Plans had to be drawn up, reworked and then changed again to cover all possible outcomes, and there are now signs of fatigue in volunteer organizations as the staff and people who freely give their time to support them are now weakening in line with the demands that have been entrusted to them, although the resilience, determination and innovation of our volunteers continues to inspire.
Financial concerns are also limited, with more charities chasing less funding. Like many charities, my own organisation, the Scottish Gardens Scheme, which has raised money for over 90 years by opening gardens for a wide variety of good causes, has seen our income drop and with nearly all openings canceled in 2020 we are plunged into to our reserve to keep running. We are incredibly fortunate to have this resource, which has been supported by a generous legacy in the past.
But challenge can also bring rewards, and in a way, the pandemic has moved us forward as well. We have used the time we would normally spend working with garden owners, organizing charity open houses to improve our social media presence and as a result we have expanded our audience to include people we would not reach with our traditional guides and leaflets. As a result, we have a new generation of visitors, volunteers, and gardeners willing to open their sites to the public in support of their local charities and those funded by SGS.
We also took advantage of the self-isolation regime to introduce pre-booking and card payment systems. Over 400 gardens open every year to support our fundraising and provide a card payment system that works at every garden gate, which has proven to be a very complex operation, but now that we have tried it, we know how it works and where it is needed.
The demand for a card payment system was driven by one of our volunteers who stood firmly behind the project and decided that it should work. And this is where philanthropy is such an advantage, because volunteers bring passion, energy and a wide range of skills to what we do.
Our volunteers have proven to be very flexible and when they couldn’t open their own gardens they switched to filming and posting them online, which in turn brought us an audience around the world. When the rules were relaxed, they devised ways to safely open their gardens, thus bringing joy to the many thousands of people who enjoyed visiting the gardens, which range in size from small suburban lots to large estates. And it was a privilege for philanthropy to be involved in something that brought people closer to nature when they needed it most, as well as realizing that sense of community that proved vital while the whole country was struggling.
What surprised me most, however, is that despite the uncertainty and constant rethinking of plans, very few of our dedicated neighborhood organizers, their local teams, and the garden owners themselves have given up, and our 2022 guide is as brimming with beautiful gardens to visit as this one. was before the pandemic. Now all we need is for the sun to shine and our fundraising efforts for The Queens Nursing Institute Scotland, Maggie’s and Perennial and hundreds of local charities can begin again.
Liz Stewart is the national organizer of the Scottish Garden Scheme, which has been raising funds for charity through the opening of gardens since 1931.