Meeting our new Gardener and Wellbeing Co-ordinator

This year, we have been delighted to welcome on board  Sarah Ducker, our new Gardener and Wellbeing Coordinator.

Born and raised in rural Norfolk, the great outdoors has had a powerful impact on Sarah from her earliest days. As green-fingered parents and grandparents taught her the tricks of the trade, Sarah’s love and knowledge of the natural world has guided her steps through careers in care, therapy, and food, before leading her to our very own Laudato Si’ Centre to help champion our message of restoration, regeneration, and healing.

Portrait of Sarah Ducker against backdrop of Wardley Hall

It’s lovely to have you as part of the Laudato Si’ Centre team! Could you tell me a little more about your background and what inspired you to join us in your new role as Gardener and Wellbeing Coordinator?

I grew up in Norfolk and moved to Manchester when I was 21 to study Social Change at Manchester Metropolitan University.

From a young age I had a really keen interest in caring for people. I used to be a care assistant when I was 16, and that was a turning point which helped me realised I wanted to help people, and it brought out my caring side. That stuck with me through my teens, which is why I studied social change.

When I grew up in Norfolk, my mum was a gardener, my grandma was a gardener – not for other people but for herself – and I think being in that environment and being brought up in rural Norfolk really emphasised nature in me. My mum was really interested in insects and the ecology in the world we live in. We would always be looking up the different insects, the different birds, the different eggs, so we were always brought up with nature instilled in us. That was the underpinning of my love for nature.

When I moved to Manchester I had a big pull towards nature – it was a big, big shock – I think it took me about six to nine months to be like “ok – this is where I am!” But I loved it! I loved that it rained so much and that it was so green. I loved that within 40 mins you could be out in the Peak District and out in the countryside. But when I was at university, I realised how much I did miss that connection that I did have growing up in Norfolk, because we’d always be driving to the beach or out in the countryside – even when I lived in Norwich in the city centre, it was really green and there are lots of parks there. So in my last year of uni, I got an allotment, and I started growing there – and growing organically. And then after uni, I got side-tracked into cheffing – I was a chef for 15 years.


How did your love of nature influence your career as a chef?

I really looked at the produce and what we were putting into our bodies, so it was a strange kind of loop in a way. I still had my allotment and I would always use my own produce at home. At work, I would always make sure my specials had a nutrition value, so I was always thinking nutritionally: “how is this good for you? And does it taste good?” It was always instilled in me to think about what we’re putting into our bodies and where we’re getting it from. So, if we were using meat, we’d get that from the butchers and we’d try and get it from a reputable butcher where it’s farmed in a nice way and the animals are taken care of. Everything was thought through – I didn’t want to cut corners.


How did you end up swapping your chef’s whites for your gardening gloves?

I was a head chef for 15 years and then I had a baby – and I then realised that cheffing was something I kind of fell into. Having my son was a catalyst to making that switch in a career. I wanted him to see me in a job I was really happy in. So, it started making me reflect on what I wanted to do, what was at my core, what I felt was important, what my values were. I bought my own house, which had its own garden and that’s when I was like “this is where I want to be. I want to be gardening, this is what I want to be doing every day. I want to be outside in nature every day” and having that wellbeing element as part of that.

I bumped into my friend who was a horticultural therapist in a school and thought, “Ah, that sounds like a dream job!” She said they needed someone to water the plants at the school and asked if I’d be interested and that there might be room for growth in the horticultural therapy side of things too, which interested me because of my social change degree. I then did my level two counselling course and started to do some maintenance work at the school and then began to do some counselling as well. Through that, I was then introduced to the Laudato Si’ Centre last year and began to work here for a few hours a week. I saw this post advertised and thought… I’ve got nothing to lose!


Your job title here at the Laudato Si’ Centre is Gardener and Wellbeing Coordinator. How do you think the dual elements of your role interlink?

I think nature and wellbeing are one. That’s what’s always supported my wellbeing. If I’m ever not quite feeling myself, if I go outside, go out into the countryside, go for a walk, put my hands in soil, and work in the garden, that straightaway rejuvenates me. Me knowing that from such a young age is why I want to share that with other people.

Having that connection with nature is so important – even if you’re inside. It always uplifts anyone. Studies show that if you put your hands in soil for 5 seconds, it increases your serotonin.

When I worked in the care home, I would always try and bring flowers in, so the residents could have some greenery inside. In the dementia wing, I would bring in rosemary or lavender – just lovely smelling plants that would resonate with them.

I think it’s part of our being. We’re so far removed from where we’re naturally from – we have these channels of “I need to do this”, we’re stuck on our laptops, and have this computer-like pattern about us with deadlines and routines. We’re in a very fast-paced world, which isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s how things are but it’s really important to step back, look at the nature that surrounds us. I think because nature is so multi-sensory. I sit here and I only hear the birds – not the M60! We’ve got the birds, the wind , the smells – you just get drawn into it and feel part of it.

So, knowing these things that are inherently in us, it’s really really important to share these with others. Especially in Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire, where children might not have green spaces available to them.

Your story chimes so much with some of the key themes of Laudato Si’. How do you think this document can inspire people in caring for our common home?

I grew up in a Christian background, but my faith fizzled out when I was about 10 or 11 years old. What I do believe is that – faith or no faith – we all have a responsibility to take care of our planet, everyone in it, and every living thing in it.

Even though I’m no-faith, the messages and values set out in Laudato Si’ completely mirror how I’m trying to live out my own life – it just explains how I feel. It’s just such an important document to teach everyone and to learn from: to encourage us to take action – no matter how big or how small – to help make positive change to our planet.

And it’s so important – the way things have developed over the years, especially since the 1960s and 1970s. Intensive agriculture and farming has destroyed our soil – and the used of pesticides – have dropped our insect population down to 60% in 20 years. I remember driving my car when I was 17 and you’d see bug splatters on your car – now you don’t get any of that.

We are at a really critical tipping point of our planet’s health- we have destroyed and polluted it (mainly within the last 50 years) to such a degree that all other living species are becoming wiped out at alarming rates.

I believe that we all have an inherent responsibility to every living thing on the planet to nurture and protect it and more importantly restore and regenerate it.

By talking, educating and supporting communities in taking action against climate change and by making positive steps – no matter how small – in chipping away, at what I think has become our ‘norm’ and a de-sensitised way of living against nature, not with or in it.

I think it’s about being aware of that – especially since having my son – that’s really shocked me into thinking “where is this going?”.


Does your son’s future play a big part in your drive to inspire others? Especially considering the intergenerational aspect of your story you’ve already spoken about.

It’s past, present, future, isn’t it? It’s definitely about that and the intergenerational connectedness of it all and what I want my son’s future to look like. I hope he – and every child – is able to have the same connections that I’ve been able to have with nature and to have that sense of wellbeing. If that’s the type of wellbeing that I need, then I hope that’s available to everyone in the future.

Tell me about your role here at the Laudato Si’ Centre

My role is split into two here as gardener of Laudato Si’ Centre and Wardley Hall. Everything is done organically and grown organically – not using pesticides or herbicides – and always thinking about the impact on nature and the environment when I’m doing anything. Because I’m quite new, a lot of it at the moment is observing – which is what I’d recommend anyone to do when they’ve got a new garden, so they can get to better understand the insect corridors and animal corridors they’ve got coming through, so you’re not disturbing any nature patterns that are already there. Another key part of our work here is seed sharing and seed saving and propagation, so we’re only planting a handful of plants in the formal garden, that we can then propagate and use across Wardley and the Laudato Si’ Centre.

The second part of my job is the wellbeing aspect, which I’m really excited to explore further. I’ve previously worked as a wellbeing facilitator in schools, a horticultural therapist in a school, and have facilitated cooking workshops for asylum seekers and people experiencing homelessness. Throughout all these different roles, I’ve really relished working with people from all different backgrounds and situations, so I’m looking forward to carrying these experiences with me into my new role at the Laudato Si’ Centre.

At the moment, we’re currently working to develop our wellbeing programme at the moment but there are one or two ideas I’d love to implement. With the cost-of-living crisis at the moment, I would love to see how the centre could help people get all the right nutrients they need by taking the fruit and veg we’re growing here at the Laudato Si Centre to people experiencing poverty to help them have a more nutritious diet.

I would also love to do a wellbeing programme for people with dementia and their carers too. I’d love for the Laudato Si’ Centre to be a place for them to come and share experiences with each other.

And I really want to set up a gardening club for people of all ages. The beautiful thing about gardening is that no one knows it all, everyone is learning, and it’s really nice to learn together. I’m aiming to get this set up over the summer, so watch this space!

What are your five top tips to help us care for our common home?

  • Connect more with nature- allow even just five minutes sat on a park bench to take notice of what surrounds you, the sun/rain/wind on your skin. The fresh air in your lungs, the birds singing in the trees. Do this every day and try observe and learn about the natural environment we share with other living species.


  • Try to give something back to the planet (and ourselves) no matter how small, save energy, use less water, walk to the shops and/or work sometimes, recycle as much as possible, pick up a piece of litter from the ground- take care and be responsible for our plant.


  • If you’re lucky and have a garden let areas that will encourage and restore wildlife- hedgehog corridors, bowl of water for different species, leave areas unkept for richer biodiversity.


  • Don’t use pesticides or herbicides!


  • Use peat free compost- always.

Photo of Sarah watering plants in the polytunnel