There’s a big difference between an uninterested gardener and a master of horticulture. You know what it is? A master horticulturalist pays attention to the details. It’s not always an innate quality. By sheer hard work, constant research, an investment in time, and consistent habits he or she fosters growth in ways an uninterested gardener doesn’t understand. A master works harder for better results.
In these days of continued austerity it is extremely hard for councillors up and down the land to make the difficult decisions about what services to save and what services to cut. I fully appreciate how councillors and council officers are often veering towards a point of reducing budgets that do not have a direct connection with statutory services, or direct operations of the council, such as Third Sector Funding. We have seen this in the actions of our own Lancashire County Council who recently made this very decision, thus saving one million pounds. However such savings can be deceptive. As a manager of one such small charity I ask the question, ‘Is this short term thinking an irrational response due to a pressured situation, or was it made through a lack of attention to detail?’ I state this on two main grounds:
- Are we ignoring the principle of return on investment, once the cut is examined in more detail? It is a simple fact that many small charities and support organisations actively attract and bring in substantial figures, compared to the small level of investment. Back in the early years of Pennine Lancashire Community Farm from 2002 onward we received some small financial commitments from Lancashire County Council and Burnley Borough Council. We are now financially self sufficient, thanks to funding from a range of organisations, bringing up to £300k a year into the community / county.
- Are we ignoring the indirect savings on a local, regional and national basis? The simple fact is most charities are working with and often serving the most venerable in society, including, but not limited to, children, young people, families in needs, those living with mental health difficulties, adults with disabilities, the long term economically inactive, those recovering from substance misuse etc. The often hidden fact is that a charities engagement with these individuals is often the catalyst that helps them reduce or stay away from more costly public services. For Pennine Lancashire Community Farm a practical example of that are individuals with complex mental health needs staying out of hospital beds due to a regular programme of engagement. This offers a saving of up to £130k per year, per individual.
Overall a small charity like Pennine Lancashire Community, using the medium of outdoor space to bring people together, can state two headline figures (which are based on independent research into social value):
- Last calendar year alone we provided a financial benefit to the community of £2.2 million.
- For every pound Pennine Lancashire Community Farm receives it has direct local benefit of more than double its value.
I appreciate the hard decisions that have been made, and the hard decisions to come, that every local councillor has to make. I also appreciate that planning a garden requires vision; with a foresight of how a garden might grow, assessing the potential height plants will grow to, so avoiding shading out other plants, researching the soil type required and providing investment into the soil to give them the best chance for growth, and the hard work needed to enable them to survive and thrive, with a view to the potential crop. Pruning a plant is one thing, chopping its roots out is quite another.