The organic gardening charity Garden Organic/GO (formerly the Henry Doubleday Research Association/HDRA) recently put the entire Garden Organic site, including its long-established public demonstration gardens, at Ryton-on-Dunsmore in Warwickshire, up for sale.
This move has come as a shock to many of its members and to other long-time supporters and advocates. In September 2017 GO sent a letter to its members stating
‘…our Board of Trustees has asked Garden Organic’s management team to look at the options for the Ryton site that are in the best interest of the long-term future of the charity… We will be exploring all possible options for the site, but we need to release the financial pressure that comes with owning and managing the land and buildings… Whatever happens in the future, we will keep you informed every step of the way.’
The full text of the letter can be found here.
Since the sale of Ryton Organic Gardens was ‘discovered’ on an estate agent’s website a few weeks ago, there has been a growing call from a wide spectrum of people for GO’s management and board of trustees to explain exactly what they are up to. The promise of keeping people informed has clearly not been honoured. I have not heard or seen any evidence that the 20K members of GO have been asked this direct question: ‘Do you agree that we should sell the GO site, including Ryton Organic Gardens? Yes or no?’
The closing date for offers by ‘Informal Tender’ is 15 February 2018.
The first many GO members heard about this profound ‘decision’ was via social media, not from GO itself. ‘Exploring all possible options’ and then quietly moving to sell off the physical and spiritual home of the UK’s leading organic gardening charity are poles apart. It displays an apparent lack of foresight, vision or any sign of an ability to manage or engage with a move that was bound to attract controversy.
At the time of writing, GO’s management and trustees are still refusing to engage directly or adequately with the considerable number of people who are questioning this action. It’s hard to know whether this is sheer incompetence in knowing how to respond (GO recently declined to take part in a BBC local radio discussion) or whether ‘radio silence’ is part of a deliberate, albeit misguided strategy.
This email sent to GO volunteers last week appears to point to the latter:
[‘Julie’ – Julie Court, Finance Director, Garden Organic; ‘Steve’ – Steve Thomson, Operations Director, Garden Organic]
Three words came to mind when I was passed this: patronising, disdainful and disingenuous. Is outrage, upset and concern really ‘negative talk’? ‘… comments are from only a small number of people, many of whom are familiar faces.’ Really? Is that how the management and trustees of this once respected organisation view the deep and legitimate concerns – the ‘moans and groans’ – of a growing number of people, whether they’re ‘familiar’ or not? Is it wise for GO to try and spin any opposition as the niggles of a few troublemakers with nothing better to do with their time?
john [at] earthfriendlygardener [dot] net