Dr Olivia Chapple


Horatio’s Garden

Dr Olivia Chapple, Founder & Chair of Trustees

I am a GP by training, married to a spinal surgeon and until my life changed in 2011, I worked as a busy GP trying to find a work-family balance to bring up our three energetic sons. Since 2011, I have run the charity Horatio’s Garden. Horatio’s Garden is a national organisation improving the lives of people affected by spinal injury by creating thriving, accessible gardens in heart of the UK’s spinal injury centres.

The charity is named after Horatio Chapple, my eldest son, who wanted to be a doctor and who volunteered at one of the UK’s eleven specialist spinal injury centres in Salisbury, during his school holidays.

When volunteering, Horatio was particularly struck by the lack of outdoor space available to patients with these life changing injuries, so he tried to find a solution by talking to patients and those caring for them. From these discussions, Horatio developed the idea of a beautiful, subtly accessible garden to support recovery during long stays in hospital.

In 2011 tragedy struck, and devastatingly, Horatio was killed in the most dreadful situation. In the summer holiday when he was 17, he went on a science expedition with a group of young people to Svalbard and their camp was attacked by a polar bear. Horatio, strong, courageous and determined as ever, fought back against the bear, so biding time for his friends to escape, but he lost his life.

In the awful aftermath, there was an outpouring of love and goodwill, from people who were touched by Horatio’s story. Donations flooded in for his garden to be created and a year after he died, thanks to the support of many wonderful people, we opened the first Horatio’s Garden.

Since then, Horatio’s legacy has continued to grow with a vibrant momentum and is now helping patients, families and NHS staff throughout the UK.

Leading landscape designers create each Horatio’s Garden, using both Horatio’s original research and their own ideas to bring the gardens to life.

We currently have six projects in Salisbury, Glasgow, Midlands, Stoke Mandeville, Cardiff and London and are working to bring the seventh to Northern Ireland’s only spinal injury centre at Musgrave Park Hospital, Belfast. The garden has been designed by nine-times

Chelsea gold medal winning designer, Andy Sturgeon. We are hoping to start building later this year as long as we reach the fundraising total.

The stunning accessible garden, with a large garden room, has been carefully designed to improve people’s physical and psychological health as they adjust to, or care for someone with, life-changing injuries.

In my personal life, I have always loved gardens and nature and when working as a GP I was an advocate of the benefits of gardens and gardening to health. So, it was no surprise that in the depths of my grief it was the natural environment that gave me comfort, support and hope. Navigating the loss of a child is exhausting, stressful and relentless and I found, like many people, that nature was the tonic that sustained me through each day.

This experience has driven me to improve the environment for patients with life changing injuries, all of whom are going through a form of bereavement and post traumatic stress. It’s incredibly hard to adjust to a life of paralysis let alone in the formica environment of a hospital ward for months and month.

Since founding Horatio’s Garden, I have found a new purpose – one that connects me to Horatio and gives me the most incredible sense of satisfaction. The testimonials from patients, families and staff are so moving.

I now know that Horatio’s life continues to have relevance and every day he is helping to improve people’s wellbeing. It’s been a very powerful and emotional experience.

In the last ten years I have contributed to articles and spoken at conferences highlighting the benefits of gardens and the environment in healthcare settings.

In 2017 I was awarded a Points of Light award by the prime minister for voluntary service and my volunteer group received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. I was presented to Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle in 2019. Last year I was honoured to be the first recipient of the RHS Carew Pole Award for outstanding contribution to horticulture by a non-horticulturist. www.horatiosgarden.org.uk

In just ten short years, thanks to the novel ideas of a young man, we’ve grown from a local charity to a national organisation planting hope for patients with spinal injuries and their loved ones throughout the UK.

We have some incredible people involved including Frankie Dettori, Joanna Lumley and Mel Giedroyc as well as extraordinary Ambassadors who have experienced spinal injuries themselves. The community of Horatio’s Garden has brought together many people who share our ethos of kindness and understand the benefits of gardens to health.

I am so excited to be working with people from all over Northern Ireland to bring Horatio’s Garden to Belfast and would love to hear from anyone who would like to be involved.

I thank Horatio every day for the energy he has infused in us all, for the happiness he has brought to people and the lives he has changed.

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