What next for The Royal Parks with new charity status?

Chairman of the newly formed Royal Parks charity Loyd Grossman has ruled out a significant increase in commercial activity despite the parks needing to bring in more income.

Prince Charles and Loyd Grossman at the Hyde Park launch of the new charity. Image: Royal Parks
Prince Charles and Loyd Grossman at the Hyde Park launch of the new charity. Image: Royal Parks

A mushrooming London population and an ever growing cost of tree disease are among the pressures contributing to increasing costs.

In its last years as an executive agency of the Department for Culture Media & Sport, The Royal Parks regularly came under fire for its income-raising activities, including the popular British Summer Time events held every July in large sections of Hyde Park.

However, in terms of its money-making mission, the agency was a success. By the time it merged with its fundraising charity brother The Royal Parks Foundation last month (June), it had increased its commercial activity to such a level that it is now 64% self-funded from a range of sources including, licences, events, fundraising and grants.

Grossman has welcomed the new charity status as a way of liberating the parks from restrictive Government accountancy rules, calling it "a huge change". He adds: "It’s very helpful to be able to plan in the long term rather than to think from year to year." But he does not see the charity going further down the commercial route to raise the funds it needs.

"I think we have just the right amount of commercial activity now. We have a very strict events policy, which we worked out very carefully with all of our stakeholders."

Parks mean different things to different people, he says, so that someone’s dream experience is to attend a huge concert while others crave peace and quiet. "Everyone has a stake in the park. One is always balancing competing interests and we need to fairly balance completely different priorities."

Raising awareness of the richness of the parks, what they do and how they are used will be a key part of the new organisation’s strategy, says Grossman. "One of the big tasks that we have probably have in common with all parks is trying to explain to the public just how complex a park is. It’s a very complex business.

"We have a very large number of listed buildings and listed landscapes. It’s a constant challenge with tree disease. We need to engage the public in what running parks is all about. We have this great complexity and richness of parks. We are so proud that they remain as the greatest parks in the world."

So some kind of awareness-raising campaign is first on Grossman’s to-do list and not least on the parks’ new charity status. He says many people probably think the parks are part of the royal household.

"We are extremely proud of the royal connection but these are public parks that have to be supported by the public and by the Government to a certain extent. At a time when so much of the world is becoming privatised, they have to be free and open to everyone 365 days a year — and we have to keep to the very high standards that we have established."

Nevertheless, having Prince Charles as a patron is a great asset, says Grossman. "We are so delighted that Prince Charles is our patron. His very great knowledge of so many aspects of our work, his enthusiasm, his creativity, his ability to get people together and so on — I think that will help us enormously."

But Grossman himself outlined his vision to "to grow income and support" when he opened the £500,000 Italian Gardens Café — a toilet-turned-café in Kensington Gardens — last year. So how will The Royal Parks raise more money commercially without growing its commercial operations?

"We need to do them better," says Grossman. "We’ve steadily increased the efficiency with which we run our commercial operations. When we do commercial things people need to remember that we are not a business where we are making money to distribute as profit. We are raising money to put back into the parks. We need to do a better job of explaining that. We have been increasingly efficient in the way we run our events and commercial operations."

Fundraising will become a central feature of The Royal Parks, although they will be playing catch-up with other sectors, such as museums. Grossman says they will use all methods available. "It’s a very mixed economy. It’s very competitive in London — there are a huge number of cultural organisations fundraising.

"The Royal Parks have a unique mix of attractions and values, which will appeal to very many people who want to give their charitable support — from small regular donations to major trusts, foundations and philanthropists."

Key to any fundraising is outlying your benefits but also your challenges. The Royal Parks’ challenges are numerous, says Grossman. "The whole issue of biosecurity and disease becomes more and more expensive every year. Ten or 15 years ago OPM wasn’t an issue. Now it’s a major cost for us. We are constantly under an onslaught from disease."

There is the ongoing issue of wear and tear too, he adds. Parks are fragile and the ever increasing London population is a challenge.

In one way everything has changed at The Royal Parks, but there are no plans for a rebrand because the parks have "a well-earned brand with a graphic identity that is strong and beautiful", and backstage "very little has changed", Grossman explains.

"We have extraordinary staff. We wanted to introduce the new organisation with the minimum of change and that’s what we’ve done. A very small number of people have taken the opportunity to leave. I don’t think there have been many redundancies [The Royal Parks has confirmed two staff had been made redundant, one voluntarily].

"Our intention was not to do huge restructuring. We’ve got a huge job to do and we’ve got the right structure for it in terms of efficiency. In the face of the changing context of public funding, the task is to make sure that they are run as the best parks in the world."

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