We hold a relatively recently issued Retail Charity Bond from the Alnwick Garden Trust. The bond has a ten-year duration and will pay interest at 5% per annum in two equal, half-yearly instalments. As a public-facing organisation, what do the changes to lockdown measures mean for the Trust?
About the Alnwick Garden Trust
The Alnwick Garden Trust was first established in 2001 and is a registered charity. Spanning 67 acres, it is one of the North East’s top tourist attractions and was originally conceived by the current Duchess of Northumberland. Paid admissions and tours of the garden, outdoor events and food/retail outlets all help to support the charitable objectives of the Trust, which focus on social outreach and support of isolated or underprivileged communities within the North East of England.
The garden is leased from the Estate of Northumberland and, since opening, it has been developed in distinct phases at a cost of around £33m, with recent work including the completion of a large water cascade. The funds raised from this bond issue will help pay for the development of the third substantial phase of the project which will involve the construction of outdoor play areas and an all-weather sheltered attraction with year-round appeal.
The Trust runs several social support and outreach programmes, including:
- ‘Elderberries’ - supporting over 1,000 over-55s annually across four programmes using ‘5 Steps to Mental Wellbeing’ as a measure of effectiveness.
- ‘Blooming Well’ - targeted at older people living with dementia and their carers.
- ‘Being Healthy’ - promoting healthy, active lifestyles.
- ‘The Gentleman’s Garden’ - works with elderly men, who each adopt and tend a small plot throughout the growing season.
Employment initiatives include its ‘Grow into Work’ programme, which supporting young people in their transition into work. The project also supports ex-military personnel and the programme has achieved an 80% success rate in beneficiaries achieving positive outcomes by either moving into employment, going into further training or volunteering. Moreover, the ‘Roots and Shoots’ and ‘Young Gardeners’ programmes work with 20 local schools each year to enable children to learn more about growing food and generally enjoying the outdoors. Sadly, the North East has the highest number of drugs-related deaths in the country, so the Trust’s Drugs Education programme works with schools, youth groups, children in care and other charities to tackle this problem and it has supported 509 children to date. We feel the bond offers an attractive financial return to investors while helping to support numerous extremely positive social initiatives.
How has lockdown impacted the Garden?
Having closed during lockdown, the easing of restrictions means that as of the 1st July, the garden is now open and able to make the most of the summer visitor season. Visitor numbers are being managed with visitors being required to book tickets in advance for particular time slots during the day. As an outdoor venue, the Garden may be able to benefit from families looking for days out that are seen to be ‘safer’ than many indoor alternatives. The nearby Alnwick Castle has also reopened, allowing the Garden to once again benefit from tourists that visit to see a filming location of the Harry Potter film series, Blackadder and Downton Abbey, among others.
Early on in the crisis, the Trust froze all vacancies and stopped all but essential spending to protect against a prolonged financial downturn. The Trust had a strong balance sheet and had significant reserves, excluding the bond proceeds, that could be used to cover the Garden’s fixed costs and so we had no concerns regarding payment. We also remain confident that the project that the bond was issued to fund will still continue with minimal impact to the proposed timeline and the first stage of government grants to that effect have now been received.
Unfortunately, the Trust’s charitable programmes were forced to suspend during lockdown for the wellbeing of the beneficiaries and participants as well as The Alnwick Garden Trust staff. Now that the Garden has reopened, the Community and Education team are in the process of contacting those involved in the ‘Elderberry’ programme to find out what level of support is required and will be providing support by telephone until activities are able to be phased back in during the coming months. The Garden are hopeful that their other programmes such as ‘Grow into Work’ and ‘Drugs Education’ can be restarted in November once schools have returned.
Those maintaining the Garden during lockdown also found a way to show their appreciation to NHS staff and the local community by distributing hundreds of tulips that had been grown on site to residential homes, hospitals, GP surgeries as well as the homes of some local residents.