Switching pint-pulling for pruning - meet the apprentices caring for Bushy Park

By Heather Nicholls

5th Feb 2024 | Local News

Zac Barber and Rupert Lovibond. (Photo Credit: Royal Parks).
Zac Barber and Rupert Lovibond. (Photo Credit: Royal Parks).

In celebration of National Apprenticeship Week, The Royal Parks charity is shining a light on the valuable work of the parks' apprentices, who help shape London's green spaces, including those who care for the iconic Bushy Park.

The charity, which cares for London's eight iconic Royal Parks, takes on up to 10 new paid horticultural apprentices every year, to pass on expertise to the next generation of horticulturalists, and to help shape and conserve London's green spaces for the public to enjoy.

The scheme prides itself on its accessibility and is open to people of all ages. Many of the charity's apprentices have entered the role after changing careers – such as switching from a career in the hospitality industry, while some have begun the apprenticeship aged 18. 

For four days a week, the apprentices work in one of the Royal Parks, including Richmond and Bushy Parks, and they study at Capel Manor College in The Regent's Park on the remaining day.

The course lasts a minimum of two years, and apprentices will receive a Level 2 qualification in Horticulture Operations.

The Royal Parks are recognised as centres of excellence for horticulture and sustainable garden management and learn from gardeners at the top of their game.

Apprentices will master valuable skills, ranging from plant identification and soil science to cultivation and landscape design, to parkland management and pest control, with hands-on training in operating horticulture machinery.

Apprentices also have access to the Hyde Park Nursery, which grows 450,000 plants a year, supplying the gardens across all of the Royal Parks.

Here, the apprentices learn about propagation, and help to grow plants for the flowerbed displays seen by the parks' 70 million annual visitors.

Rupert Lovibond, 40, from Hanworth, West London, previously worked at a pub before applying for the horticultural apprenticeship at The Royal Parks' Bushy Park, the second largest Royal Park spanning over 1000 acres.

The first-year apprentice said: "I love education, and I really wanted to be part of parks in general. It's absolutely amazing for your mental health.

"I cannot even put into words how much I've learned. It's really nice to be able to say that about yourself, even at 40 years old.

"You get a buzz learning all this new stuff. Even if it's something that you wouldn't necessarily think that you'd be into.

"I love my football, I love my sport, but suddenly, I love gardening. It's absolutely wonderful. You meet new people, you learn new things, and you're out in the open."

Zac Barber, 23, from Kingston, a third-year apprentice at Bushy Park, said: "I'm so glad I gave it a go because ever since, I've never been happier.

"During Covid, me and my dad were doing some private gardens, some big jobs.

"Since then, I found that I really did enjoy this kind of work, so I thought, let's take the next step and try and find a career in it.

"I've gained all sorts of skills. As well as working, you go to college once a week and that's been a massive highlight of everyone's weeks.

"There's not many things like this that can get you into a career whilst being paid, as you are learning, so it's a great opportunity."

Adam Stoter, Assistant Park Manager at The Royal Parks, who oversees the apprenticeship programme, said: "The theme of this year's National Apprenticeship Week is "Skills for Life," and this is exactly what The Royal Parks scheme is all about.

"Our apprenticeship programme is dedicated to fostering enduring skills in horticulture, providing a solid foundation for success in this field."

He added: "We look forward to nurturing the next generation of passionate horticulturalists who will thrive with the skills they develop through our programme."

Many former apprentices at The Royal Parks have gone on to become park managers, supervisors or contract managers for the charity.

Others have taken on roles at other high-profile locations worldwide, such as Kew Gardens, Crystal Palace Football Club, and Buckingham Palace.


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