30 July 2018

Dr Joe Kavanagh receives Professor Robert Boucher Distinguished Alumni Award 2018

In recognition of his dedication to giving so much back to our city and in helping to restore the Sheffield Botanical Gardens as a jewel in Sheffield’s crown, we are proud to honour Joseph Kavanagh with the 2018 Professor Robert Boucher Distinguished Alumni Award.

Joe Kavanagh collecting his Distinguished Alumni Award with Rosemary Boucher

For over 20 years Dr Joe Kavanagh (MBChB Medicine 1978) has been a committed volunteer. He is a driving force within the Sheffield Botanical Gardens Trust, which has worked tirelessly to restore, maintain and improve the 19-acre grounds.

Listed by English Heritage as a Grade II site of special historic and architectural interest, the Gardens are enjoyed by University students, staff, Sheffielders and visitors alike. Dr Kavanagh’s persistence has helped to ensure that they are a real jewel in Sheffield’s crown.

Joe Kavanagh was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and came to the UK with his parents when he was just three, growing up in Nottinghamshire. He came to study at Sheffield after his sixth form chemistry teacher told him that he would be a great doctor, and it was here that he met his future wife Pam, who was also studying medicine.

Upon graduating Joe joined the Swallownest Health Centre in Aston cum Aughton near Rotherham – a true village GP practice where he stayed for 35 years until his retirement in 2014 having enjoyed an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling career serving a community.

Today, the Sheffield Botanical Gardens are loved and admired by everyone in Sheffield – particularly the University community – and attract visitors from all over the world. Located between the Student Village and the University campus, they cover a 19-acre site with 15 different garden areas.

As a student, Joe would go there on sunny days to enjoy the beauty of nature. He was therefore stunned when he re-visited the gardens in the late 1980s to discover how neglected they had become.

Deeply saddened, Joe offered his help with a fundraising campaign to restore the Gardens, and became a founding member of the Sheffield Botanical Gardens Trust (SBGT) together with Dr Sue Kohler, the chair of the Friends of the Botanical Gardens, Sheffield and a former lecturer in our Department of Landscape.

Their first task was an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. This was successful but required a huge ‘match’. The initial requirements of the fledgeling Trust were therefore to raise the £1.22 million required as matched funding – to release the £5.06 million Heritage Lottery Grant – and to manage the accumulated funds’ tax effectively.

Thanks to the generosity of a great many donors, the £1.22 million was raised. At the time, the Gardens were the only public open space in the country where the voluntary sector raised more than £1 million in matched funding.

In 1999, the Earl of Scarbrough declared the first phase of the restoration open – of the Archway, the South Lodge and the Curator’s House. On 1 September 2003, the restored pavilions were officially opened by HRH The Prince of Wales. Restoration work continued – and the final elements were finished in November 2005.

The Gardens were formally opened by Michael Palin, one of the Patrons of the Trust. Most recently, Joe led a major campaign to build a new Education Centre in the Gardens, which has also been supremely successful. The three-year project raised over £650,000.

The new Dorothy Fox Education Centre was officially opened last year by The Duke of Devonshire, a Patron of the SBGT and a good friend of this University.

Joe became the Chair of SBGT in 2010, but throughout this period he has consistently shown commitment and leadership, particularly with interactions with the City Council leadership and staff, ensuring that the charity operates efficiently and that fundraising is on-going.

He continues to devote considerable energy, diplomacy, persistence and hard work to the Gardens – to the benefit of us all.

In recognition of his dedication to giving so much back to our city and in helping to restore the Sheffield Botanical Gardens as a jewel in Sheffield’s crown, we are proud to honour Joseph Kavanagh with the 2018 Professor Robert Boucher Distinguished Alumni Award.

The Professor Robert Boucher Distinguished Alumni Award

The Professor Robert Boucher Distinguished Alumni Award, for alumni of the University, is named in honour of the late former Vice-Chancellor Professor Robert Boucher.

Professor Boucher had a great interest in alumni relations and gave so much to the city of Sheffield over a period of 40 years. He fully appreciated the important contribution that alumni continue to play in the life of a University and was responsible for establishing the University's Development and Alumni Relations Office in 2002.