Why we decided to stay open in the middle of a pandemic.

The weeks leading up to lockdown were some of the most creative and dynamic periods of our business. Guidance was changing at a rate of knots, Mother’s Day was looming, one of our busiest days of the year and the sun was shining. Could we just hold on long enough to get through Mother’s Day weekend?

Tables were moved out of the café, menus were simplified, takeaway cartons and sanitiser purchased, and staff retrained all in an evening just to get through the weekend safely but remain open. It was exhausting and exhilarating…and then lockdown was announced.

We began Monday morning with our regular team meeting. What to do, how would we keep going? Should we keep going!

And that is when we decided…to do nothing.

We opened the gates at 10am as we do everyday but no announcement, no official line, no advertising. The garden continued to embrace spring and we had work to do. Most of our volunteer team insisted that they wanted to continue to come in and tend to their projects. Plants needed watering and feeding, things needed planting, streams needed clearing. In 60 acres we had already mastered solitary working.

Initially we saw a small selection of regulars who walked or cycled to the garden, fathers and sons taking a break from home schooling, dogwalkers and families with no gardens to escape to. We sat on the gate and welcomed them all with open arms. We didn’t take any payment in the early days of lockdown but found everyday our honesty box was filling up with donations towards the garden. We were selling more season tickets than ever before as a way of the local community supporting what were doing. We felt confident that we were providing a unique and calming space for our community to unwind and relax, the perfect antidote to what was happening, and they were helping us, The garden was singing, the pink, white bluebells had never looked more abundant, the rhododendrons fuller, the azaleas smelling sweeter and word of mouth was working overtime. Advertising in its truest form, straight from the customers mouths, on Facebook and Instagram and over garden fences.

We could really take time to engage with our customer base like never before. We reassessed our priorities and discovered our creativity, our ingenuity and we just kept going.

We continue to open the gate at 10am every morning.

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