Volunteers celebrate 5 years of Royal Free community garden

Royal Free Hospital Garden volunteers pictured among the flowerbeds

Royal Free Hospital Garden volunteers celebrate their 5th anniversary in the beds they tend along Pond Street NW3. - Credit: Polly Hancock

Five years ago Linda and Malcolm Grove, and Dr Charlotte Gascoigne, began gardening outside of the Royal Free Hospital.

Since then, they and a team of other dedicated volunteers including  Emma Hill, Patricia Langley and Debra Craighead have transformed a neglected space into a much-need haven for hospital staff, patients and volunteers alike. 

Charlotte explained how things started.

READ MORE: Royal Free Charity boss on why public support can change lives

“It was a horrible day, but a hardy group of garden volunteers had booked a plant delivery for a new garden in front of the hospital on Pond Street," she said. "So we all turned out for our first planting day. And we’ve been going ever since.” 

Gardeners get stuck in outside of the Royal Free Hospital

For half a decade a team of volunteers have looked after the gardens outside of the Royal Free. - Credit: Polly Hancock

“We even found a buried section of a First World War gravestone – for Alfred, killed in action in March 1916 – which we have preserved in the garden, although we are still baffled as to how it got there."

Linda Grove, who has now stepped back from the project, told this newspaper: "I was always walking past rubbish in Pond Street and just thought that we live in this lovely area, surely surely we should be able to make this nice! "

She paid tribute to the volunteers who had joined the group over the years and said, at least initially, her husband Malcolm, and Andrew Wafer, had been the gardening experts.

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"In any group, you need people with different skills," she said. "I was good at the organising, but Malcolm and Andrew about what we should be planting and where.

The memorial stone for Alfred in the Royal Free Charity garden

This memorial stone for "Alfred" was found in the earth, no one knows where it came from or who Alfred was as there is no surname on the memorial. - Credit: Polly Hancock

"We all have our reasons for volunteering, it can be so therapeutic. The core team are there, but there's always a welcome for anyone new." 

One Royal Free patient encapsulated why the garden makes a difference.

They said: “I have treatment every week at the Royal Free. Whenever I come out of the hospital, the gardens make me feel less frightened.” 

One passer-by even described the garden as “a miracle on Pond Street”.  

The garden is funded by the Royal Free Charity, and the group is planning to extend planting areas at the top and bottom of Pond Street in the coming months. To find out about helping them out, contact Sharon.howarth1@nhs.net.

Fundraisers at the Royal Free Garden

Fundraisers at the Royal Free Garden back in 2016 - Credit: Linda Grove