The palm house at Sefton Park in Liverpool was built in 1896. Like many such buildings it went through some difficult times so that 20 years ago it was in a severe state of disrepair. The Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage were prepared to spend £3.5m to restore the building, but the toughest problem was to find a real use for it.
The trust decided that the building should remain open, free to the public for most of the time, but it needed to rent out the hall to customers for receptions and weddings to bring in money. The trust has struck a balance, which seems to be working.
By removing some of the palms at the centre of the house, the building can now accommodate 200 people sitting at tables or 400 people standing. Because the park lies just outside the city centre, there are plenty of customers wanting to use it. Elizabeth-Anne Williams who runs the trust says: "We raise all our funding through corporate events and receptions."
The trust employs a core team of six staff. It also puts on around 60 events a year. These include tea dances, which generally attract an older clientele, and Sunday afternoon concerts by local choirs, jazz groups and bands. There are also lunchtime classical concerts and tours of the house and events such as Peter Pan Pirate parties, which bring in large crowds. The building has a small commercial kitchen, so a reasonable range of catering can be done.
The building boasts 17 different types of palms, a wide variety of cacti and many tropical plants. There are also numerous types of flowers. "We get a huge mix of visitors — young, elderly and families with children," says Williams. She adds: "Even if the weather is poor, people will still come because it’s a cheerful place to sit." The trust has won a Visitor Attraction Quality Assurance Scheme (VAQAS) Award, and also a Silver Green Tourism Business Award in recognition of its high standards.
The trust already produces some educational resources — these include leaflets and histories of the palm house — but in the future it would like to expand this side of its work. The trust plans to put on a wider programme of events, which are more closely targeted to the needs of schools and other groups.
The Palm House lies within Sefton Park, which itself is a large listed Victorian park. This means that the park and the palm house receive a wide mix of communities. Williams explains: "The park
is bordered by Liverpool 8, which is a bit run down and by Liverpool 17, which is slightly grander. We have worked hard to ensure that the palm house is safe and welcoming and used by
as many people as possible."
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