Tree-mendous effort from Tom and his volunteers helps transform Leicester’s leafy oasis

Tom Cross, right, with colleagues and volunteers at the Attenborough Arboretum.

A green oasis of calm nestled away in suburban Leicester is benefiting from the work of one man and his small band of volunteers.

Shortly after being appointed groundsman at the University of Leicester’s Attenborough Arboretum in October 2022, Tom Cross set about with his plans to make the Knighton nature spot more attractive for visitors.

His key aim was to establish a network of volunteers to help him tend the five-acre site, which is located off Carisbrooke Road.

Within a matter of weeks, a volunteer programme was established and now up to 10 work in the grounds, every Thursday.

“Their impact has been huge,” said Tom. “If I was here on my own I would only be able to cut the grass and do a little bit of pruning. Things would just stand still. But thanks to the volunteers we’ve really made some great changes in just under a year and a half. I constantly get feedback from local people who kept telling me how wonderful the arboretum looks.”

In addition to the usual gardening duties, Tom and the volunteers have created a willow tunnel, a storytelling area and are going to install a badger sett hide. A website has also been launched to increase awareness of the arboretum.

The arboretum, which was officially opened by Sir David Attenborough in 1997, plays a key role for a variety of visitors.

Tom said: “I see this place as somewhere for people to enjoy a peaceful stroll, which is good for their mental health, and also as a place with educational value for children, to get them closer to nature. We have school visits and it can be a real eye opener for many pupils, who love to run around the green spaces here.”

Tom is keen to expand the number of volunteers who can help out at the arboretum, both during the Thursday session and also on an ad hoc basis.

He said: “People don’t need to have any particular skills, it is very much about enthusiasm and learning. But, conversely, we would love to hear from people with specialist skills who might be able to come along now and again to help with various projects.”

Would-be volunteers can get in touch via the website, which also hosts a volunteering blog to give a flavour of the on-site activities involved.

The Attenborough Arboretum is open to the public daily, between 10am and 5pm.