Alnwick Garden keen to overcome perception of 'them and us'

The Alnwick Garden is making greater efforts to establish closer links with the wider town.

Sunday, 30th June 2019, 10:36 am
Mark Brassell, director at The Alnwick Garden. Picture by Jane Coltman

Rightly or wrongly, something of a ‘them and us’ attitude appears to have become lodged in the public consciousness.

The Alnwick Garden is keen to overcome that and its latest move is to develop a closer working relationship with Alnwick Chamber of Trade.

A view of The Alnwick Garden Picture by Jane Coltman

Mark Brassell, Alnwick Garden director, said: “I am not blind to the stuff I see on social media where we get a lot of stick.

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“I think there is a lot of momentum for change at the moment, a lot of excitement and energy and we want to be part of that.”

He is keen to develop the events programme at The Alnwick Garden, particularly around Hallowe’en and Christmas, when he believes visitors would spill over from the Garden to the town.

He will also look at signage issues following comments from the Chamber that more could be done to point Garden visitors in the direction of the town and its attractions.

A view of The Alnwick Garden Picture by Jane Coltman

“One of the first things you see when you walk on to Greenwell Lane is a public toilet which doesn’t help but I think the moving of the tourism office to the Playhouse will help draw more people to that area,” he said.

“I think it’s quite confusing for visitors who come out of the Garden and see car parks and a public toilet. I think that once that new facility opens it will be a really positive thing.”

He also outlined the positive work already being done in the community.

“The tourism industry in the North East, in general, is one where you make cash in the summer and spend it in the winter,” he said.

“If you haven’t got sound financial planning you can end up in the soup.

“We needed to create that financial stability at the Garden and that’s what we’ve been able to do over the last four years.

“We’re in a good place and have achieved a lot of our goals and are now setting our targets for the next four or five years.

“In recent years we have made a cash surplus which has gone back into the Garden or into the delivery of community programmes. It’s allowed us to massively increase our social impacts, such as the Elderberries drop-in centre which operates three times a week for over 55s.

“Looking forward we’ve just employed a head of community and education and the role is looking at how we improve our impacts on the community so we’re going to be launching a new drugs education programme.

“We’re looking to expand our Elderberries programme further and we’ve just employed an outreach gardener who is going to take a look of good we do in the Garden out into the community.

“We’re also looking to build on the award-winning team we’ve developed. It’s very easy to lose that. We want to keep moving forward, believing in each other and supporting each other.

“Commercially, we’ve transformed our catering offer across the site. We felt that was an area that was letting us down, particularly in the Pavilion.

“The Treehouse was not consistent so we’ve brought in a new catering partner, Searcys, who’ve recently started. They’ve brought a whole wealth of experience.

“We also want to transform our retail offer. It was a bit tired and needed a refresh.

“Does the shop represent what the Garden is all about, with its Poison Garden, Cherry Blossom and all the horticultural side?

“We felt it didn’t so we’re looking at how best we can showcase what the Garden is all about.

“At Alnwick Garden we’re committed to staying open all year round.

“A lot of gardens close in winter but we deliver our community programmes, particularly Elderberries which is all about loneliness and isolation.

“We’re probably like a lot of business owners here. We bleed money in the winter months.

“It probably makes financial sense for us to close but it’s not the right thing to do.

Lisa Aynsley, Chamber of Trade chairman, said: “We need to work on how to get more of the visitors to Alnwick Castle and Garden into the town.

“I think that signage is key. I think we need a bit of joined up thinking with the town council involved aswell.

“Tonight is about starting the conversation and getting rid of that ‘them and us’.

“Mark is very keen to get involved. These things do take time but starting now is good.

“If we could build on the Garden’s momentum for Hallowe’en and Christmas it could be very good for the town.”