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Balancing quality and cost on a charity horticultural project

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There’s a popular quote, attributed to Audrey Hepburn, that says to plant a garden is to “believe in tomorrow”. For Horatio’s Garden, the winner of Best in Show at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023, this sense of investment runs deep in the soil.  

The garden was the first on Chelsea’s famous main avenue to prioritise mobility needs, its smooth terrazzo paths fully accessible to people in wheelchairs and hospital beds. The idea is to give patients a sanctuary for recuperation, reflection and adjustment as they recover from spinal injuries. Its presence at Chelsea had everyone from Alan Titchmarsh to Ade Adepitan and Dame Joanna Lumley singing its praises.  

The charity behind the work, Horatio’s Garden, has previously built gardens at seven NHS spinal centres around the UK. It’s now set to create a larger version of the prize-winning entry at the Princess Royal Spinal Injuries Centre at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital.  

According to Horatio’s Garden, the Sheffield plot will benefit over 350 inpatients and their families every year, along with thousands of outpatients and hundreds of NHS staff.  

Down to earth 

The flowers of the work may be altruism and restoration, but for Kate Jagger-Packer, project lead on the Sheffield development for Gleeds, its roots remain more down-to-earth: ensuring the project budget remains within the scope of the client.  

“It’s not a multimillion-pound project, but the money is significant for the charity, which fundraises to produce the garden,” she says.  

“I have to make sure cost is reviewed on a very regular basis, because ultimately, if we go over budget on anything, it’s going to be detrimental to the charity’s potential impact. I’m also very mindful that the timeframe is short. I have to ensure there’s enough allowance within the programme for people to do the work they need to.  

“It’s about being able to maintain the high quality set by the Chelsea garden while balancing a charity’s fundraising workstreams.” 

Communication is critical 

Horatio’s Garden was founded to follow the dreams of a schoolboy, Horatio Chapple, who drew up plans for a restorative garden after volunteering at Salisbury spinal centre. He died tragically at the age of 17 when a polar bear attacked his school’s camp in Svalbard, Norway. His parents used his notes to launch the charity in his name and honour. 

As project manager, one of Jagger-Packer’s main considerations is the fact people working with charities are often doing so for a reduced fee or pro bono. This makes communication critical. She must listen to people’s needs, understand those relationships and make sure that, when people are offering their time, she ensures her team are being consistent with their requests and not over-demanding.  

The suppliers of plants and building materials are a prime example.  

“A lot of suppliers donate their materials or products to help the charity and become part of the story,” she explains.  

“It's about knowing what is agreed and what exactly they are donating, and working with them to make sure their life is as easy and free of pressure as possible. That means shouldering a little bit more than on the average project, so I can make sure the charity is getting the best value and being protected as well.”   

End-user focused 

For Jagger-Packer, project managing for Horatio’s Garden means she absolutely has to be “a people person”. She prioritises communication, listening to stakeholders and remaining focused on the fact that the real fruit is the garden’s potential to affect people.  

“Working on Horatio’s Garden has been an uplifting, inspiring and humbling experience,” she says, recalling her time spent engaging directly with NHS staff and spinal patients, including past patients at Sheffield who have since recovered.  

“These projects don’t come around very often. I’m here to deliver it to programme and to budget, while not losing sight of who and what the garden is for: the end user, who is above and beyond the most important.” 


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