Giving Tree Sculpture for Ronald McDonald House

Giving Tree Sculpture for Ronald McDonald House 1824 1368 Simon O'Rourke

As lockdown opens up more and more, Simon has been able to finish more projects, and install more sculptures. Sometimes it’s only once in place that the sculpture truly comes to life. It always looks so different than it did in the workshop! We think you’ll agree that this Giving Tree sculpture for Ronald McDonald House is one of them…

Giving tree sculpture for Ronald McDonald House, Oxford by Simon O'Rourke

About the Client

The Giving Tree sculpture was commissioned by Ronald McDonald House for their new house in Oxford. You can read more about the history at https://rmhc.org.uk/about/our-history/, but the goal of the charity is to build and run houses on or near hospital sites where children are treated for chronic conditions. They provide a safe space in which the families of the children in the hospital can get proper rest, away from the ward. For many families, this is the only way to be close to their child during cancer treatment.

The charity has grown a lot since the first house was built in 1974. There are now services in 64 countries! The first house in the UK was built in 1989. Since then, the charity has helped around 50,000 families – including some known to us.

Work in progress. A photo of the giving tree sculpture for Ronald McDonal house by simon O'Rourke.

Work in progress in the workshop

Where The Giving Tree Sculpture Began…

Ever since the first Ronald McDonald House opened in the UK, they have always had a “giving tree” of some description. Its purpose is to recognise donors and supporters of the Charity.  Usually, this would be a 2d piece of artwork. It was typically made out of a flat carved piece of wood, which was then mounted on a board on the wall. Plaques were then added to the leaves as people donated.
In 2016, they opened a new house to replace that first house at Guy’s. The new house was located right next to Archbishops Park in Lambeth in London and had a lovely big reception area. It seemed like a good idea to make more of the tree, and effectively bring the park into the House.  The architects researched sculptors and their work, and they felt Simon fit the bill!

giving tree sculpture by simon o'rourke at Ronald McDonald Evelina House

The Giving Tree at Evelina House, Simon’s first commission for Ronald McDonald House charities

A Tree for Every House!

A few months later Simon also created a similar smaller tree for their new Cardiff House. So, when it came to the new Oxford house, the charity reached out to Simon again.
Unfortunately, they had to remove a small number of trees from the site before they could start work to build the new house. This meant there was already a supply of timber for a new giving tree sculpture! And so, the charity commissioned him to remove one of those trees and change it into the new “giving tree” for the new house. So basically the tree has returned to where it started!

the 'giving tree sculpture' by Simon o'rourke. the photo shows the tree in simon's workshop while it is in progress

Work in progress in the workshop!

The Process

It would make sense to think that a tree is one of the easiest things for Simon to make. Well, it turns out that’s not quite true! There is actually quite a bit of work that goes into transforming a tree into a sculpture like this. That work is a combination of engineering, technical, and creative skill.

In this case, Simon needed to trim, remove, and replace branches so it would be a specific width and height. Meeting a specification is always important. Even more so however when the sculpture is being installed indoors. In addition, this particular sculpture was for the entrance area in the new house. This means foot traffic! Which in turn means ensuring there is enough space surrounding the tree for the foot traffic to maneuver!

branches for the giving tree sculpture by simon o'rourke

Recreating a Tree Continued…

Simon also needed to ensure the tree was easy to reassemble. No Ikea flatpack nightmares here!
The photo above shows the numbered branches on the workshop floor. Numbering parts in this way is extremely important. Where memory or a photo might be sufficient to get everything back in the right spot, numbers ensure that happens as quickly as possible. A definite bonus when they are working outside in the wind and rain!

Lastly, one of the most important parts of the process we’ll mention is one of the first things Simon does on every project. Stripping the bark. It sounds like something easy, but like many things in life, getting it right is actually a little more time-consuming. Compromising at this stage can impact the final result. So, if you are considering a similar project, you might find this article about stripping bark to be helpful.

the giving tree sculpture by simon o'rourke installed in ronald mcdonald oxford house

Installed in its New Home…

Simon installed the Giving Tree sculpture in the Ronald McDonald Oxford house earlier this month. Although the house hasn’t had its official opening yet, the first guests transferred from the old house at the end of April.  Staff, patients, and guests are already enjoying the sculpture. Parents have taken to it in a very positive way. Dads, in particular, seem to like the way it’s been formed, and staff from the charity have had comments around how it compliments the space it sits in.

One of the nice things about the Giving Tree sculpture is that it will continually evolve as leaves are added over time, each with the name of a donor engraved. This adds a bit more interest for regular guests as they see it change over time, and mirrors the growth and change of a living tree.

giving tree sculpture by simon o'rourke. the sculpture is photographed in the entrance to ronald mcdonald house, oxford

Speaking of Donors…

Speaking of leaves and donors! The fundraising for the Oxford house is far from finished…

The charity is still raising money to finish the house itself. Areas like the kitchen and rest areas need furnishing and equipping. They also need gardening equipment to be able to manage the grounds. Like many charities, they have found that Covid has impacted the number of donations they are receiving.

With the new house opening, the Oxford branch can support and accommodate around 2500 families a year – a massive increase on the capacity of the old house. If you would like to make a financial donation (and maybe be one of the first leaves!), visit https://rmhc.org.uk/donate/your-donation/.

Other Trees and Charities

This isn’t the first tree themed charity entrance piece Simon has created. As well as the other Giving Tree sculptures for Ronald McDonald House, Simon has created other bespoke pieces such as this sign for the Joshua Tree. Interestingly, they also work with families of children with cancer.

bespoke sign for the Joshua Tree centre by simon o'rourke

If you like the idea of having your own giving tree sculpture to honour donors to your charity, or even just a similar piece for your own home, do contact us. You can email Simon via the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ to talk about details, costing etc. Charities like the two we have mentioned do such incredible work, and it’s always a privilege for Simon to be involved in helping to create a beautiful environment for the people they serve.

Thank you to staff at Ronald McDonald House Charities for information and photos used in this blog.