Kidderminster Horticultural Society in the Press
With one cancelled trip in 25 years and a constantly jam-packed programme of day trips, events and holidays, we ask vice-chairman of the Kidderminster Horticultural Society, David West, just how he manages it.
Group name: Kidderminster Horticultural Society
Length of time organising: 25 years
Based in: Kidderminster, North Worcestershire
Favourite destination: The Lake District
Interviewer: David, tell me a bit about your group.
David: Across the country there are lots of gardening clubs, perhaps thousands, and lots of them go under the name of horticultural societies. Kidderminster, is a relatively large group, and although most members are local, we have people join us from ten to 15 miles away because we're such an active gardening group. We have a varied annual programme which my wife Margaret and I organise, and it includes talks every month; visits to two garden shows; various day trips and a gardening holiday.
Interviewer: How many people go on each trip?
David: In terms of day trips we probably see about 300 people. There's a few we might not see over the year, but members can get discounts at lots of garden centres and places around the area, so people can join just to get cheaper compost if they want to! There's a £5 joining fee, or £3.50 for seniors, so it's relatively cheap. We'll usually do one holiday a year - this year we went to Cornwall with two coaches of 100 people, and next year we're going to Harrogate in Yorkshire with around the same number.
Interviewer: Do you do all the organising yourself?
David: My wife Margaret and I do it all ourselves, and our overall philosophy on being successful group travel organisers is 'preparation, preparation, preparation'. The membership year runs from January to December, and the programme for the coming year will be printed on each individual's membership card. Come the end of August we'll be sorting out the programme for 2014. Up until now we've done holidays for ten years and day visits for 25.
Interviewer: Tell me a bit about organising this year's holiday to Cornwall.
David: Our group members will pay for the holiday costs themselves, and the price covered five nights on a half-board basis plus visits to nine gardens. Last year Margaret and I went down and visited 16 gardens in Cornwall, from which we finally decided on nine which would be good for a group visit. The final gardens included The Eden Project, the Gardens of Heligan, Glendurgan, and Poppy Cottage Gardens.
Interviewer: Where else have you visited this year?
David: We've taken our group to the National Trust property Charlecote Park which is near Stratford, and Witley Court near us which is an English Heritage estate. In June we wenton the Severn Valley Railway, and in July we explored Stratford-upon-Avon. Plans for the rest of the year include Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, Trentham Gardens in Stoke-on-Trent, the Malvern Autumn Show at the end of September and Westonbirt Arboretum for the autumn colour in October. We'd also planned to visit Stokesay Castle in March but the night before we were due to go it snowed terribly and we had to cancel. That's the first trip I've cancelled in 25 years.
Interviewer: What are your plans for Harrogate next year?
David: We're heading there next week for our look around, although we've holidayed in that area half a dozen times so have some idea of what is there. I've been in touch with several of the bigger gardens to arrange free visits and familiarisation tours, including Castle Howard, Harlow Carr, and Harewood House. I have no compunction about asking them if I can come and look round; they always say: "Yes please, come and have a look." If it's a smaller garden we'll usually pay as regular visitors when it's just the two of us.
Interviewer: Have you got any other holidays planned?
David: This year we're also going on a tinsel and turkey holiday down at Eastbourne which will be the first we've ever done. We're staying in the Haddon Hall Hotel, which we've stayed in two or three times previously with a group, as well as a couple of times privately. It's a hotel that was recommended by Whittles Coach Company (who we use regularly) and it really is excellent. Some of our group members had previously been on such a holiday and encouraged us to organise a group trip, and now we've got 40 people coming.
Interviewer: Can you explain to me your association with the Royal Horticultural Society?
David: We're an affiliated society, which means we're members of the RHS. We use them for liability insurance as they offer that facility for a bit extra. The affiliation fee is modest and it entitles you to visit one of their four gardens (Hyde Hall, Wisley, Harlow Carr and Rosemoor) each year with 55 people for free. It's excellent! Some gardens charge £10 a head and you're getting such a bargain by paying a bit more each year.
Interviewer: Why do you like being a group travel organiser?
David: I get a real buzz out of pulling it off. It's not as difficult to organise as people might think - taking 100 people on holiday is a big number and a lot of responsibility, but it always goes really well. It's nice finding places that group members have never been to before. We went to two private gardens in Staffordshire with three coaches and a large number of people, and the gardens were really magnificent. People ask you: "How do you find these places?" It's because we spend a lot of time looking for them.
Interviewer: What does being vice-chairman of the society mean to you?
David: I enjoy horticulture, and spend a lot of time in my own garden. My father was also a member of Kidderminster Horticultural Society; I joined him and one thing led to another. I've been vice-chairman for almost 25 years now and Margaret is social secretary. I don't know if anyone else would take on what my wife and I do, but we enjoy doing it and we'll carry on organising for as long as we can.