I saw the advert last summer during the first lockdown and I started as a volunteer gardener for Tŷ Hafan in September 2020.
I don’t have any personal link to Tŷ Hafan other than being a Penarth boy and everyone in Penarth has a soft spot for the local hospice and the shop in the town. I have for many years given my time to different charities and since retiring in 2019 had increased my voluntary work. But last year many of the face-to-face activities I had been involved in came to an abrupt halt. So as the hospice garden work was continuing at that time I was keen to keep busy with an outdoor activity.
I have been involved in volunteer work for a long time some personally but also have done a lot of fundraising with my former colleagues at Welsh Government, with sponsored office-based fundraising and the Cardiff 10k and the Cardiff Half Marathon. One charity I worked with was Alzheimer’s Society as both my father-in-law and my mum lived with dementia for many years. After they both passed away, I found the emotional link too strong to continue, but I was not ready to give up my voluntary work so the opportunity to give something to the community in a different way was very appealing,
Neither of my parents were gardeners, in fact, mowing the lawn was more of a chore to them. So when I was old enough to be responsible for the Flymo (in about 1970 at the age of 10) I took over! My wife and I have only a small garden but we love buying plants, swapping cuttings, dividing bulbs and keeping the garden tidy. What I lack in technical knowledge I make up for in enthusiasm and ideas.
The garden at Tŷ Hafan is also a good place to learn from the other volunteers some of whom have gardens and allotments. For me, after working in an office for over 40 years, it was the routine that attracted me, plus the option to work outdoors and choose when I attend and how long / hard I work. Some of the garden volunteers are retired like me so can spend more time, but also some are working, juggling shifts with childcare or looking after parents and it really is a flexible role.
I have settled into working Monday and Friday usually 9.00 till 1.00 but swap days if the weather is bad. Quite a few of us started at the same time and in the first few weeks worked out a plan to do some quick fix maintenance on the main reception area, followed by a longer project to rejuvenate the Memorial Garden, which we are still working on.
I usually gather tools from the tool store and clock in, then it’s a few hours of digging over the much-overgrown raised beds, trimming overhanging trees and cutting back brambles. We often stop for a break in the bird song gazebo. While the Covid restrictions have meant we can’t attend, a few of us have been “working from home” – potting bulbs ready to transplant as soon as we can get back to Tŷ Hafan hopefully to bring spring cheer to the beautiful water feature and its pebbles.
Volunteering is a rewarding thing to do because there is never the feeling of only being there out of financial necessity. Also working a garden is never the same two weeks running, I have seen the flower beds die off in autumn and get pruned back in winter. I can’t wait to see the new life budding forth in spring so I get a lot of personal enjoyment from it.
I don’t have healthcare skills, but if improving the environment helps with wellbeing I feel it’s definitely a worthwhile use of my time and energy. The garden is a special place for the families who use it as a way to make memories, especially as some of the children are so fragile, and I am happy to know that I can have a small part in supporting them.
I also love the Snowdogs and have taken photos of all the ones around the hospice garden. So far I haven’t been involved in any organised events, but I have a feeling that might not be the case for too long!
Finally, I’d also just like to say how special it is that without exception, every member of the Tŷ Hafan team who I have come cross in the garden, on emails and the Zoom virtual meeting, everyone including CEO, Maria Timon Samra, Head of Estates and Facilities, Haydn Jones, Volunteer Assistant, Laura Terry, Maintenance Assistant Lee and all the staff - even the builders who are working on site on the refurbishment project - have been so appreciative. It’s amazing that a few hours’ work can do so much to lift everyone’s spirits.