Today marks NHS, Social Care & Frontline Workers’ Day, the first event of its kind dedicated to showing our collective gratitude to all NHS and frontline staff who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to protect us and keep our essential services running, as well as a day to remember all those who have lost their lives from Coronavirus.
The day is thoughtfully being held on the anniversary of the establishment of the National Health Service (NHS), which occurred over 70 years ago on 5th July 1948.
Since then, millions of people have dedicated themselves to caring for others, just as Michelle Conlon, Centre Manager of the London Spinal Cord Injury Centre, has done for many years at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore.
As a show of support for NHS, Social Care & Frontline Workers’ Day, we thought we’d share Michelle’s story with you in the hope that it will not only offer an insight into the realities of working in a clinical environment, but also be an uplifting reminder to us all of the good that comes from nature and supporting others.
“I tried hard to picture what the garden would look like, but found it difficult to envisage, despite being involved in the planning!”
Michelle Conlon worked as an NHS nurse at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH) in Stanmore for almost 25 years.
In 2018, she became the Centre Manager of the London Spinal Cord Injury Centre (LSCIC), responsible for the health and wellbeing of over 30 patients with spinal injuries, including children, and an incredible team of NHS staff.
The past 15 months have presented Michelle, her patients and her team with extraordinary challenges.
“If I could wave a magic wand, I would find a way of treating all patients, spinal and otherwise, who did not receive as much treatment for their spinal and orthopaedic injuries as they should have done during the pandemic.”
“Spinal cord injuries are life-changing and I never stop wanting to do everything I can to offer the best possible care to those adjusting to them.”
However, despite the reality of the increased pressures, there was one thing that offered hope, not only to Michelle, but to everyone spending time in the spinal centre.
Having not long been in her new role leading the LSCIC, Michelle was soon to encounter Horatio’s Garden and enthusiastically embraced the charity’s plans to open a horticultural haven in the heart of the hospital.
“The old garden here before was not well maintained at all. The pavements were uneven, there were no nice features and no one to tend the garden. It wasn’t very practical for patients to use and there hadn’t been a Horticultural Therapist for eight years.”
“Now all of that has changed for the better and it’s so wonderful to have Head Gardener Ashley giving gardening sessions.”
Despite lockdown restrictions, the Horatio’s Garden London & South East was completed as planned and opened in the September of 2020, a testament to the charity’s dedicated supporters, ARJ Construction and a phenomenal team of volunteers.
“The contractors were here smack bang in the middle of lockdown – the patients were all very entertained by the workmen and the progress of the garden!”
Since first exploring last year, Michelle has now come to know the sanctuary well, just as patients, their loved ones and NHS staff members have too.
“There are two very different gardens. The North Garden is so peaceful and has the pods. You can just relax and sit and watch the birds whilst listening to the water features.”
“The South Garden is much more busy and colourful and tends to be where patients congregate. Patients’ interaction with Head Gardener Ashley, Garden Administrator Tracey, and all the volunteers has encouraged them to interact with each other more easily. Having everyday conversations beyond the ward like this is so important.”
As well as watching patients thrive amongst the planting, Michelle has discovered that she, her fellow NHS staff members and the ward as a whole had a great deal to gain from nature; not only in terms of physical health, but vitally in terms of psychological health.
“I love the peace and quiet in the North Garden. It allows me to have some time away from my office and the ward, something I have certainly personally benefitted from.”
“I have also heard an enormous amount of positive feedback from patients and staff about the garden. Many patients have said that upon receiving their diagnosis and prognosis they have turned to the garden for solace. Going out into the garden after these meetings allows them time to reflect and process often difficult news.”
With Horatio’s Garden London & South East so firmly established in the fabric of life at the LSCIC, it’s hard to believe that the haven has only been open for little less than a year.
In that time, the garden has not only attested to the power of teamwork and determination, but to the ability of nature and green spaces to totally transform people’s lives.
Stories like Michelle’s serve as a reminder that small changes really do matter.
“Thank you to everyone who helped to build this beautiful garden.”