both of them along with a small team are responsible for keeping the garden blooming all year round. Our prize was £50 to spend in the garden which was very gratefully received, plus some yummy Alara cereals which will go down well at coffee morning and for our early birds at the Abbey Community Cafe.

We also got to enjoy afternoon tea with the Mayor of Camden, Cllr Jenny Headlam-Wells. We loved checking out the fancy mayoral gear and feasting on the delicious spread they had put on for the Camden in Bloom winners.

Camden in Bloom aims to encourage residents, businesses and community groups to take pride in their neighbourhood and create a cleaner, greener and healthier Camden. We won Best Community Garden this year; other categories include best individual garden, best green corner and best business garden.

We really think our garden is worth shouting about. It’s our little slice of paradise a stone’s throw from Kilburn High Road. Even just stepping into it for a few moments, I feel calmer. We have many plants and flowers in our planters, plus decorations made by our re-cycle-art group. The garden is maintained entirely by our dedicated volunteers.


Produce from our garden – from potatoes to herbs to tomatoes and radishes – is used in our cooking at our Saturday cafe and Men’s Cooking Classes. The ultimate in reducing your ‘food miles’.

The garden is also its own activity hub. At our Abbey Community Festival in September, adults and children came along to a gardening workshop with Maria-Elena. Previously our garden has enabled us to run our Dig it! Gardening and Craft project during the summer holidays, and our Growing Buddies project where we grew plants in recycled containers to take to older people in blocks of flats who do not have gardens of their own.

A huge thank you go to our gardening volunteer team; if you fancy being part of this award-winning bunch then please pop by on a Friday morning from 11am. And thank you to May for being our official fabulous photographer.

Thank you, Camden in Bloom!

An Abbey poem from Nelissa on National Poetry Day

You may remember from our post about our Community Festival that local spoken-word poet Nelissa came to perform a few of her poems for us, which were very much enjoyed by the crowds. Today it’s National Poetry Day so what better way to celebrate than by sharing one of Nelissa’s latest poems which just so happens to be all about the Abbey Community Centre!

“I came along to the Abbey Community
To see what was happening
that could be good for me.

The warm welcome I received was second to none,
This was a haven, so much could be done,
Gardening, cooking, Nordic Walks,
Sewing, exercise classes and IT support.

The list goes on as the activity list grows
Now there is a Saturday cafe
Which is a lovely place to go.
Each week we are delighted with the delicious
food offer on the menu –
It’s often varied, something different for me and you.

What a lovely place this is,
to come and meet new friends.
Sit down, have a chat,
and make yourself feel at home.
This Abbey Community Centre,
has a magic all of its own…

So thank you to all the staff and volunteers
May this space be open for many more years.

© Nelissa Mendy, 2018

Thanks so much Nelissa for the heart-warming poem – we’re so glad Abbey has been such an important place for you. Nelissa actually used to run our creative writing group, which happens every third Thursday of the month. The next session will be on the 18th October, 12.15-1.45pm, and the theme will be ‘Money’. So come along if Nelissa’s poem has inspired you or you just fancy trying something a bit different.

Happy National Poetry Day!

CHAPS on tour: Vivian Court!

Pop-up events are quickly becoming one of our favourite ways to recruit new 50+ men to our CHAPS group (and women to CTC while we’re at it!) and the other week we got to visit a local sheltered housing, Vivian Court, in partnership with Age UK Camden.

We’re really happy about the number of men now turning up for our Men’s Friday sessions (1.30-3.30pm in the Belsize Room), where they all get the chance to just hang out and be men. We have a few guys passing the time having a chat; others could be getting info from the internet, playing Dominoes, card games, table tennis or even getting their hair cut as we now have the barber back with us cutting hair for £5.

Dominoes is definitely a firm favourite among the group so we brought these along to Vivian Court, getting the residents together with this classic game.

We also brought along our Boccia kit to show them how it’s done! Our Boccia sessions are another Abbey favourite (Fridays 12.15-1.15pm) and always create a bit of team spirit.  We all had such a great time and a few of the residents were interested in passing by the community centre to participate in our classes. So thanks to the CHAPS who came along to help recruit new members – looking forward to the next stop on the tour soon.

Abbey Community Festival!

We had a fabulous time on Saturday at our September / ‘back-to-school’ festival. This was funded by Camden Council’s Community Festival fund and we put it on in partnership with Henna Asian Women’s Group.

The day kicked off with a Tech Buddies taster session, which was very well-attended. Lots of new faces! Meanwhile all our lovely local stall-holders were setting up in the hall. This included our sewing and crotchet groups, some bric-a-brac / tombola stalls (CTCers raising money for Abbey), a henna artist, Jean’s nail salon and amazing local trader Uzma’s jewellery and accessories stall which I confess to buying a couple of treats from…

Our first performance in the hall was from our favourite band The Elderly Brothers who provided a wonderful backing track as our guests started trickling in, browsing the stalls and getting in line for food from Henna Asian Women’s Group. Which was to die for!

Elsewhere, Zam and Tissy held story and song time for the kids; Maria-Elena ran some gardening and craft workshops in the garden; Chanda and Sinead got selling the raffle tickets and Norman ran a Bridge taster in the foyer. Making use of all the space in the centre! We also had some of our lovely cafe volunteers selling smoothies and snacks in the Reception area.

It was soon starting to feel really buzzy and lively with all the entertainments and treats on offer! Some people went outside to enjoy their meal in the fresh air.

Next it was time to welcome our Mayor of Camden, Cllr Jenny Headlam-Wells, who everyone was excited to hear from. She took to the stage and gave a great speech praising independent charities like Abbey then took the time to chat to some of our centre users and staff.

The CHAPS (our 50+men group) had a great time outside playing dominoes with some new guys. Indoors we had tasters of seated exercise; creative writing; boccia; and taekwondo – just some of the activities on offer at Abbey.

We also had a brilliant performance from the South Sudanese dance troupe to much applause. Abbey staff member Bryony was invited to take part at last minute which was an honour, not sure her dance moves were quite as stylish though…

Another much-enjoyed performance was given by local poet Nelissa, who previously ran the creative writing group at Abbey. She read moving poems on knife crime, mental health and cultural difference. You can listen to her poems on Youtube here.
Nelissa attends Tech Buddies which is where she received support to set up her channel and she now gets a well-deserved larger audience for her work which is great.

Finally the much-anticipated raffle results were announced! There was some fantastic prizes on offer included this gorgeous cake donated by our trustee John and a lovely hamper from Sainsbury’s Kilburn High Rd, for whom we are local charity of the year.

We had a wonderful day and hope all our guests did too. We’d like to say a big thank you again to all our volunteers, stallholders, Henna Asian Women’s Group, Camden Council’s festival fund, our MC Paul, our photographer May, our trustees, Sainsbury’s, all our performers and Oscar’s Den for providing the balloons – an essential part of any festival I’m sure you’ll agree!

Hope to do something similar next year. It’s certainly seen off any end-of-summer blues and got some new faces into the centre too which is always a good thing. Here are some of the lovely comments we received on the day…

“Food was great and a lovely feeling”
“Wonderful, amazing, everyone very friendly”
“Fantastic food, never eaten before like this. Very very tasty thanks a lot”
“Fantastic afternoon, I’m having such a good time… pleasant staff, good food and entertainment, reasonable books and other items… it’s all happening here… topped up with a speech from the Mayor of Camden… can’t ask for more.”

Ping-pong pop-up with Ageing Better in Camden

We had a great time the other week at Ageing Better in Camden’s table tennis pop-up outside Swiss Cottage Library. The idea behind this was to reach out to new people in the community by encouraging passer-bys to have a go. And have a go they did!

Hassan, Dennis, David, Graham and Dorothy from the Abbey table tennis troupe went along to help out and meet the locals. Big thanks to them for being so friendly and getting everyone to have a go – we think we’ll have lots more players at our Monday night sessions (6-8pm) as a result!

Summer creativity at Abbey

In the news recently was the result of the plastic bag levy introduced in 2015. Single use bag sales had fallen by 86% – from 7.6billion nationally to just over 1billion! This is brilliant news for the environment. And our Re-cycle-art group found a way to put their leftover spare plastic bags to use to ensure their longevity and create new colourful ‘bags for life’!

The group (which meets on Tuesdays from 3.30 – 5.30pm if you fancy coming along next time!) knitted their old plastic bags together using crotchet techniques to create these brand new, very unique tote bags. They are fabric-lined so very nice and robust but the plastic means they’ll also be waterproof (very useful given our current weather situation!) Thanks to group member Jean Taylor who was on hand to show everyone how it’s done while our Simone was enjoying a well-deserved break in Brazil. Here’s Jyoti modelling her bag…

In the last couple of months we were also excited to start a new activity as part of our Neighbours2Friends all-ages programme.

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The trend for ‘adult colouring books’ has been booming in recent years and there is actually evidence to suggest that they can aid relaxation and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. The group has been going wonderfully so far with new faces every week. Here they are adding their own touches to the rainforest theme! Anyone is welcome to join – just contact Simone on 02076248378 if you’d like more info.

Our latest new creative group at Abbey is going to be a drama group! We’ll be starting a 9-week course on Thursday 27th September so if you’d like to enrol, please contact Laura on 07447 932564. No experience needed – just a sense of fun! We might well end up doing a community performance to round it off… if there’s one thing we like at Abbey, it’s putting on a show!

Summer at Abbey: our June/July so far

We’ve had loads of special guests to Abbey in the past few weeks so here is an update of all the events and activities we’ve been enjoying so far this summer.

We kicked off July with a visit from our local PC, Mick, PCSO Sham and Liz from Trading Standards during our Friday coffee morning. They gave us lots of useful info about doorstep scams and bogus callers, which helped everyone to feel less wary about being alone in the house and having unwelcome guests.

We’ve also had lots of new faces at coffee morning itself which has been lovely. Harriet from Ageing Better in Camden also popped by to hear more about everything we’ve got going on at the centre at the moment.

Sadly we also said farewell to Jenny, our wonderful cook (bottom left pic) at Saturday Cafe, who is leaving to pursue her own social enterprise projects. She also already works full-time (!) so it’s been amazing that she’s been able to bring her creativity, warmth and cooking prowess to the cafe for the first year of the project. Thank you Jenny for all of your hard work. (This means we’re hiring – check it out)

Big thanks to everyone who has been helping to keep our garden lovely during these hot dry weeks. A few new volunteers there too.

We also had volunteers from our local M&S (plus a much-needed £500 donation) to help out in the garden and at Tech Buddies, thanks to Neighbourly. They had a great time with our seasoned gardeners Violet and Maria-Elena showing them the ropes.

Saturdays at Abbey have also been buzzing as always. The amazing Elderly Brothers came to perform for us for the second time, and our Tech Buddies team have been assisting local over 60s with everything from visiting the council website to buying their first smart phone.

And our Saturday cafe volunteers have kept churning out the most delicious things in the kitchen. Look at those meringues (bottom centre)… we really will miss you, Jenny!

Lastly we’d like to thank our local Wates team, who swung by to drop off a £500 cheque the other week towards the costs of our Neighbours2Friends programme. We are very grateful; these are testing times financially and we are needing more funding all the time just to keep the centre running, so it is much appreciated.

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Big thanks to everyone who has visited us, given talks, donated, volunteered so far this summer. We couldn’t do any of this without you!

Stay tuned for more updates about our new Colouring Calm club, Re-cycle-art and our recent bookswap. Until then…