Edinburgh author Alexander McCall Smith, writer of the bestselling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and more, joined patients and volunteers at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital on Friday 20 May for a book reading, where he presented a new poem written for the occasion and gifted books to hospital patients and staff.
The event took place in the Community Hospital Garden, on the grounds of the mental health hospital, as part of the hospital’s annual Spring Fling. The Community Garden is run by homelessness prevention charity Cyrenians, and welcomes patients, staff and local residents, inviting them to work together with the goal of improving mental health, wellbeing, and community connection.
McCall Smith, who has written at length about the importance of community, came to the gardens to meet patients and staff. He read from his recent 44 Scotland Street novel, 'Love in the Time of Bertie', which will be out in paperback in June, and also presented a new poem, 'In a Garden', where he reflected on the role of our Cyrenians’ gardens.
Staff, volunteers, and patients at the Royal Edinburgh attended the event in the spring sunshine, and enjoyed the reading, refreshments and conversation surrounded by the beautiful garden space. Mr McCall Smith also generously provided signed copies of books for attendees, as well as donating copies for use in the hospital library.
Watch McCall Smith read his original poem
The community garden, which is planted and maintained by a wide range of volunteers from the hospital and surrounding community, is one of 2 run by Cyrenians in Edinburgh. It provides a community growing space which is accessible and supportive, and allows volunteers to work and build community in a way which suits them. Speaking about the garden, one inpatient at the hospital said, “I wouldn’t have thrived as much in hospital without this place – it’s my haven, the centre of the world that exists to me at the moment. It has been fantastic, pure brilliant.”
The garden provides an opportunity for patients to build connections in the local community, helping prevent the isolation and social exclusion that often leads to a higher rate of homelessness among those leaving hospital. And, being open to all, it is also a space for local residents to look after their own mental health – one regular volunteer told us, “I love coming here – the people, the space, the food…it makes me happy and it’s relaxing."
Cyrenians Gardens Manager, Hannah McCrae, said McCall Smith’s reading was a great opportunity for the hospital’s patients, staff and volunteers to come together as a community and have fun.
“We were delighted to be joined by Alexander – he has been very complimentary about our work here, and fundamentally understands the value of green spaces for wellbeing and recovery.
“His generous donation of signed books has been gratefully received and we have already been inundated with requests for another event!”
McCall Smith said, “I’m delighted to be able to support Cyrenians, and to meet all the people who take such pleasure in these gardens. Having access to a place like this can make such a difference to people’s mental health and quality of life. I greatly admire the work that people from all parts of the community are putting into this very special place.
“I’d encourage anyone who can to give to Cyrenians – they're doing wonderful work here and at their other projects. They make a real and immediate difference to the lives of many.”