52 Things - Number 38: Run an Open Gardens event

Overview and Background:

An excellent and innovative way of boosting your community could be through the relatively simple idea of an ‘Open Gardens’ event, as discovered by Kirkby Fleetham Village Hall in the scenic Hambleton, North Yorkshire.

The approach: 

It is based around members of the village making their gardens open to the public for a day, providing them with maps, selling refreshments, and allowing people to make their way around on a garden tour.

Jean Morley, of Kirkby Fleetham’s committee, explains how it came about: “Early in the year, we invited everyone in our parish, who felt they may have a garden that could be enjoyed by others, to open their garden to visitors over the afternoons of the first weekend in July. We hoped for at least 6 gardens to sign up, but we were delighted to have 9. This was more than enough for our visitors to walk around on a warm July weekend.”

The purpose of the Open Gardens in this instance was to raise money for the village hall extension, but on a larger scale it was to encourage cross-participation between the three villages that made up the parish, encouraging them to join in with each other’s events and work together more often.

The village hall worked with the local Church to pull off the event, leaving them in charge of cakes and refreshments, which they did brilliantly: “We organised the garden element and they did all the catering. I think it worked really well and we have subsequently done more events with them. We share profits!” explains Jean.

This is a great example of what can be achieved when different local groups pull together, and the Open Gardens event could be an excellent option for your community. The broad appeal of the garden aspect, coupled with the time of year and a little community spirit, mean such an event could end up becoming an annual occurrence – as has happened in Kirkby Fleetham.

This is largely down to the overwhelming success of the event, which generated £1700 for the village hall and the Church. “We charged £2.50 for visitors to go all around the different gardens. They purchased a ticket at the village hall and were given a map of all 9 locations. We made sure quality refreshments were available, for example another £2.50 bought a tea or coffee and a slice of homemade cake.” This was helped on by seeking donations from local supermarkets, such as baking ingredients, so this is another avenue that can be explored when organising such an event.


What next: 

Kirkby Fleetham is happy to help anyone else that is considering an event of a similar nature. They have been greatly successful in recent times, over 18 months raising £30,000 locally from activities and another £50,000 from grants and funding to go towards their new extension, set to open Spring 2015. They have held Open Gardens events since, hope to run another one this year, and are planning a range of other activities over the next year. These include a Stock Market Evening, a Safari Supper and a Race Night. They have also recently run a Murder Mystery night – another of the 52 Things you could try – and made £1000 from this from the sale of tickets and catering for 60 people.

Of course, such ideas rely on the hard work of volunteers, and there can sometimes be problems in recruiting more manpower or resources. Jean says we should not underestimate the passion and expertise that exists in our midst: “One thing we have learned is that most people in our community will do anything to help if asked. They may not volunteer, but ask them for something specific, play to their strengths, and they are fantastic.”