April 10, 2024

Ulster Rugby celebrate the opening of Horatio’s Garden Northern Ireland

Ulster Rugby have been the official charity partner of Horatio’s Garden Northern Ireland throughout the 2022/23 and 2023/24 seasons, raising over £12,000 for the charity to date. All the money raised has been thanks to generous donations from supporters at the team’s matches, as well as staff, player, and supporters’ clubs fundraising.

The team’s incredible support has helped to bring Horatio’s Garden Northern Ireland to life in the Spinal Cord Injuries Unit at Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast. The Ulster Rugby community’s extraordinary generosity has also helped to ensure the garden can continue nurturing the wellbeing of hundreds of people affected by spinal injury from across the province.

Horatio’s Garden Northern Ireland first welcomed patients, their loved ones, and NHS staff in December 2023. To celebrate the opening of the garden, which has been designed by nine-time RHS Chelsea Gold Medal winning designer Andy Sturgeon, we were delighted to welcome members of the Ulster Rugby team for a special visit marking the occasion.

It was a pleasure to be joined in the garden by Ulster Rugby President, Denis Gardiner and his wife Ruth, former Ulster Rugby President, Philip Gregg and his wife Barbara, a former Occupational Therapist at the SCIU, Senior Men’s Ulster Rugby player, Rob Baloucoune, Senior Men’s Ulster Rugby player, Sean Reffell, Senior Women’s Ulster Rugby player, Sophie Barrett, Senior Communications Manager, Robyn McMurray, and Ulster Rugby videographer, Danielle Kerr.

Together, the team enjoyed meeting beneficiaries, their families and friends, NHS staff, and the charity’s staff and volunteers, including Head Gardener, Matthew Lee and Garden Administrator, Sonya Priestly. Spending much of the afternoon in the warmth of the homely garden room, the team relished the chance to enjoy tea and homemade cake whilst getting to know everyone and learning more about the ways in which the garden is already changing people’s lives.

Undeterred by the weather, the team enthusiastically joined Head Gardener Matthew for a tour of the horticultural haven, which is the seventh of the charity’s gardens to open in the UK. Matthew explained about the immense variety of plants thriving in the greenhouse and the garden therapy workshops he regularly holds with patients there. He talked more about one of his favourite introductory activities too, which involves inviting people to see which scents they can detect when smelling certain plants. Both Rob and Sean were happy to give it a go, soon smelling cola bottles when presented with the leaves of a particularly fragrant plant!

Continuing the tour, Matthew introduced the team to the garden pods, a firm favourite with patients and their loved ones as a place to seek solace and privacy in the midst of an immensely challenging time. Making their way through the garden, everyone took a moment to admire the tranquil water feature, as well as the social space which doubles as a boccia court, enabling patients to play the Paralympic sport to support their mental and physical rehabilitation.

As the drizzle turned to rain, the team followed Matthew back to the vibrant garden room, where they were again warmly welcomed by those spending time in its comfortable surroundings. Asking thoughtful questions and commenting on the transformation of the space since their visits to mark the groundbreaking and to see construction in progress on site, the Ulster Rugby team listened intently as people shared how Horatio’s Garden Northern Ireland is improving their lives.

They were also thrilled to see and hear more about the benefits of the creative workshops and garden therapy sessions run by the charity, with Sean and Rob experiencing both first-hand. Whilst Sean was keen to try a spot of painting alongside beneficiaries and NHS staff, Rob planted some seedlings under the expert guidance of Head Gardener Matthew, picking up some top tips for his houseplants at home along the way!

Senior Men’s Ulster Rugby player, Rob Baloucoune said: “We were on site here last year and it was pretty derelict. There was just grass and a digger when we got here. Over the course of this year, Horatio’s Garden has planned all this out and it looks amazing. It’s incredible and in the summer it’ll look unbelievable.”

Senior Women’s Ulster Rugby player, Sophie Barrett added: “We had Horatio’s Garden on our jersey last year, so I’m really proud to be here today and see everything.”

Head Gardener of Horatio’s Garden Northern Ireland, Matthew Lee said: “We’ve had a fantastic day welcoming the Ulster Rugby team. It’s been absolutely fantastic to see them engaging with patients and it’s great to be able to show them first-hand the benefits of Horatio’s Garden.”

Beneficiary of Horatio’s Garden Northern Ireland, Michael Scott said: “When I saw that Ulster Rugby had become involved with Horatio’s Garden, I was personally quite touched. I think it’s great that they’re supporting the charity, because unfortunately there are spinal injuries that happen in rugby. Spinal injury doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to anybody at any age, so it’s brilliant to have Horatio’s Garden going forward for everybody.”

With the afternoon full of hope and positivity, the Ulster Rugby team thanked everyone for their kindness and shared how much they had enjoyed exploring the garden and discovering the profoundly positive difference Horatio’s Garden Northern Ireland is already having on people’s lives. Patients, their loved ones, NHS staff, and the charity’s volunteers and staff all said how delighted they were to have met the friendly Ulster Rugby team and we are very much looking forward to welcoming them back when the sun shines later this season.

To watch the film of Ulster Rugby’s visit to Horatio’s Garden Northern Ireland, please click here

To find out more and support Horatio’s Garden Northern Ireland, please click here

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