Generous construction workers have come to the aid of a pensioner keen to brighten up the lives of hospital patients and visitors.
Phyllis Tomlinson is well known at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in Bodelwyddan, where she devotes hours of her spare time as a Robin volunteer, including tending a patch of spare ground near the casualty unit.
The 84-year-old former district nurse, known to all as Phyl, can often be spotted digging in new perennials, planting out annual seedlings, watering flower beds and getting down on her hands and knees to root out vine weevils.
Now a helping hand has come from the construction team working for Laing O’Rourke, the principal contractor in a seven year multi-million pound scheme to update and refurbish Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, with work scheduled to be completed in 2018.
They decided to step in and donate a collection of useful tools plus a handy trolley so she can transport much-needed water to her plants in what is now known as the Robin garden.
“The trolley in particular is a huge help to me,” said Phyllis, who once ran her own gardening business. “It means I no longer have to carry hefty buckets of water by hand.”
Laing O’Rourke site supervisor Andy Day and health and safety advisor Rebecca Williams said Phyl is a great personality and her dedication to the garden is admirable.
Rebecca said: “I’ve met her a few times now and she’s a really interesting lady, her enthusiasm is never-ending and it’s amazing to see how she is transforming the garden area.
“As a health and safety advisor I’m always conscious of trying to ease the physical burden on people undertaking heavy duties so when Andy and I saw Phyl carrying the water buckets from the ambulance depot we decided to ask what we could do to help.
“The trolley makes things much easier for her and we’ve also supplied Phyl with safe access to a lockable storage facility, which was kindly donated by Pen Y Bryn Joinery, where she can access her gardening tools and equipment.”
Andy has a particular affinity with Phyl as they both have connections with the Navy.
Phyl said: “Andy came over one day and said if ever I needed water carrying he would get some of his men to help me. We got talking and when I mentioned that my father was in the Navy. Andy said he too is ex-Navy and that his mother was a Wren and currently a patient in the hospital. This was such a coincidence as I also used to be a Wren.
“I later went to visit and found her to be a delightfully interesting lady who in fact knew some of the ladies in the Rhyl Wren Branch of which I’m chairman. These WWII veterans -male and female – did so much for the country and we, slightly younger element, show our respect during parades and laying wreaths on Remembrance Days. We even took part at Whitehall on one occasion which was unforgettable! We always socialise with the veterans over refreshments afterwards and learning of their experiences.”
Phyl was delighted when the A&E building, where she has done much of her volunteering, was redeveloped in 2014, but thought it needed a better outlook.
She said: “The opening of the new unit was a success but the entrance was opposite an old raised garden, which had become neglected and full of weeds with some almost dead trees in the centre.
“Two of my colleagues and myself couldn’t bear to see it like that so I asked permission to take it over. I have been looking after it since, using plants mainly from my own garden but also with bulbs and annuals bought with the odd change some Robins put in a purse to ensure there’s always plenty of colour and interest to put smiles on the faces of passers-by.
“It also contains shrubs and plants donated in memory of loved ones or pets – for example, two visitors donated £10 to buy a rose in memory of their father. I’m always happy to give cuttings, seeds or advice to anyone interested: staff or visitors are grateful and often remind me of this later.”
Phyl signed up to help 10 years ago, soon after the popular red t-shirted Robins were established a decade ago to give much needed support to health workers across the North Wales region. There are now Robin volunteers in all three major BCUHB hospitals – Ysbyty Gwynedd, Wrexham Maelor and Ysbyty Glan Clwyd – as well as 19 community hospitals.
Their duties include everything from befriending patients during their stay in hospital and chatting with them, to preparing hot and cold drinks, checking water jugs plus providing reading and writing services for patients.
They also aim to reassure people when they first arrive in hospital, run errands to the hospital shop for patients and spend time with day visitors, doing quizzes, games or talking to help take their mind off treatments.
Phyl now puts in many hours a week maintaining the garden, and though it has its challenges, she says it is a therapeutic task.
“The only drawback is having to constantly tolerate cigarette smoke from people who disregard No Smoking signs and also litter the area with stubs or use the planters as ashtrays!
“I have been gardening for 50 years. It used to be purely a hobby when I was working. After the Wrens I became a Marie Curie and a district nurse, often doing the gardens of patients and my mother.
“In 1988 we moved to Flint and I eventually gave up nursing. My husband and I started doing one or two gardens to keep occupied and we ended up running our own gardening business. We were so busy that we had a waiting list of customers, and some keep in touch.”
She gave up the business when the couple moved to Rhyl, but Phyl is as busy as ever.
She said: “I am usually out gardening for at least four days out of every seven. My husband previously helped me when I tackled the neglected gardens at Bodelwyddan Castle in 2012 but he had a stroke a few years ago so takes it easy now.
“To me gardening does not seem like hard work as it’s a labour of love and so satisfying to see the difference. I’ve had a problem this year in the Robin garden though with vine weevils which are a menace. They have affected many established plants and the best way to get rid of them is rooting out by hand and sifting all soil. That’s easier when white grubs and quite easy to see but in spring they mature as nocturnal weevils, black and much harder to detect, damaging foliage then laying eggs that live off plant roots.”
As well as the hospital gardens Phyl continues to tend a garden at Bodelwyddan Castle.
She said: “There are eight narrow beds along the inner wall, six smaller ones in the main courtyard, plus several on the terrace plus mangers on walls. I’m especially proud of the small hidden courtyard I discovered and transformed into an oasis with colourful pots and tubs plus a lovely silver birch tree, which was previously smothered with ivy.”
When the weather is too bad for Phyl to garden she undertakes her other duties as a Robin, such as conversing with patients, reassuring people and giving directions.
BCUHB Robins volunteers manager Sue Marriott said Phyl is famous at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd.
She said: “She is a real trooper and goes the extra mile to help out whenever she can. She is committed to the garden area and has transformed it into a showpiece over recent years. We are very grateful for all the hard work she has put in.”
Phyl remains modest about her achievements, however, stressing that she is just one of a whole team of Robins who provide a backbone of much-needed support for the hospital.
She would recommend anyone with spare time on their hands who is keen to undertake volunteering work to consider becoming a Robin.
Their duties include everything from befriending patients during their stay in hospital and having general conversations with them, to preparing hot and cold drinks, checking water jugs, reading and writing services for patients, reassuring people when they first arrive in hospital, running errands to the hospital shop for patients and spending time with day visitors, doing quizzes, games or chatting to help take their mind off treatments.
Ongoing training and support is available for all volunteers. Anyone who wants to find out more about becoming a Robin can find information at the BCUHB website www.wales.nhs.uk or call BCUHB volunteers manager Sue Marriott on 01978 727164 or email firstname.lastname@example.org