My friend David Swift is a kind of magician. He can conjure up amazing images in a few captivating words, painting mental pictures which then become reality.
Forty years ago, when I first met him, he convinced me to learn a mime routine, dress up as a clown and set off on a busking tour of Britain. Together with another friend, we drove from Scotland to London, sleeping in David’s car, stopping at York and Cambridge on the way for warm-up performances.
We called ourselves Binga Banga Bonga, because of a funny song we heard on the radio as we zoomed down the M1. Within a week we were performing our legendary routine, The Sausage Shop to a large and enthusiastic crowd in Trafalgar Square.
Now 40 years later, David has done it again. He didn’t even try this time, but when he started talking about Il Giardino Dei Venti, a project he had started, to help and inspire young migrants in Marsala, Sicily, I was drawn in by this vivid and imaginative vision for a creative programme.
My dear Dad, William Roy Lovatt, had recently died and left me a sum of money for which I was very grateful. I wanted to do something worthwhile with my dad’s hard earned cash. So, without any prompting from David, I offered to fund the initial stages of the project, whose aim was to offer guidance and skills in the hope that the migrants, who had come from The Gambia, Senegal, Mali and French Guinea, could produce work good enough to sell.
The long term goal is to open a workshop and shop in Marsala. A place to work and earn money, gain confidence and dignity. To have fun too…an essential element to any manifesto produced by David. I decided immediately that this would be an excellent use for some of my precious inheritance. And I began to plan a trip to Sicily, so I could see for myself the work that was being done, by David and a dedicated team of helpers.
I travelled to Marsala after a few days in beautiful Palermo, taking the bus from behind the main train station. It’s a simple journey which costs 9 euros and takes a couple of hours, travelling through richly coloured green and yellow rural landscapes to this delightful, laid-back coastal city at Sicily’s western tip.
I was met at the bus station by two charming and kindly women – heroic Giusi who has been voluntarily coordinating the project and Fanette, who was in town to run a ceramics workshop. Their warmth and genuine gratitude made me feel instantly happy to be involved in Giardino.
They escorted me through the majestic Baroque city centre to meet the young migrants who were taking part in the workshops.
Over the next three days I watched the sessions unfold. The aim was to make ceramic figures and tiles to be fired ready for painting, displaying and hopefully selling.
Some of the boys were too shy to talk much. Many spoke English, others French. All were quietly appreciative of this opportunity to learn new skills. Some had worked as electricians in their own countries, but could not get work in Sicily as they didn’t have the necessary qualifications.
Many of the boys were very young, vulnerable and a little bewildered. Others were more confident, glad to have been given a way to use their time efficiently. I had been asked not to delve too deeply into why they had left their own countries, but I could see in their eyes that this had not been an easy transition.
At the end of my time in Marsala, everyone thanked me sincerely for the help I had given. ‘When will you come back?’ they asked me. I hadn’t really thought about a return visit or what would happen next to the project. But now I knew that it couldn’t end there. More funding was needed to realize David’s vision of a workshop, where the sculptures, ceramics and masks could also be sold.
I will return to Marsala in early March, to attend the opening of an exhibition of the work.
My donation has got the ball rolling, but it’s not enough. It’s been a joy to be able to help, but this is just the beginning of what could be an amazing venture that will transform young lives for years to come.
Now more money is needed to help these vulnerable migrants to become self sustaining. To make better lives though their own endeavors and to attain stability, both financial and emotional.
If you are able to help with the project in any way, please leave a message on this site and I will contact you personally to explain how you can become involved in Il Giardino Dei Venti.