Portishead lifeboat crew help inspire RNLI Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Inspiration for the stunning RNLI Garden due to be unveiled at RHS Chelsea Flower Show by award-winning designer Chris Beardshaw came, in part, from moving conversations with volunteers at Portishead Lifeboat Station.

Chris, a lifelong RNLI supporter, visited Portishead lifeboat station last year when he was researching ideas for the garden. Crew members told him what it is like to volunteer for the charity, how it feels to save a life and what it means to provide a vital service for the local community.

Chris said: “I have dived and sailed for much of my life and the RNLI is a charity very dear to me, but speaking to the Portishead volunteers really brought home to me what an incredible job the RNLI does.

“Much of their work is unseen by most of us, being carried out quietly and modestly by volunteer crews and lifeguards, but the result is astonishing – thousands of people aided every year, families reunited and many more helped with safety advice. The Portishead crew brought that to life, providing the foundation for my design and helping me create a garden which, hopefully, will do the RNLI proud.”

Chris Beardshaw’s design for the RNLI Garden. Image: @freehandlines

He returned to Portishead Lifeboat Station to reveal his garden design and talk through what some of the key elements represent.

Portishead RNLI’s volunteer Lifeboat Operations Manager, Dave Slack, said he and other crew members were honoured to have helped inspire Chris’s RHS Chelsea design.

Dave said: “The way Chris has interpreted what we told him and found a way to represent the work of the RNLI in his beautiful garden design is really incredible. The understated style and colours of the garden is just right for the way our volunteers go about their work – we are very proud of what we do, but we are not in your face about it.

“And the green oak façade at the back of the garden, with its central beacon of light, represents for me that return to shore from the danger of the elements that we cannot control during a rescue. Lifeboats can be miles out at sea but knowing there is that light helping to guide them back home is a huge comfort during a difficult rescue, both for the crew and the people they have saved.”

As well as talking to RNLI volunteers, Chris turned to the charity’s heritage for inspiration. The materials used to build the original wooden lifeboats when the RNLI was established almost 200 years ago are hinted at in large statement trees, while the oak pavilion features traditional columns and a carved inscription in the Georgian style that was popular at the time the charity was founded.

The result is a calm and confident garden that inspires inquisitiveness, looks back to look forward and echoes the charity’s sense of permanence, while offering a space in which to reflect on the many elements of the RNLI’s work.

Joining Chris at Portishead to reveal his design was Hattie Ghaui from Project Giving Back, the unique grant-making organisation which is providing the generous funding for the RNLI Garden.

Hattie said: ‘It was very humbling to meet Dave and the other volunteers and to hear how the garden resonates and represents the spirit and the work of the RNLI. The garden will be a great tribute to them and I cannot wait to see it unveiled at RHS Chelsea Flower Show.”

This will be the first time the RNLI has had a Show Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which runs 24 – 28 May. The charity hopes the garden will make a lifesaving difference, celebrating both its incredible heritage and the dedication of its volunteers, past, present and future.

For more information visit: rnli.org/Chelsea

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