Jul 02 2019

Our Estates team work hard throughout the year to ensure that our campus is maintained for our students, colleagues and visitors. We recently caught up with Jonathan to discover more about his role, and how the team prepare our campus for large-scale College events such as Open Days.

1. Could you tell us about yourself and your role within the External Spaces team?

I began working as a gardener aged 16 with my father and then later studied to be a Chartered Landscape Architect specialising in design of public realm spaces. There has been a Gardening Team at Holloway since before the first students arrived in 1887 so the work of our gardeners is well entrenched. The Head of External Spaces role within Estates was created to direct the grounds team and to bring an extra dimension to their work in line with the business need to offer greater appeal to students and staff. The team have their work cut out just to stay on top of the day-to-day running of the grounds. My job is to find ways to shape their output and to create additional landscape enhancements that support this.

As with all gardeners, we have to work with the conditions and materials available to us, work in harmony with nature and stay mindful that we are merely custodians of the grounds to be passed on to future generations. The modern-day education sector requires more than ever that we provide a service that makes Holloway’s grounds stand out. We look to make full use of the space afforded to us so that, as the size of the student population increases, so too does the capacity of the grounds. More than ever, the campus grounds are viewed as an asset to the University in terms of attracting students and offering an enriching environment to work and study. Holloway was recently ranked as the ‘most beautiful university’ in the UK, an accolade that we want to keep up.

2. Estate preparation is required when the College host large-scale events such as Open Days. In what ways does the team prepare for these kinds of events?

The large events on campus provide a focus for our work and provide a chance to showcase what the grounds have to offer. Open Days and Graduation see a huge footfall on campus and you only have to see how many photos are taken around the grounds to see the value it offers for these events. The focus we afford these occasions in turn lifts the standard of the grounds for the intervening times, enhancing the overall experience for students and staff.

The team pull out all the stops for events. I’m always impressed by their commitment to early starts and coming in at the weekend to make sure everything is just so. We also look carefully at our planting displays to see what will look good at particular times of the year in conjunction with events, such as spring bulbs and flowering shrubs. We’re looking ahead to seeing the wildflowers at the low end of Founders Square in time for Graduation this year.

3. Over the year, various projects are carried out by the External Spaces team that maintain and improve our campus. One of the larger projects being carried out this year is to the pond near the Jane Holloway Hall. How is this work progressing and what do the works aim to improve?

The pond at Jane Holloway Hall holds a special place in the hearts of staff and students. It is an original landscape feature, pre-dating even the Founders Building. The pond had to be emptied of water to carry out some structural repairs which offered the opportunity to remove some of the silt deposits and invasive plants. The clearing work was carried out in the winter to minimise impact to the pond ecology and the remaining work is being completed gradually, in stages, to minimise disruption to the wildlife. Aquatic Plants were moved into storage during the works and are slowly being returned. Pumps have been installed to circulate water, adding oxygen and preventing stagnation. We also have extra seats, a lovely new bridge and a new footpath under construction.  

The pond also performs an important role in slowing down the flow of rain water across the campus, and preventing flooding locally. The vision for the area, and all of the campus ponds and watercourses, is to provide a sustainable drainage model for the estate that also offers an attractive and ecology-rich setting. The gardeners are working over the next year on new areas of planting around the pond including a marginal marsh bed which will allow a rich diversity of planting and ecology to the area. Further work is planned over the summer to the waterfall and stream heading down the hill which is slowly eroding away.

4. In September we will welcome our next intake of students and will welcome back any current students. How will the External Spaces team prepare the campus for Welcome Week?

You can expect the team to be all over campus in the build up to Welcome Week. there is no quiet time in the grounds but the summer is particular hectic with so much plant growth. It’s also a good time to get stuck into new areas of planting, particularly around the residences which are generally quieter during this time. We try to make sure that team members can work on areas that they are passionate about and that often shows in the end result. When new students arrive in September we want them to be inspired by the surroundings and to share the appreciation of the grounds that we have as a team, and in turn to treat it with respect. Welcome week also offers the chance for students to use the grounds for numerous activities and events and we try to support this use of the estate as much as possible. The grounds are a unique asset and are there to be used and enjoyed.

5. What do you enjoy most about working at Royal Holloway and within the Estates Department?

The Estates Department are at constantly on the go, never a dull moment. Personally, I love creating things with nature, particularly when that offers an enhancement to well-being. Being amongst nature forces you to be present due to the intense stimuli it offers and it’s well proven as an antidote to the stress of modern life. This presents a great opportunity to enriching the staff and student experience. The Holloway estate is such a patchwork of different elements that there is so much variety and interest – styles of building, types of planting, even the geology changes across campus. I enjoy the challenge of trying to mesh it all together whilst maintaining the individuality of each space.

6. Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I have a toddler in the house and my wife and I are expecting another baby this summer, so most of my spare time is taken up with family activities. Although given half a chance you’ll find me in my own garden.