Today, in the week of the third anniversary of the first UK lockdown, a new ‘Trees of Life’ glade was dedicated at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, within the National Forest. The ‘Trees of Life’ glade is a living tribute to those who served our country throughout the pandemic, and to remember all those who died as a result of COVID-19 in the UK.
“It may already be three years since the pandemic first turned our lives upside down, but for many key workers who served, or those who lost loved ones, the memories of that time and the feelings of loss will never go away,” explains Philippa Rawlinson, Director of the Arboretum. “As the Nation’s year-round place to remember, we were inundated with requests for us to create somewhere permanent to commemorate the incredible service and sacrifice of key workers during the pandemic, but also somewhere people could go at any time to remember those who had tragically lost their lives.”
At the heart of the ‘Trees of Life’ glade is a stately Spaeth Alder tree, set within a beautiful seating area that invites visitors to pause, take a moment and reflect. The trees in the glade, created in partnership between the National Memorial Arboretum and the National Forest Company, were blessed by representatives of Diverse Communities of Faith at Westminster Abbey during a special Service of Remembrance in October 2022.
“We know that during the different lockdowns people really appreciated outdoor spaces and environments, and the Arboretum was a place of peace and tranquillity for people living close by at the time,” continues Philippa. “The new ‘Trees of Life’ glade offers a place for people to come together to remember and honour the service and sacrifice of their loved ones, to reflect on an extremely difficult time in our Nation’s recent history and to support the process of healing.”
NHS nurse Becky Warren, who led the team at The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital Vaccination Centre, near Oswestry in Shropshire, was one of the key workers at the dedication event and also participated in the Trees of Life service at Westminster Abbey last October.
“Over the course of 25 months, our team administered exactly 157,464 Covid-19 vaccinations to everyone from vulnerable groups to five-year-olds, and we heard many stories of trauma and resilience along the way,” said Becky. “It means a lot to me that our efforts are recognised here in the new Trees of Life glade, alongside all the other memorials at the Arboretum. It is amazing to see the trees, transplanted from the majesty of Westminster Abbey to the tranquillity of the Arboretum, creating a quiet, peaceful space that I will take a moment to reflect in whenever I visit.”
During the dedication event, which was attended by members of the public, volunteers and key workers, the Arboretum’s newly appointed ‘poet-in-residence' Dan Simpson shared his specially commissioned poem ‘Blessed Alder’, inspired by the Spaeth Alder tree at the heart of the ‘Trees of Life’ glade.
"From the moment I first stepped foot into the Arboretum, I felt how special and unique the site is. It spoke to me of memory and reverence, with a voice that is alive to the present,” commented Dan. “The poem I wrote for the dedication of the ‘Trees of Life’ glade today is the first in a series of poems, workshops and activities that I will be creating over the next 12 months, in service to the visitors, dedicated volunteers, passionate staff and to the Arboretum itself.”
The Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, Dean of Westminster, led the blessing of the new ‘Trees of Life’ glade as he revisited the trees now in their permanent home. Following the dedication, members of the public were invited to lay tributes of spring flowers within the glade.
“The trees in the glade are a symbol of regeneration and testimony to the power of trees to heal a landscape, lives and livelihoods,” said John Everitt, Chief Executive of the National Forest Company. “They will long outlive us all; their presence offers solace in our sadness and connects us to future generations.”
“We all have a greater appreciation for togetherness after the isolation so many of us experienced during the pandemic,” comments Carol Pemberton MBE, the founder and music director of Black Voices, the female a cappella quintet that opened and closed the dedication event. "Black Voices were truly honoured to perform during this dedication at the National Memorial Arboretum. From the Trees of Life Glade, new communities will grow as people come together to remember those they lost."
The National Memorial Arboretum and National Forest Company have shared their ambitious plans to transform 25-acres of former quarry land adjacent to the Trees of Life glade into an inspirational living memorial to those who served and died in the COVID-19 pandemic. A planning application is currently being considered to transform this tract of land into a new Remembrance space that could feature an expansive lake and diverse wildlife habitats, alongside incorporating reflective glades, areas for gathering and play and an inclusive space for contemplation and worship, as well as new visitor facilities. Large-scale funding partners are being sought to enable the delivery of this multi-million-pound project.
To accompany the glade, a ‘Trees of Life’ exhibition in the Remembrance Centre at the Arboretum draws out the most moving and powerful elements of the special ‘Trees of Life’ Service of Remembrance that took place in Westminster Abbey on 11 October 2022. In addition to photography and footage from the day, the exhibition shares the blessings from the diverse Communities of Faith and the poem ‘These are the Hands’, written by the celebrated author and former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the NHS, and read during the service.