RPF Chief SARA LON sets ambitious targets.
"Money raised will be extra to government cash."
"Royal parks seek cash patrons for trees and ducks", screamed the Sunday Times in May, but Sara Lom, head of the new fund-raising charity, the Royal Parks Foundation, sees things differently. Rather than selling off Speakers Corner to Tesco, she sees things moving in a professional but subtle direction.
The Royal Parks, some of London's best-loved parks, have been funded on a tight budget by central government for some time. The eight royal parks, covering a total of 5,000 acres, receive about £24 million a year from the government and £5m from events and film location hire, but funding in real terms has dropped by about 20% in the past 15 years.
The Royal Parks Foundation aims to change that. The new charity is a vehicle for fund-raising for the ambitious plans that are in the pipeline and has the assurance that government grants will not be cut in response. "The government grant was enough to cover our running costs but not any major restoration plans we might have," says Lom.
And ambitious the plans are. Initial flagship projects include a £7.2 million restoration project for Bushy Park, which has now reached Stage 2 approval with the HLF, and a £5.5m sports complex at Regent's Park.
But Lom, an experienced fund-raiser, knows her way around the world of trust funds and has a keen eye for publicity. With a background in marketing in the wine trade, she has moved from fund-raising with the Royal Philharmonic to the Royal Parks with ease. Her 'Love a Duck' story hit the papers on Valentine's Day and raised £10,000 for the wildfowl trust. The scheme pulled at the public heart strings and raised the parks' profile with them.
The Royal Parks, although valued, are generally anonymous to most park goers. "People don't know who runs the royal parks, but we mustn't let them be taken for granted." Under Lom's guidance a new corporate identity is emerging. Publicity vehicles include a new 42-page colour magazine Royal Parks with a print run of 20,000.
A slick corporate and individual membership scheme has also been developed, raising profile and money for the parks. For next year, there will be all-year-round promotions, including a public art initiative and research into the benefits of parks to health and well-being.
All this it is hoped will feed into future plans including the restoration of the Wolfe statue in Greenwich Park, signage and interpretations across the parks, and the restoration of the Buxton memorial, a gothic drinking fountain in Victoria Tower Gardens, built as a monument to Sir Thomas Buxton MP, as it hits its 200th anniversary.