Design commissions – typically a 3 month waiting list. Consultations allow 4 weeks.  Please get in touch if you would like to plan ahead.

Running, Cancer & Landscape Design. The Great North run, something in common? – August 2017

Running isn’t my passion. The outdoors, the landscape, trees and planting are (aside from my family of course). But the only way to keep moderately fit and healthy in balance with work, home and family is to run. It’s convenient; an efficient mode of exercise. So I run a bit, but I don’t consider myself a ‘runner’.

A while back, one of my running buddies had been hinting at doing the Great North Run (GNR) a half marathon at 13 miles, just about 21km. It was on her ‘bucket list’, something that she’d like to have a go at. I wasn’t particularly enthused so I ignored it a bit 😉 

Roll on a few months, and a close friend was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. In her early forties, it was a wake up moment. The GNR didn’t seem such a hard effort now and it would be a way to support her on her journey; another tick on that wish list.

So the three of us – Sarah, Fay and I – are embarking on our first (and last?!) half marathon this coming September. The most we’ve run has been an occasional 10km, so this will be a little outside of our comfort zone. However it is an ideal opportunity to raise sponsorship for the Multiple Sclerosis Society too.

Last Autumn, around the time of signing up, my mum was diagnosed with cancer. She’d heard of Maggies, a charity and facility for providing practical and emotional support for anyone with cancer, and for their family and friends too.

I had come across Maggies a few years ago. Not cancer related but through the garden design news within the profession. The highly regarded Dan Pearson (whose work inspires me) had designed the outdoor space at a new Maggies Centre in London (Charing Cross Hospital, 2008). So the GNR would provide me with a great opportunity to support this charity too, their vision striking a chord with me.

The first Maggies centre bearing the name of Maggie Keswick Jencks, wife of landscape designer Charles Jencks, opened in 1996 in Edinburgh, the year after Maggie died of breast cancer.  The facility followed the visionary blueprint Maggie and Charles had planned during the last year of her life – a beautiful building and garden that patients could visit as often as they liked.  Visitors would receive expert medical advice as well as practical, psychological and emotional support.

Maggie’s own needs as a cancer patient and the Jencks’ shared belief, initiated the idea that well being is profoundly affected by the environment.

“The gardens are key to the whole concept”.
Maggie Jencks, a designer and long time collaborator of Charles’ landmark projects such as The Garden of Cosmic Speculation, believed that places have the power to help or hinder those who are ill. She imagined a purposely designed relaxing place where those affected by cancer could go to have a cup of tea, talk or just sit in a welcoming, comfortable environment.

Charles Jencks
The Garden of Cosmic Speculation

Her experience of diagnosis, recurrence and treatment says…

‘in general hospitals are not patient friendly…waiting areas could finish you off… interior spaces with no views out and miserable seating against walls contribute to extreme mental and physical enervation’.
The overriding principle for the centres has been to provide a sanctuary away from the clinical environment of a hospital. Something I appreciate having spent only 4 days in hospital after the birth of my first son!

Continuing the family’s passion, Lily Jencks (Charles and Maggie’s daughter) designed the garden at the Maggies Centre in Hong Kong which opened in 2013.

So where are these Maggie Centres in the United Kingdom?
There are 8 centres in Scotland; 1 centre in Wales (Swansea); 5 centres in the North/Midlands (Clatterbridge, Manchester, Oldham, Nottingham, Newcastle – none in Yorkshire yet) and 5 centres in the South of England (Cheltenham, Oxford, Cambridge, London – 2).  

Currently the nearest one to my hometown Ilkley, West Yorkshire is in Oldham about 45 miles away. This centre opened recently in June 2017. It was mentioned in the BBC Gardeners World broadcast in July (19.07.2017). It’s great to see that Dan Pearson Studios were involved in the design of the garden here.

I’ve yet to visit a Maggies Centre myself.  My mum is in Cumbria so logistically proves a little tricky to accompany her to one.  The first Maggies Centre for Yorkshire is currently in planning phase and will be in Leeds, in the grounds of St James’ University Hospital. This is very exciting news and I’m looking forward to seeing how the project develops.  There is a campaign to raise a minimum of £6 million to build the centre to ensure that there are sufficient funds for the first two years.  It aims to serve 5.4 million people living in Yorkshire and the Humber.

So there you have it, the story behind why I need to do some training! And of course to raise the sponsorship in order to take part in the Great North Run in Newcastle…. only ONE MONTH to go!

Would you like to help us?
If you would like to support our cause to help Maggies build more centres as well as supporting the Multiple Sclerosis Society then please visit our Virgin MoneyGiving page – Ben Rhydding Running Buddies… and thank you in advance.

Share this post

More Insights