Gardener’s Healing Touch Improves Health & Wellbeing of Patients

4th April 2023
Garden Manager, Clare McCawley

Garden Manager, Clare McCawley has been tending to the gardens in Downshire Hospital for the last 27 years and has been involved in a number of extraordinary garden projects to enhance the health and wellbeing for staff, patients and the local community.

Former Chief Executive, Dr Colin Patton had a vision to create an array of garden areas within the Downshire site to be enjoyed by not only staff and patients, but also for the public to come together and enjoy the surroundings.

Over the past 27 years, Clare has been the backbone of a number of projects benefitting patients and service users, in particular working alongside the Northern Ireland Probation Board.

Clare is also involved in a number of garden projects working with patients in Finneston house creating decorative crafts to be sold or used in the gardens. She is also involved with local GP surgeries, bringing together older community members to allow them the chance to meet others and socialise in a fun environment, reducing the feelings of loneliness but providing support from the local community. Clare has also been instrumental in a project involving young children from the GP Federations, which has provided them with an opportunity to develop their own space to plant flowers and a variety of vegetables, with Clare giving them some knowledge and fun tips along the way!

Even in the winter months when there is less time to be spent outdoors, Clare has developed innovative projects, as she felt it was important to give all of these different groups an opportunity to stay involved in the gardens. The Northern Ireland Probation Board remains involved throughout this period where they are involved in cutting logs and creating handcrafted items such as birdhouses which can be spotted throughout the gardens in different locations.

Different craft fairs are arranged to sell the items with the money returned to the groups to help purchase further materials. These fairs have been a great success, with Clare overseeing the projects and ensuring local communities feel involved.

Garden Manager, Clare has thoroughly enjoyed her career so far and said, “I have been lucky in my role because I have had great managers who have supported me. The gardens are open all year round for everyone to enjoy and particularly throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the gardens became very important, they gave staff a much needed release from the hospital environment, allowing them to visit and relax.

“I love my work and I love working with patients, I love the garden We have won a number of awards over the years which has been amazing. I am always working towards something new for the Trust.”

Clare’s next project is focused greatly on the health and wellbeing of staff, as she wants to be able to give something back, especially to everyone that worked exceptionally hard over the Covid-19 period. A number of group sessions are being organised for staff to enjoy different activities and the opportunity to learn some new skills, such as herbal tea making!

Records and Information Manager for Mental Health, Nicola Maybin commented on Clare’s career as the only Trust Gardener and said, “I have been Clare’s Manager for nearly four years and she is a fantastic asset to the service. She has demonstrated her excellent work over the last 27 years and is a dedicated member of staff. Clare is always here through rain, hail or snow.

“She really puts her heart and soul into the gardens and that is evident. Her passion for what she does is outstanding and she has the wellbeing of the patients and staff at the heart of everything she does, which is just amazing!”