For the last several years, brilliant people have run sponsored races in aid of SARSVL, raising much-needed cash to support the women and girls of Leeds.

2020 was a year that put pause to this, with the pandemic bringing huge change, sadness, uncertainty, and radical shifts in the way we live, work, and deliver our services. It was also, amongst all of this, the year SARSVL lost one of our beloved founding sisters, Mary Swan, to cancer.

This year, as we collectively emerge and find a way to ‘return’ to some of what we knew before, Richard Austin will be running the Yorkshire Marathon in October 2021 in memory of Mary, and raising funds for us in the process.

Mary joined the Steering Group of SARSVL from our first ever public meeting in early 2009 and was absolutely vital and integral to the first years of our development and establishment, and to everything we have since become. In particular, she brought her wide, rich and deep range of knowledge, expertise and experience to the helpline and training teams.

She taught and gave us all so much, and also remained a dear friend to many SARSVL women throughout the rest of her life.

Unsurprisingly, Mary’s incredible mentorship and support wasn’t limited to her work at SARSVL. After a rich career in academia, holding the position of Director of Studies at the Leeds Institute for Medieval Studies from 1996-2011, Mary retrained as a highly successful garden designer, during which time she met and befriended Richard Austin, founder of Leeds-based garden design company, Austin’s Gardens.

Richard says: ‘I’m running the marathon in memory of my lovely friend Mary Swan who sadly died last year. We were introduced by a lovely couple that run a well-respected plant nursery in Halifax and first met when Mary and John gave me a lift to a Piet Oudolf lecture in Sheffield. We went for a bite to eat beforehand and I was struck by how funny Mary was. We then had semi-regular meet ups for coffee or at CPD days and always had a laugh. Mary was a founder of SARSVL, a talented Garden Designer and all-round wonderful person – empathetic, fiercely intelligent and (at times) brilliantly silly. I am proud to say I was friends with someone who helped set up such an important organisation as SARSVL.’

In the months after her diagnosis, Mary requested Richard take over the teaching of her regular ‘Design Your Own Garden’ course at the Bowery café in Headingley, meaning this aspect of her legacy of teaching, sharing, and growing lives on.

If you would like to donate in Mary’s honour, or simply want to support Richard in his efforts for us, you can do so via his JustGiving page here:

We also have a page in memory of Mary on our website here, which we would love to continue growing. If you have a memory of Mary that you’d like included, please share it with us by emailing