Nature Recovery Ranger: Mount Vernon Cancer Centre
Mount Vernon Cancer Centre (MVCC) is one of our original Nature Recovery Ranger pilot sites. Our first ranger began work there in May 2021, originally supported by the Green Recovery Challenge Fund and now by MVCC Charitable Fund.
Mount Vernon’s intimate scale has offered unique opportunities; its 500 staff are spread over a disparate but compact cluster of small buildings, which has enabled our ranger to form close relationships with small staff teams in their own work bases. The varied pockets of land between and around the different buildings provides scope to create diverse habitats for both people and wildlife. The following are just a handful of the ways our ranger has facilitated staff, patients and the wider community in engaging with nature around the site:
Staff gardening competition
By organising a site-wide gardening competition, our ranger gave staff ‘permission’ and motivation to green their own areas, with some focusing on feeding birds, and others on planting bee-friendly flowers or sweet-smelling herbs to enhance the entrance to their buildings or wards. Even the staff housing block within the centre’s grounds has been augmented with a rest and relaxation area complete with BBQ.
Small courtyards offer relatively private and protected places where patients and staff can enjoy green spaces by spending time in them, as well as by viewing them from the wards. In one such space the Ward 11 staff have renovated a pergola, to create a sheltered seating area. In the radiotherapy staff room, chairs have been rearranged so that staff can look out onto their newly created garden – complete with a wheelbarrow ‘planter’ and bird feeders – during breaks.
Hidden nooks and crannies between buildings or in tucked away courtyards have been transformed into pleasant lunch spots by the addition of seating, often created out of natural or other found materials, such as palettes, a slab of flat rock or an empty cable wheel which now forms a huge, sociable table. Other quiet spaces have been dedicated as wildlife havens, such as Nuclear Medicine’s competition-winning wildlife garden, where a rescue hedgehog has successfully been encouraged to hibernate.
Our ranger came into the role with a passionate commitment to seeing how much of Mount Vernon’s large, manicured lawn could practically be turned over to native wildflower meadow. Given her close relationship with the estate teams, she was able to get approval to put significant amounts of grass over to meadow, with support and advice from Butterfly Conservation. Some has been plug planted, some has been filled with flowering bulbs and a large swathe has been nutrient degraded in a process called ‘cut and collect’. During this process, the grass clippings were taken off-site over several mowing sessions, and the ground was then scarified and seeded with a carefully selected mixture of British native perennial wildflowers which should grow well on the hardpacked, silty-clay soil. Read more about this process and the results in our ranger interview.
As well as the grassroots-type projects, such as the gardening competition, our ranger has supported the development of larger green space engagement initiatives. The first of these was the creation of a Woodland Walkway, which cuts through the compact woodland at the end of the newly created meadow. The walkway was launched with an event open to all staff, and the installation of benches and waymarkers encourages staff to spend time in this secluded, natural space. Its proximity to some of the offices and the staff canteen means staff are often seen heading down here with lunchboxes or coffees, taking a break away from the hospital environment to enjoy the woodland views and birdsong.
Fern Garden and Chemotherapy shelter
The second project was the Fern Garden, which has been developed beside Mount Vernon’s chemotherapy suite. It’s a fully accessible, tranquil space for patients and visitors to sit while waiting for treatments; those receiving chemotherapy indoors can enjoy the leafy views out of the large windows. A bespoke wooden shelter has been built in the garden to encourage people to sit out here all year round; it has been specifically designed to allow patients the option of receiving treatment in the shelter. Read more about the Fern Garden and the shelter here.
Space to Breathe map
To increase awareness of green spaces and encourage engagement, our ranger has produced a ‘Space to Breathe’ Map. Mount Vernon shares a site with the much larger Hilingdon Treatment centre and the map will enable all 4,500 staff members, as well as the many hospital visitors, to find their way to the diverse green spaces all around the site.