Monday 13 April 2015

Why I'm not renewing my membership to the RHS

I'm not renewing my membership to the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society). Here's my top five reasons why.

1. Cost
A yearly subscription for one person is now £55 or £41.25 if you sign up as direct debit. As a renewing member though, it would be £47. This is expensive even if you have a job (well above minimum wage that is). I called to find out if they offered reduced rates for the unemployed or low waged. No, they don't. So I cannot afford to renew my subscription now I'm not working. I guess they don't want poor people visiting or making the most of their 'benefits'.

2. The Garden magazine
It's alright, has some interesting articles occasionally. But the focus is on big gardens, people with money. I'm finding myself increasingly alienated by what I read in the magazine. Even when they do focus on small gardens, I a) question their definition of a small garden (1 acre isn't small, 7m x 5m is small, a balcony is small); and b) find when they do include a small garden, say courtyard size, it's almost always of someone who has lots of money to spend on design, materials and plants.

3. Peat
The RHS still refuse to go peat free. Just before writing this post I did a search on the RHS website for 'policy on peat'. Nothing came up. I did a Google search, same criteria. I found something. No, I didn't, as when I clicked on it I got a 'sorry, we couldn't find that page'. Going from the Google search I can see they used to have a policy on peat, but don't any more. Hummmm

4. Benefits
As alluded to in point 1, I question the 'benefits' of being a member.
*So you get the magazine, which is interesting enough, but as I said, focuses on big gardens etc.

*You get to visit their gardens for free as many times as you like during the year. Great if you live close to one, which I don't. Or you can access one via good regular public transport, which is unlikely (see 5 below).

*You can visit partner gardens. Great. Oh, wait. I discovered (personal conversations) that some partner gardeners run at a loss on they days they take part in the RHS partner scheme. They can get lots of visitors on that day, demanding visitors that though they got in for free, are horrified to find they have to pay for a cup of tea, and and complain about the cost of plants, as apparently £4.50 for a good quality plant is expensive (it's not). I don't feel comfortable knowing that my visit might negatively impact on the garden I'm visiting. So finding it hard to see this as the benefit I once thought it was.

5. Their new garden and public transport access
The RHS is is planning a new garden, somewhere between Birmingham and Manchester. Great. Oh, but a key criteria is 'easy access to the UK road network' (The Garden, April 2015, p. 67). Yes, that's 'road network' not 'public transport network'. I questioned this on Twitter today and was told they need access to roads for large deliveries including building materials. Because apparently organisations and venues in cities can never get large deliveries including building materials. Oh wait...

Instead of seizing the opportunity to include public transport access as a key part of their planning criteria, they will 'encourage' individuals to visit by public transport. If you aren't putting public transport access at the top of any criteria, you aren't encouraging people, you are passing the buck. And no, an hourly bus service is NOT good access to public transport. Anyone who has ever waited for an 'once an hour' bus will know that they are not reliable and you can end up waiting for another hour. As a current example, you can visit RHS Harlow Carr and get a bus from Harrogate Bus Station. Yay. Oh, wait, it only runs once an hour. And not on Sundays or public holidays. Hummmm.

I was advised on Twitter that they would look into what part public transport plays in their key criteria and get back to me. So will state up front, that if public transport is part of the key criteria, AND once open clearly has good public transport access, I will publicly apologise (on this Blog and on Twitter). I say once open as stating that it's a key criteria and seeing it publicly realised are two very different things.

Update on point 5:
Amazingly, the RHS Twitter person did get back to me quickly with a response on the public transport issue. I'm so used to organisations on Twitter saying they will get back to me but never doing so (usually not even several weeks later), that I just assumed they wouldn't. So my apologies to the RHS on this. To the right is their response, which is (to paraphrase):

"...identified the need for good public transport links with, in addition, opportunities to work with other local attractions to see if we can run joint transport 'ventures' sustainably to all locations. This is a key part of the criteria when choosing our 5th garden."

It's a pity this wasn't mentioned in the article in The Garden. To me, the fact that it wasn't, and that I had to go searching for it (no link in the article to say 'read full criteria here', for example) still suggests that public transport isn't as a key criteria as other key criteria. As I said, stating that it's a key criteria and seeing it publicly realised are two very different things. I really hoped to be proved wrong and be forced to issue an apology.

I think this is enough reasons to be going on with.

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