Being ever-more organised as secretive and mistrustful businesses, NHS Foundation Trusts (aka hospitals) cannot get their corporate head around concepts like sharing, cooperation, informal relationships and the common good. So we were forbidden by Berkshire Healthcare Foundation Trust from allowing NHS registered patients from also enjoying the greencare facilities of the yurt, therapeutic horticulture, fresh air and contact with nature as part of their treatment programme. The therapy programme continued in the public, antiseptic, noisy and unwelcoming corridors of Wexham Park Hospital.
|a therapeutic environment?|
Being desperately short of revenue, in the most deprived and ethnically diverse corner of the Thames Valley, Slough Borough Council had to sell land to make ends meet. At the top of the list of uneconomic plots of land that would be readily developed for private housing was Wexham Nursery. An oasis off the busy B416, with friendly staff and lots of sheltered work for those with learning disabilities, they diligently grew all the bedding plants for Slough's roundabouts, cherished their memories of winning Chelsea medals in years gone by, and ran a small and other-worldly garden centre. Our plot, and the 'magic garden' that had been established behind it, were turned over to the diggers and developers - but the situation was very much sadder for the people who had put all their working lives and care into something of beauty that was no longer valued.
|Bedding plants £1 - everything must go|
It was always ambitious to try assembling the thing between Christmas and New Year - but we managed it, although the cotton lining was too wet to fit - and we didn't have time to fit the five felt sections with their cat's cradle of nylon cords. However, we got the canvas over the thing, to at least protect the wooden structure until we could find a weekend day to put all three layers on it. But the weather was not kind to us: ripping winds loosened the canvas, and shook the trellises, ribs and crown to their foundations. Then came the snow. Unfortunately, the canvas cover, though loose, was still roughly in place when the blizzards hit. And that sturdy cover provided a 21 foot diameter circle to comfortably accommodate about 5 inches of snow. Which, on a weakened structure suddenly made the elegantly convex roof into an inelegant concave wreck. With about 20 of the 72 ribs snapped in the process.
Tucked between a totem pole and a life-sized stuffed buffalo, we now have a perfect size circle amid trees, work areas, a large pond and a large log cabin - with kitchen, classrooms and office. It hardly matters that we're on the site of a major electricity substation, a whisker's distance from the M25 and only a few miles from Heathrow.
Our hosts - a mostly educational greencare project who are part of the Thames Valley Groundworks organisation - seem faintly amused at our comings and goings - but helped us enormously by rescuing and tidying up all the parts of the collapsed heap of wood and canvas - and sorting them all into intact and broken; they are now also helping us to devise horticulture programmes, and marketing them for the last phase of our EcoMinds grant, and running the activities with us.
The Yurt Workshop soon provided us with replacement ribs and shipped them over from Spain, and a flicker of interest was reignited from the good people who had suffered the privations of winter 2010 with us. So, on the hottest day yet of the year, we sat around all morning talking and scheming - and then got down to the serious construction business. Trellis - easy; ribs and crown - a bit trickier until we made sure we had the trellis arranged in a perfect circle; cotton lining - much easier for being dry; felt layer - quite a tangle of odd bits of string needed to hold it up, but secure eventually; canvas cover - went up like magic, poked into place by three of us with spare rib poles. The only remaining problems are that we need to stake it all down and find or replace the missing nylon webbing girdles, and plane the door slightly so that it fits again - presumably having become a bit warped by all the bad fortune and unfavourable climate it has suffered. A bit like us really.