Haleacre Rainbow Garden - Volunteers' Vision

29th October 2021

Haleacre Rainbow Garden volunteers

Hugh Chamberlain is a retired procurement director with an interest in nature, conservation and the environment who lives with his family in Amersham. Abi Gibbs is a practitioner of positive psychology with a background in children’s psychological health with an interest in green spaces.

Following pandemic, they both wanted to give something back, and boy have they! In only a very few months they have cultivated a beautiful tranquil courtyard garden for the benefit of NHS staff and colleagues at Amersham Hospital, but in particular for the health visitors and immunisation and school nursing teams whose offices overlook the once neglected space and had identified the space as having potential.

Last Spring as the pandemic gripped the country, the Trust set about identifying outside areas that could be enhanced or re-developed using charitable funds and monies from the NHS Charities Together to provide outside rest areas for colleagues. It was evident that at Amersham Hospital some colleagues had no in-door rest areas, but their offices overlooked a neglected and desolate courtyard. When they scoped the potential of this courtyard garden space for redevelopment, the weeds were over 5 foot tall.

Rainbow Garden Charitable Funds and NHS Charities Together provided funding to refurbish the courtyard garden and the team used the funds to remove the weeds, cut back the existing shrubs, clean the paving slabs and windows, provide furniture and benches and plant some pots. The team carried this work out last summer, however, other than the pots there were only a handful of non-flowering shrubs in the garden, and it was lifeless.

Volunteers Vision: The Voluntary Services team eventually found a volunteer gardener and Hugh Chamberlain started with the Trust in February 2021 and Abi Gibbs started in April. The initial brief was just to keep on top of the weeds and keep it tidy and accessible for staff. However, since February between them they have transformed the Haleacre Rainbow Courtyard Garden with their vision, enthusiasm, passion and energy. Their vision for the garden was to create a tranquil space for staff to rest and recharge their batteries. They wanted to bring scent, colour and wildlife back into the garden.

Hugh developed a 3d planting plan and requested some additional funding to bring this to life. While waiting for that to be granted he enlisted the support of Abi and using their own community networks, set about engaging their local communities to donate plants and other materials to get the project started. Through donated compost Hugh completely dug over the entire courtyard garden space to prepare the ground for planting. They enlisted the support of Chiltern Rangers to come onsite in early June to add further interest and wood stacks to encourage wildlife/nature back into the garden and they set up and held a planting party with a handful of colleagues to plant those plants that had been ordered from the nursery, once the additional funding came through. They also planted a vegetable tepee and staff can help themselves to produce (beans and courgette).

They are both passionate about the Haleacre Rainbow Garden and the positive impact that outside spaces can have on mental health. What they have created in such a short space of time is phenomenal. Staff and colleagues are using the space for rest breaks, to socialise and even for socially distanced team meetings. During that time they have sought to encourage staff to get involved in the garden space, setting up a watering group and I know they want to take this further and set up a gardening group so that staff can get involved themselves and to support the therapeutic benefits of gardening as a past time. However, not content with working their incredible magic and green fingers on this space they have identified other courtyard garden spaces on the Amersham Hospital site they would like to bring back to life and are now working on the courtyard garden in the Dermatology Unit and have already sourced tables and chairs donated from their local communities to fill this space and recruited another volunteer to join them in their endeavours.But their vision goes even further, they are talking about organising an Open Day inviting Amersham residents and local businesses into the garden to see what can be achieved when communities work together and have even talked about the possibility of approaching local businesses to adopt a garden and the volunteering team would even like to open the garden as part of the Amersham in Bloom initiative.

They both have a real positive can do attitude, bags of ideas, energy and enthusiasm. They have also connected with staff in inpatient wards at Amersham to see how they can support them with gardens fit for patients under-going rehabilitation. They are showing truly wonderful respect for the work of their local Hospital and Community staff as well as truly grasping the real meaning of community by galvanising support from their local communities to support their ongoing activities.

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