Our man in Cornwall: celebrating 15 years of volunteering for Perennial

George Kestell has been raising money for and awareness of Perennial in Cornwall for over 15 years. In addition to voluntarily planning, building and running Perennial exhibits at Cornish flower shows and events, he has taken every possible opportunity available to spread the word about the charity’s services and raise money through fundraising events and product sales.

George has taken volunteering to the next level – he has made the charity part of his day job and in the process has helped Perennial significantly raise awareness of its services among professional horticulturists across Cornwall, and has referred several people directly to Perennial for help. Here he talks about what it means to him to be a Perennial volunteer and what drives him on to continue to support the only charity in the UK dedicated to helping people across the horticulture industry.

“I first heard about Perennial when I was at college, training as a horticulturist. Someone from the charity came in to tell us about it and although I listened with interest, I put it to the back of my mind at the time. It wasn’t until much later in my career, in 2001 I think, that I was looking for a way to give something back to the industry. Perennial was the perfect fit.”

Photos courtesy of Britt Willoughby Dyer
Photos taken recently at a Chelsea Fringe event at The Duchy Nursery in Cornwall where George staged a Perennial exhibit. All photos courtesy of Britt Willoughby Dyer.

George started by raising money via Perennial’s Christmas card over-printing service, sending charity cards to all his customers and clients, and from there went on to stage numerous exhibits at the Royal Cornwall Show (winning a Gold Medal in 2014, the charity’s 175th year) and using speaking opportunities at gardening clubs to raise awareness of Perennial and sell a few products and cards.

“Over the years I think I’ve probably raised about £25,000 for Perennial but more importantly I have become known as ‘the chap who helps the gardeners’ charity’! I have taken it upon myself to ensure that people know about Perennial in Cornwall and have even referred a few colleagues and friends for help over the years.”

One such person was a friend and fellow student of George’s who had to give up work on a nursery due to ill health. George insisted she call Perennial for help and she recalls the speed at which her situation began to change after making contact. (Read more about Kate’s story here.)

Asked why he volunteers for Perennial and what advice he give others thinking about volunteering their time, George says:

“Working voluntarily for Perennial fulfilled a need in me to do something philanthropic, not driven by commercial interests, that benefitted the industry I love and have worked in since I was a boy. But in doing so my career has undoubtedly benefitted too – volunteering has opened doors for me which have led to new work and has enabled me to become known for something beyond my abilities as a horticulturist. My advice would simply be to try it – you never know where it may lead.”

George Kestell is a lecturer in horticulture at Duchy College, is a regular gardening contributor on BBC Radio Cornwall, is a member of the Cornwall Head Gardeners Group and runs a successful garden design and consultancy business across Cornwall.

To find out more about volunteering opportunities with Perennial, visit our Volunteering pages and contact us for more information.