Garden Organic outsources growing

by Rhiannon James

Ryton Organic Gardens

Garden Organic, the organic growing charity, has outsourced the maintenance of its flagship garden and transferred its research arm to a university.

Ryton Gardens in Coventry, the charity’s headquarters and showcase organic garden for 29 years, will be maintained by an outside contractor from this month. The charity’s in-house research function moved to Coventry University’s new Centre for Agroecology Water and Resilience (CAWR), which is based at Ryton Gardens, at the end of last year.

“The changes were necessary to ensure that the charity was focusing on its core charitable aims; we were spending too much of our income at our Ryton headquarters, and not enough in connecting with organic growers and potential new organic growers up and down the country,” says James Campbell, Garden Organic’s Chief Executive.

The contractor appointed by the charity, Newman Landscapes, will comply with Soil Association standards and Garden Organic Guidelines at Ryton Gardens but does not use organic methods for all clients.

Ryton Gardens’ visitor numbers and income have been declining for many years. The Council of Garden Organic chose to outsource maintenance of the gardens in preference to restricting public access to the gardens to certain times or areas or closing the gardens altogether. With respect to the charity’s in-house research, James said: “We certainly would have been faced with a very difficult decision had we not agreed an arrangement with Coventry University to create CAWR – it is likely that existing research provision would have been significantly scaled back.”

A consultation with Garden Organic members and supporters last year revealed that gardeners wanted to access information and advice locally and via channels such as the internet and social media rather than travelling to Ryton. As a result, the charity is now focusing on supporting organic growing groups around the country; creating a wider network of partner organic gardens; building links to other horticultural organisations with similar aims such as Plant Heritage, the Centre for Alternative Technology and The Herb Society and expanding the number of events and shows where it will be represented.  “We have an ambition to expand and enhance our Heritage Seed Library by working with interested partners in the UK regions to create regional seed collections, preserving regional and local horticultural heritage, and making these available locally,” adds James.

The charity will also be focusing more energy on its lobbying activities, in particular, campaigning to protect seeds and plants from potential EU regulation and representing organic interests in the drawing up of the National Pollinator Strategy.

There will be no cost savings from the outsourcing deal but the charity explained in a statement: “Contracting out allows us to benefit from economies of scale and efficient management practices, which means that our limited budget goes much further with an external contractor than in-house. This means we can have more of the gardens open for more of the time”.

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