Ryton Gardens Q&A - Updated 25th September 2018

  • Last updated: 23 November 2022
To help address some of the common questions around the current review process of the site at Ryton, below are a selection of the questions we have been asked in recent weeks, with our responses.

If you have any queries not covered here, or want to let us know your view, please do continue to send them to questions@gardenorganic.org.uk.
Ryton garden in November

If Coventry University buy the Ryton site will the charity be moving?
The location of the charity is still under discussion. Wherever the charity is based there will be provisions for the Heritage Seed Library, including the ‘grow out’ space, seed preparation and storage facilities, and the charity will have some way of demonstrating organic growing. If a move is required the Trustees have made a commitment to remain locally based to enable existing staff to be retained.

Have you ruled out all other options?
Until any change is confirmed, no options have been ruled out however working with Coventry University is definitely the preferred option for the charity.

I understand the site has been registered as an Asset of Community Value, what impact does this have on the process?
Ealier this year we were notified that an application to register part of the site - the organic gardens and other growing spaces - had been submitted to Rugby Borough Council. This application is currently under review.

Registering a property as an Asset of Community Value means that the owner must follow certain rules if they decide to sell that property. Should the registration as an Asset of Community Value stand following the current review, we will ensure that we follow all legal requirements.

Why are you considering options for the Ryton site now- is the charity in financial difficulty?
The charity isn’t in immediate financial difficulty, however, in the longer term, we believe it may be if proactive action is not taken to stem the running costs of the whole Ryton site (including the land and buildings beyond the public gardens). Running costs are increasing year on year and considerable investment in infrastructure is required to ensure it remains fit for purpose, investment money which the charity unfortunately does not have.

The Trustees signed off a deficit budget for 2017 and again for 2018, at which point they acknowledged that we needed to review our income and expenditure. A sub-group of trustees started to look at the ways the charity could prosper in the longer term and to report their findings back to the full Board. Following many months of investigation the Board decided to explore what options the charity has for the site.

The increasing costs of the site at Ryton are limiting our ability to operate to our full potential. The site is expensive to run and means that we are unable to deliver as many activities as we would like in other parts of the country where we believe we could make a real difference. If we do not address the costs of running Ryton now, as time goes on we are likely to need to reduce the amount we spend on other aspects of our work across the country. In addition visitor numbers have been in decline for over a decade as, due in part to the success of Ryton Gardens, there are now many different sites across the country where organic gardening can be seen in practice. This means that the costs of the garden and wider site are increasingly disproportionate to the charitable benefits they deliver.

If the charity were to continue managing the gardens in their current form, costs would have to be cut elsewhere. The question that this review will address is where the organisation’s funds are best spent to deliver the maximum benefit in getting more people growing organically.

What is the vision for the future of Garden Organic?
Take organic growing out into communities
- We need to take organic growing directly to the gardens and allotments of the UK. We know that many people who want to learn about organic growing live too far from Ryton, or simply don’t have the means to get here so we need to do more to go to them. We would like to work more locally with our beneficiaries and partners, whether they be Garden Organic members, local groups, Master Composters, Master Gardeners, school children, horticultural therapy clients, visitors to organic gardens, HSL members, or domestic growers. We know that we could use our expertise to support existing projects or start new ones to get more people growing organically, but at the moment we are limited to specific geographical locations where we can secure external funding. Our long term aspiration is to be able initiate our own projects where the need is greatest.

Support local groups and organisations - There are some fantastic organisations and groups across the country supporting the environment and local communities. We would like to do our bit to support them with organic growing. From helping a public garden to switch to organic management, to providing more advice and resources to members and to our local groups, or helping to establish a local group in a new area. We know that when we provide organic growing advice specific to someone’s growing space and local climate there is far more chance of them following it.

Increase campaigning and lobbying - We would also like to increase our campaigning. We would like to do more to raise awareness in the general public of the potential dangers of pesticide use and the alternatives open to people. We would love to do more to lobby the garden centre industry to stock more organic alternatives and look more closely at the methods and interventions used in their supply chain. We know that most gardeners would choose an organic product to control pests or improve their gardens if they were given a little more knowledge and choice.

Enhance the Heritage Seed Library - We are keen to do more to collect ‘at risk’ varieties from around the UK, and help return the varieties we have back to their original location. This is a vital source of genetic resource and we must continue to maintain and grow it.

These are just a selection of our long-term aspirations. They will take many years to achieve but unless we tackle the costs of the Ryton site, the charity will struggle to do any of these things.

How are the costs of the site currently covered?
The full Ryton site generates an annual deficit of around £250,000. We have tried to reduce this deficit by doing things such as leasing out the surplus office space, but the deficit continues to increase as costs rise year on year. As for all of us, utility bills are rising by more than inflation; old buildings need expensive renovation and repair and infrastructure needs considerable investment.

As a charity we have to use our unrestricted income, such as your membership subscriptions, donations and legacies, to cover this deficit. However, this income is also needed to cover the costs of the running the charity, and activities such as the Heritage Seed Library, producing The Organic Way magazine, providing members’ advice, writing organic growing information and advice, spreading the word about organic growing at events, and supporting our outreach work. As the site costs increase, we will have to spend less and less of members’ subscriptions and donations on these activities and more on addressing the site deficit.

Currently, we are heavily dependent on generous legacies and donations. We need to be in a position where legacy income is not required to cover running costs. This income is difficult to predict and can, understandably, come with restrictions on how it should be spent. If this income was not required to cover running costs, when we did receive a generous gift of this kind we could use it to undertake extra work that will deliver the most charitable benefit.

What is my membership subscription supporting?
Your membership helps support the full breadth of the charity’s work, including managing the organic gardens, conservation of heritage and heirloom vegetable varieties through the Heritage Seed Library, our work sharing advice and information on organic growing, our campaigning on matters important to organic growers, our work supporting organic food growing in schools, our Master Composters and Master Gardeners, our education work around the UK and all the associated running costs.

What will the impact be on the Heritage Seed Library?
Any change will ensure that our work conserving this unique collection of genetic resource is protected and will continue.

What was the impact on membership when the gardens at Yalding were closed?
The following is an excerpt from a report submitted to the Board of Trustees in May 2008 following the closure of the gardens at Yalding:

17 Members in Medway area have cancelled their membership with immediate effect since the closure of Yalding on 4 March 2008. These are members who live in the Medway area and who contacted our membership department and cancelled their membership in direct response to the closure of Yalding.

29 Members have cancelled their membership from Kent & East Sussex areas. These are members who may have cancelled their membership as a result of the closure of Yalding.

Will the site be sold?
A sale is one of the options being considered, along with a partial sale or partnership. The Board of Trustees, as with all charities, has a legal responsibility to ensure the best outcome for the charity is secured, taking into account our charitable aims, the requirements of members, beneficiaries, and all others associated with or impacted by the charity.

Are the gardens closing?
Until we know how this may develop the gardens will remain open to visitors as usual.

Will the charity retain a demonstration garden?
At the moment no decision has been made about having a demonstration garden, either at Ryton, at a new location, or through arrangements with multiple partner gardens. This will be considered along with all our charitable work. Through our partnerships and outreach work we are demonstrating organic growing in community gardens, public gardens, schools and allotments across the UK.

It has been suggested that the gardens have been deliberately run down, is this the case?
This is certainly not the case, in fact we think the gardens are looking particularly good at the moment. We have a team of skilled gardeners, supported by fantastic volunteers who all work tirelessly to keep the gardens looking good. Last year we updated our signage to help visitors learn about organic growing methods and we have a number of fun, curriculum-linked activities for visiting children.

Will the Garden Organic offices be moving?
At the moment we don’t know, but if we do have to relocate our head office it will be done locally, to ensure it is still within easy reach for employees and volunteers.

Why do you not put more effort into using the gardens to generate income for the charity?
Over the years the charity has tried a number of different ways to increase visitor numbers to the site, including through a partnership with Webbs of Wychbold and through heavily marketing the gardens. We have also tried to manage the costs of the site by leasing out surplus buildings and closing some parts of the gardens to the public. Unfortunately, none of these actions have resulted in a financially viable site and it still requires investment of charitable funds which we believe could be better used elsewhere to deliver against our charitable aims.

Events such as Potato Day and Apple Day are now commonplace across the UK. This is positive for the organic movement as a whole and means that more people can access these events, including those who simply don’t have the means to travel to Ryton. It has meant however, that these events are no longer the draw they used to be. They do not attract enough visitors to the Ryton site to make them viable, and were loss-making for many years. They were also not fully organic. Nevertheless we continue to help promote local potato days across the country and the events of our local group members.

What impact will this have on the courses you offer?
Our courses are an essential way to pass on the detailed expertise held by the Garden Organic team. We attract hundreds of attendees here each year, but we also hear from many enthusiastic growers who are keen to learn but unable to attend a course at Ryton. In 2017 we trialled running our courses at a different venue – Dumfries House in Scotland – and offering coures in more venues across the UK is something we would like to prioritise in the future. In the meantime we have a full schedule of courses running for 2018, including a number of new ones.

How can I give feedback on this review?
We would like to hear from all of our members on this issue to help inform the decision-making process. All comments - positive, negative and indifferent – are important to give us the overview of our full membership base. Members can email questions@gardenorganic.org.uk or write to The Board of Trustees, Garden Organic, Ryton Gardens, Wolston Lane, Coventry, CV8 3LG.

What will happen to the memorials within the garden?
In this sensitive situation we will remain in close contact with families and friends involved to keep them updated.

What are the timescales for any changes?
We don’t know at present, but we do know it will be a complex process. We will continue to provide updates as and when we can.

What will happen between now and when a decision is made?
It is business-as-usual at Garden Organic. Nothing will change immediately and all our work will carry on as usual. If you have any questions about the impact on a specific project please get in touch with your normal point of contact at Garden Organic or email questions@gardenorganic.org.uk.

How will you keep everyone updated?
As and when there is any update we will post this within the news pages of our website, www.gardenorganic.org.uk/news. We will also include information in our monthly email newsletter, which you can sign up to here, and in The Organic Way members’ magazine. You can ask a question, or request an update at any point by emailing questions@gardenorganic.org.uk or writing to us at the address above.