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Ending (and beginning) with sycamore seeds

Following the death of her son, Daniel, Fiona Spargo-Mabbs has written ‘I Wish I’d Known’, a book about drugs education. Below is an extract relating to her volunteering for Sycamore Tree as a victim of crime.

As you know, Tim and I talked and talked to anyone who would listen after Dan died, in a desperate hope that we might help others avoid the fate that had befallen us and Dan. We were also driven by the need to make this very bad thing do as much good as it possibly could. We couldn’t make the bad thing better, or take it away, but we could make it do good things. We knew we could only do what we could do, though, and once our words had left our lips, what they did was only so much under our control. We didn’t know where they might travel, or where they might land, or what they might do when they got there. All we could do was to talk, and to hope and pray that wherever they ended up they would do lots of good, make a difference, bear much fruit. Of course, in growing a drugs education charity that process became much more managed, sophisticated, and based on international evidence of what works best. But however effective, evaluated and evidence-based our approaches, there will always only be so much we can do through the best drugs education we can possibly muster to effect change in any one individual. And so, we also hope and pray.

After Dan died, we met a lovely couple, Ray and Vi Donovan, whose son Chris’s story is included in Chapter Five. Some months after Dan’s death, they invited us round for dinner. While we were there, they told us about Prison Fellowship and the Sycamore Tree Project, and the power of story in restorative justice. They told us about the impact the project has, the responses they’d had from prisoners to their story, and the story that lay behind it all. The founding principle is the story of Zaccheus the tax collector, as told in the Bible (Luke 19:1–10). The story is one of forgiveness, restoration and reconciliation, and it centres around a sycamore tree. We were inspired, and moved, and interested in getting involved ourselves, and since then we’ve been telling Dan’s story in prisons across the country, and not so long ago on the first Sycamore Tree course over the Channel in France.

But back to that evening. I’d been brought up in Sunday School, I knew all about the man who’d been taking far too much tax from his fellow citizens, who’d had to climb up into a sycamore tree when Jesus came to town so he could see him passing by, and how that encounter had led him to pay back everything he’d taken from others four times over, and to give half his possessions to the poor. But I’d never thought of the significance of the sycamore tree in the story other than a means of elevation, not as a powerful symbol of change for good. 

The next day we were up at the cemetery, under the enormous tree that had sheltered and shaded Dan’s grave for the last few months, and for the very first time we realised this tree was a sycamore. For us, that was a goosebumps moment, and from that moment the sycamore gained a huge significance. Its seeds spin around everywhere, land in some very surprising places, and push up shoots where people least expect them, potentially growing trees that will shower the world around them with yet more sycamore seeds in turn. Bearing much fruit.

On the first anniversary of Dan’s death we had a little memorial service in our church, which involved family, friends of Dan’s and of ours, lots of candles and an enormous chocolate cake. And we gave everyone who came a sycamore seed from the tree up at the cemetery, and a little card, tied with a ribbon, with a photo of Dan and these words:

This sycamore seed is from the tree that overshadows Dan’s grave. Our prayer is that through our words, and through the Foundation that works in his name, the story of Dan will journey far and wide—just as the spinning sycamore seed does—and that where it lands it will bear much fruit, growing many good things from this very bad thing.

These words came to open and close the play that tells his story, and they close this final chapter now. My hope is that for you the good fruit this book bears will be children who live long, happy and healthy lives, and who never forget how incredibly precious they are, and how important it is they do all they can to make sure they get home in one piece.

For information on Sycamore Tree, please visit

Purchase Fiona’s book online at, £14.99

“I can honestly say that I never had as much satisfaction when I worked as I do now as a volunteer.” — Arthur, Chaplaincy Support volunteer

Volunteer with PF

Volunteers are the life-blood of our organisation, and what they do in the lives of those in prison and as they pray, is incredibly valuable. If you are looking to use your time to support some of the most marginalised people in our society to transform their lives, then volunteering could be for you.

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