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Denise Clement

Denise Clement Operational Policy Team Manager

Be Inspired Series

Stephen McFarland

Display And Exhibitions Supervisor
Hillmount Garden Centre

Forty-five year old Steven has been with the company for 18 years. Prior to that he owned a hairdressing business for 10 years and left school at 16 with four O-Levels. He lives with his wife Janine and their son and daughter, aged 20 and 15.


It's time to leave home and travel to work. Fortunately for me I only live 15 minutes away.


Arrive at Hillmount and check the dairy to see what duties are lined up for the day.


Leave Hillmount and travel to Queen’s University to clear out the decorations from the graduation ceremony. I’m responsible for working with clients to create planters for corporate events, businesses, weddings and exhibitions including events like The Balmoral Show. I liaise with the client to ensure we provide their colour schemes and flower choices.

Arrive at Queen’s with a colleague and remove the tubs and flowerboxes — some of which are quite heavy and require two of us to lift them. We also use the box trailer as well as the van as there is an extensive array of equipment to be removed. Once we’re all packed up it's time to return to Hillmount, tea break here we come.

Tea break, and a much needed snack and a well-deserved cup of tea in Hillmount’s Gardeners Rest Café. It's good to sit down for a rest, however time does not stop and it's soon time to start back to work.

I start unloading the van and place the tubs and boxes in the greenhouse where they were created. Then the process of stripping out the planters begins. This can take some time to complete as the plants have to be treated with care.


Today is the start of my biggest project of the year — setting up Santa’s Grotto. The Hillmount grotto is very well known and every year parents travel from far and wide to bring their children to see Santa and the grotto. The reaction from the children who visit the grotto makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Time to see what the Gardeners Rest has on for lunch today — gammon, potatoes and vegetables — looks good. This is washed down with another well deserved cup of tea. Again, another great meal, but as always lunch is over quickly and it's time to start back in the grotto.

Starting off with the basics, the Christmas trees are made up and the lights are put on, while various other items are put on walls including lightup signs and curtain lights. Next it’s time for the animated figures to be set into place and artificial rocks are added to give the scene extra height and depth. A quick check to ensure they are working, then more lights are put down on ground level. Rolls of artificial snow are cut and placed around the figures and trees. With the lights at ground level this gives the impression of twinkling snow. The kids love this. The front of the scene gets a low fence put on and shiny tinsel is draped along it. Now all that’s left is one scene to complete.

It’s time to start the next scene but in between all this festive excitement customer’s requests and other day to day duties need to be attended to.

I meet with this year’s chosen charities to discuss how they will manage the Grotto with volunteers. Our charities are Belfast Operatic Company and Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children. I first heard of the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children this year when my wife was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. We found a leaflet at the hospital offering support for young people whose families have been affected by cancer and decided to contact them to see if they could help our daughter Nikita through this difficult time.

They have helped enormously through counselling and the residential support they provide including their log cabin ‘Narnia’ in Newcastle. Support is still ongoing and I was delighted to have the honour of setting up Santa’s Grotto this year to raise funds for them.

After the meeting I go back to working on another scene.


Another scene nearly complete but it's time to finish up for the day. I will go home and dream up more ideas for the Grotto for tomorrow which must be finished for Santa’s arrival.


Arrive home and greeted, as always, with a big smile by my wife. Once I freshen up it’s time for dinner — chicken dinner with stuffing tonight.

The kids are studying in their bedrooms so my wife and I take time to catch up on today’s events before settling down to watch television for half an hour.


I have converted our garden shed into my studio so I go out there and spend two or three hours painting. I’m working on painting a lion at the moment.


Time for a quick cuppa before bed.

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