On Friday 11th June, at 9am on the dot, a Sales, Marketing & Underwriting entourage, of keen wannabe green-gloved enthusiasts arrived almost simultaneously, with unerring German time keeping efficiency. Whether it was the philanthropic nature of the visit, or simply the allure of a visit OUTSIDE of the traditional four walls, there was a buoyant positivity in the air.

The weather played its part wonderfully, and the occasion was met with blue skies and beaming sunshine – as well as the (nearly) summer sun; red necks were on the menu (as well as a few surprises).

The word Hospice is not often met with the most positive connotations. But any notion of pain and suffering was eased by the open-armed (not literally, of course) welcome from Louise Turner, Corporate Fundraising Manager, just outside of the main entrance of St Peter’s Hospice. We received a lovely overview of the grounds and discussed the reason behind the visit and why ARAG had chosen the hospice as our charity this year, which was met with genuine thanks and appreciation. She was also holding cake! A footnote to those hosting charity events, this is a powerful motivational tool.

The welcome was just as warm from Sarah Townsend, Head Gardener at the hospice. Having worked within the grounds for over 10 years, they really were her baby. The pride for her long-term efforts and vision of a free flowing, wild meadow of nature was evident and instantly shared and appreciated by our group of volunteers.

The first job of the day was to wheel ‘Barrows’ of turf towards the compost area. Next up was the uprooting of the weeds surrounding a number of saplings, to ensure that they didn’t steal the all-important nutrients required to grow these trees of the future, all of which could be named by Sarah (when they became visible). The biggest peril was going too close to these young trees and being a little heavy handed with the churning of soil – some were more heavy handed than others…not naming names! But within a decent hour of what seemed (to office based employees) back-breaking work, it was a completely different vision – one where these trees only competed with their neighbouring trees, for the good stuff under foot.

 

After a much needed stop for caffeine and rehydration, the group were faced with the most pulse racing moment of the day, when Sarah showed us the next plot of land for the ARAG volunteers to cultivate. Mapped out with stakes, there were roughly 10 saplings trying to grow within about 15 sq ft. The problem however, was the fact that they were engulfed by stingers...lots and lots of metre high stinging nettles.

Initially, it was like an episode of Punked, where everybody was waiting for the punchline… however this was no joke and what was required was a firm hand and the confidence to go against one’s natural instincts. Luckily, one of the crew (mentioned earlier as heavy handed) was kind enough to help start proceedings, by slapping a prickly stingy nettle on one of the other’s arms. Yelps followed. There were puns a plenty, if anything to get through the fizzy, dock-leaf defying pain that ensued in the group. I can safely say my arms were not quite right for a good 24 hours…and I felt great for it! Landscape gardening here I come…!

Having split into groups for afternoon activities, Jon and I were the lucky two on shed cleaning duty. This felt very close to home, given that the ARAG offices were being given a similar clean, although desk pedestals aren’t typically as littered with creepy crawly spiders as this tool shed… but after giving it a thorough spring, or rather summer clean, it felt like another job well done.

One of the day’s highlights was a local robin, who clearly ruled the roost of the aforementioned stinger-spread patch of the grounds. Confidently, it would come within inches of Sarah’s new found friends and was visibly peacocking, showing off a haul of bugs that was carefully balanced within its beak. A reminder of the natural beauty that surrounds us all, if we just take a moment to stop and look for it.

Before we ended the day, Sarah showed us a wonderful metal, silver remembrance tree from which hung leaves with the names of people who had previously stayed at the hospice. Their families could pay a fee for the privilege of hanging a bespoke leaf in memory of their loved ones. Sarah had a keen eye for raising money which was clear in her endeavours for continuous improvement of the hospice and its grounds – a common value that ARAG and Sarah share. The tree itself had been on an interesting journey, having made a visit to Telford for galvanising before its trip back down to its home in the south west. It was a lovely touch to the garden grounds.

The day finished with smiles and thanks, with Sarah clearly appreciative. She made it clear that those who stayed at the hospice would also be happy with the progress before we all went our separate ways. A day filled with positivity. And that was the overwhelming emotion – it didn’t feel like a melancholic place but rather a beautiful place where the closing days of somebody special could be enjoyed with their nearest and dearest and celebrate the beautiful world in which they have lived.

Disclaimer - all information in this article was correct at time of publishing.