The Group in the National Newsletter

This is an article written by the then Immediate Past Chair of the Group for the November 2020 issue of the National Newsletter.

HISTORY

Formed in 1989, we have grown steadily since. We have around 100 members across south Wales. Traditionally, we met monthly, from October to April, near Bridgend, for talks, plant sales and the chance to chat about gardens. In the summer we arrange “outdoor” activities including visits to gardens and coach trips further afield. Every other year, we have a weekend trip to somewhere we can’t reach in a day, book into a hotel and travel to visit gardens in the area; there is also a programme of evening talks.

COVID-19

Of course, 2020 would just happen to be a “weekend away” year which put us on the spot, thanks to lockdown. I think back to our last “physical” committee meeting in March where we knew things were going to get difficult but a couple of hours of head-banging ended with a plan to at least do what we could. By the time we arrived home, everything had changed. And that’s how things are today. In a sense, the committee has morphed into a “rapid reaction force”. We want to arrange activities but need to be ready to make changes as things change.

The majority of our membership falls into the “at risk” category – I like to think of us being “antique” because we’re valuable rather than “old”! We know our members want to “meet” but are understandably reluctant to meet indoors.

A lot of work went into planning this year’s weekend away. Rather than waste that, we managed to defer. If things allow, we’re ready to go next June but can move things around again. In between lockdowns we’ve managed to arrange an afternoon at a member’s garden and we’re planning at least one more garden meeting for the spring. We’re also identifying public gardens with a view to inviting members to pop along, even if that involves shouting at each other from 6ft apart.

For many members, Zoom is something weirdly technical but we’re dipping our toes in the water later in the year. It’ll be informal but if people get on with it, we will look at organising more sessions. We’ve ramped up our communications – frequent email circulations plus a web site. For those without email/internet , we’ve increased the frequency of by-post newsletters. There’s an “if we can, we will” approach. We’re ready and willing to innovate.

GROUP FINANCES

We don’t have crystal balls so we don’t know what the new normality will be or when. It’s difficult to recruitnew members when we’re doing everything remotely. Our membership subscription (currently £6 a year) covers admin costs but nor accommodation hire and speakers costs for meetings. We rely on fundraising which has been a no-no. Fortunately we have a healthy “reserve” and, of course, aren’t incurring meeting costs. We’ve piggybacked on someone else’s Zoom account so haven’t had to pay for a subscription whilst we sort it out. Members have stepped in to help out with the bank balance – one has been running plant sales from her drive in the summer and has raised over £300. Do money isn’t a worry. The main challenge is keeping the spirit of the group alive.

THE FUTURE

There will be challenges, irrespective of Covid-19. Societal changes mean gardens are getting smaller. The proportion of people living in accommodation without gardens increases. Time becomes more precious and there isn’t enough for long term gardening – achieving colour becomes more of a quick fix than devoting a few years to plants. Our traditional indoor meetings revolve around the “guest speaker”. We may be enthralled but others may not be interested in lengthy talks. Maybe we should look at something like the standard 10-minute YouTube type of clip. But will adapting to these changes be a step too far for our current members? Are groups like ours going to suffer an unavoidable gradual, slow decline?

In the early 70s, Johnny Nash sang about More Questions than Answers. Perhaps that’s a statement that applies just as much today.

John Kingdon