Just a few years later, over 150 trees have been planted in the orchard after a huge fundraising drive supported by UNISON members, the hospital and the local community. It’s become the first of its kind in the UK, offering huge benefits for wildlife, plants and people.
Hospital worker and UNISON branch chair Stuart Egan first came up with the idea after talking to colleagues. Stuart explains: “It was during a conversation with some public health nurses that the health benefits of trees came up. In my 30 years-plus at Llandough, I’ve seen the original hospital site expand to the extent that all the green spaces which might have been used by staff and visitors for peace and reflection have gone.
“I knew there was a parcel of land right down at the end of the hospital site. It was a greenway that couldn’t be built on. I could see the potential for an orchard and green space to offer huge benefits for mental and physical wellbeing for staff, patients and the wider community. I decided to look into the idea more and gather as much information as I could.”
Stuart put together a proposal which he took to the hospital board. It won the unanimous support of the senior executives. A project group was set up and a garden designer was commissioned. She put together a design working with the natural landscape in a ‘curving cove’ design.
The project, named Ein Berllan (Our Orchard) covers 15 acres and cost £250,000. It had to be entirely funded through charitable donations. A huge fundraising drive was made by the Cardiff and Vale Health Charity and by UNISON members who got involved with everything from cake sales to sponsored head shaving. Organisations such as Natural Resources Wales, Tesco, British Gas and the Principality also provided support through time, money or equipment. UNISON members and volunteers from local businesses helped to plant the trees.
Stuart says: “We’ve had our first apples this year. We planted 150 trees but sadly we did we did lose some in the terrible drought the first year. It’s still early days and we’re still reliant on charitable funds. We’ve also had help from horticulturalists with expertise in apple trees. It’s a long-term project but we’ve had a lot of support and you can already see how fantastic it’s going to be.
Stuart is proud of what the project has achieved: “We want the world to know about the orchard we are creating at Llandough Hospital to benefit staff, patients and their families. The orchard will be a haven to relax, have a cry or drink a coffee and you can even volunteer to help with the gardening. It will be the first of its kind in the UK, offering a place where you can get away from noisy wards, and be outside in the fresh air.
“There’ll be allotments growing vegetables for use in the hospital canteens and we’re keeping bees. In a pioneering partnership with Cardiff University, the honey produced – and the antibacterial properties contained – will be used as a basis for research into antibiotics to help save lives.”
As well as the orchard, ambitious plans for the site include a wildflower meadow, forest garden and allotments for horticultural therapy for mental health patients. The site will also include an apothecary garden, a wetland area, woodland and a terrace with disabled access.
The orchard site has helped the hospital board become the first in Wales to achieve Bee Friendly status. This means it has committed to the Bee Friendly Wales scheme to provide pollinator-friendly flowers throughout the year, give places for insect pollinators to live, avoid chemicals that harm pollinators and involve all the community.
The project has now entered an exciting new phase with the development of the meadow on the site. Working in partnership with Down to Earth, they are involving the whole community to co-produce ideas on how to make the most of the space for health, rehabilitation and nature.
Stuart explains: “It’s going to be a place where everyone can go. Staff can go for walking meetings there. We’ve had the local school children there to set up a bug hotel with Dr. Rhys Jones, who’s become an ambassador for the project. There is a little stream and loads of wildlife. We’re monitoring biodiversity and doing what we can to encourage more wildlife.”
As well as alleviating flood risks, providing wildlife habitats and increasing biodiversity, good quality green spaces can help to improve air quality. Air pollution has been linked to poor growth in children and conditions such as asthma, heart disease, and dementia.
Stuart says: “It’s definitely something I’d encourage others to do in their workplace. If you can see an area of land with potential do some research and come up with a proposal. Get help from experts if you need to. With the Well-being of Future Generations Act now it’s very unlikely anyone will say no. The support we’ve had has been fantastic and it’s something that will be of huge benefit for generations to come.”
If Stuart’s story has inspired you, there are lots of ways that you can get involved in trade union campaigns for greener, healthier and more sustainable workplaces. Training and support is available. Speak to your union to find out more and visit www.tuc.org.uk/green