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A Project For The Community

In January 2000 the SCA recieved an urgent telephone call from "the Michael Sobell centre", part of Mount Vernon hospital, Rickmansworth. they had contacted several bigger societies and organisations in desperate need of help. After several phonecalls they eventually contacted the SCA (via RSPB) for help. The Michael Sobell Centre is a hospice for the terminally ill, mainly cancer sufferes. An existing aviary is located in a ventre courtyard of the complex and has been in use for many years. Passages with large glass panels, leading to and from the small wards allow for the birds to be viewed any time of day and night. The patients are encouraged to view the birds, and also if they own a pet bring it with them and release it into the flight, in the knowledge that their precious pet will be well looked after. The aviary is designed to act as a distraction for the patients and their families and is sadly necessary.

Unfortunately, the surgeons and doctors were becoming increasingly concerned with the condition of the flight. At the time the aviary, measuring 24 feet long x 15 feet wide and 15 feet high, held about 50 birds, ranging from various canaries, foreign finches, small grass parakeets and some quails. A range of 6" diameter poles had been donated by a friend of the hospice and these had been constructed to form a "climbing frame" for the birds to roost upon. The first year the poles were installed the birds had enjoyed playing on the frame and had even attempted to construct nests and breed. Unfortunately they had not been too sucessful as the nesting sites available had been limited.

The poles had been in place for about 4 years and now showed signs of wear, as well as the surgeons starting to worry about possible infection. The Secretary contacted John Read - as the Hertfordshire Representative - to see if anything could be done.

A date was arranged for a visit to the hospice - urgency seemed to be a major concern. Upon first inspection by John and SCA member Louise Stephens, the poles were formed into a climbing frame that was more suited to small apes then birds. The hospital representatives Rosemary Pullitt and Jack Sawtell, as volunteers to the hospice, agreed to help in whatever way they were able. The "Friends of the Hospice" had agreed at a committee meeting to allocate a budget of £500 to refurbish the aviary.

A design for the aviary was discussed and agreed, the major problem being to dismantle and remove the poles and make the aviary look "easier on the eye". Phase 1 had to be completed before the breeding season. So it was decided to start the work as soon as possible.

The first week in February was the date fixed and fortunately turned out to be a sunny week. John and a fellow foreign bird enthusiast Andy howlett spent the day. dismantling the 10 feet long poles and removing them to a safe place in the grounds of the hospice. The flight was then completely washed out and sterilized. All work had to be completed with the birds still in the flight. There was no opportunity to remove the birds from the aviary - the flight was so big it would have taken too long to capture all of the occupants.

Once the flight was cleaned, new nesting boxes that had been previously made and donated to the centre, were placed around the flight, as well as new feeding stations, quail houses and the correct size perches. The birds immediately settled into there new surroundings and once nesting material was offered to them, many cock birds started singing and preparing for breeding. It was decided at that time to leave the aviary for a few weeks to allow the birds to get over the stress of the work so-far completed. This allowed time for Rosemary and Jack to arrange for additional building materials to be delivered.

Two weeks later phase 2 started. This was firstly to add a new floor covering over the top of the paving slabs already in situ. By using 10 bags of large wood chippings and 15 bags of various size shingle and pebbles, the floor was covered, but still allowed the keepers to wash the droppings and mess down the draining system. The second job of the day was to add more perches and some shrubs to the design. Canaries are known for stripping trees and shrubs of all foliage, so it was agreed to only use shrubs that would be safe from the birds. The birds have a small light which allows them to feed there offspring well into the evening, and also benefit from the lights turned on in the walk ways between wards.

Once completed the final result was very pleasing and soon recieved approval of doctors, nurses and the surgeons. The total cosy for refurbishment was £140. Well under budget and saving the hospice £360 to spend on much needed hospital equipment.

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