Showcasing our glorious grounds – thanks to a National Lottery grant

22nd October 2019

The Royal Hospital Chelsea is delighted to announce that we have been awarded a grant of £62,500 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, to re-examine the natural heritage of our grounds and gardens.

Our goals and ambitions
The project, which will run from October 2019 to January 2020, will seek to realise the wonderful potential of our historic grounds and open them up to wider audiences.

We are immensely proud of the Royal Hospital Chelsea’s Grade 1 listed 66-acre site, which combines a magnificent urban green space with being the permanent home to the Chelsea Pensioners. However, little is known about the current users of our grounds, their public value, or their potential to enhance the wellbeing of our visitors and residents alike.

This is the first grant we have received from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. Made possible by National Lottery players it will allow us to address these challenges, whilst preserving the home of our veteran community. 

We plan to achieve this in a variety of ways – from in-depth research into our current and prospective audiences, to setting up family learning trails and investigating how our green spaces can support biodiversity and promote eco-tourism. We will also examine how we communicate the natural heritage of our grounds more effectively to a broader range of audiences and a digital guestbook will help us to learn more about our visitors. 

As well as extending our family audience through heritage history trails – such as those piloted at the recent inaugural Chelsea History Festival – our ultimate goal is to reach out to members of the public and community groups who could benefit from the health and wellbeing benefits fostered through the use of our natural heritage. 

To achieve our goals, we will be working with partner organisations, staff, veterans and volunteers, as well as drawing on the expertise of our neighbours, the National Army Museum and the Chelsea Physic Garden. As always, we will involve and consult the Chelsea Pensioners throughout the project.

What makes our grounds so special?
Whilst the architectural contributions to the Royal Hospital of Sir Christopher Wren and Sir John Soane are well known, our grounds have historically been less celebrated. 

Originally, formal water gardens connected to the Thames by canals, the grounds changed radically when the Embankment was constructed in the mid 19thcentury. Ranelagh Gardens was laid out by John Gibson – also responsible for Battersea Park. Originally a pleasure garden, Ranelagh Gardens featured a now-demolished Rotunda which was immortalised in paintings by artists including Canaletto and played host to a performance by the young Mozart. Sir John Soane’s Pavilion and the park’s undulating landscaping remain intact. The grounds also encompass an 18thcentury burial ground where Chelsea Pensioners, including those who served in the Civil War, were laid to rest and the South Grounds have been the site of the iconic RHS Chelsea Flower Show for over a century. 

In addition to an abundance of plants and trees – including a prize-winning ‘incense cedar’ – the grounds boast a wealth of wildlife, from bats and voles to bees and tawny owls. While Chelsea Pensioners and schools already enjoy these spaces, their potential for attracting more of the local community, as well as special interest groups, remains unexplored. 

Bringing benefits to Chelsea Pensioners and visitors alike
We believe that the Royal Hospital’s natural heritage is of interest to all and this project will ensure our grounds will be better interpreted and explained, showcasing all they have to offer. We plan to build on this by highlighting historical facts and information on flora and fauna as well as via an interactive app. 

The National Lottery grant will also enable us to promote wellbeing – whether by giving Chelsea Pensioners more opportunity to engage with our visitors, or by extending the well-known physical and mental health benefits of urban green spaces to local communities. 

A leading natural heritage site
We are very grateful to The National Lottery Heritage Fund and National Lottery players for giving us this opportunity to bring the benefits of our glorious grounds to broader audiences. The grant will help us achieve our ambition to not just be a leader in Army veteran care, but also a recognised natural heritage site. 

The National Lottery Heritage Fund

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