Boss of Ventnor Botanic Garden: ‘I do not have an infinite appetite to fund losses’

Email from John Curtis reveals plans are in the pipeline for a multi-million pound grant application, but he’s “disappointed with persistent trespassing”.

Ventnor Botanic Garden :

Owner of the Ventnor Botanic Garden, John Curtis, sent an email this morning to Friends and Volunteers of the Garden following media interest in “funding rumours”.

The email reveals that the CIC is a long way from being financially sustainable, with the Garden attracting around 40-50,000 visitors last year.

Curtis: No “infinite appetite to fund losses”
When he signed the 125 year lease for the Ventnor Botanic Garden in July 2012, many Islanders hailed American businessman John Curtis as a saviour and philanthropist for ‘rescuing the garden’.

In his email this morning, he states to Friends and Volunteers of the VBG that he does, “not have an infinite appetite to fund losses at the Garden”.

Curtis: “Disappointed with persistent trespassing”
During a public meeting held in early 2012, before John Curtis signed the deal with the Isle of Wight council, OnTheWight reported,

[John Curtis advised] No fencing would be placed around the Garden and it would not be policed, with 5-8% ‘revenue leakage’ (ie. people going in without paying) being expected each year.

Almost two years later, in his email this morning, John is now saying he’s, “very disappointed at the persistent trespassing by local residents who enter the Garden without paying” and adding that, “We are being forced to install fences, not our preferred strategy.”

“Funding rumours”: Match funding needed
It was revealed the “funding rumours” that have been circulating in the community relate to a ‘multi-million pound grant’ being sought by the CIC from the Heritage Lottery Fund or ‘other philanthropic institutions’.

John points out that any grant would require 15-20% matching funding, suggesting the ‘financial resources of the Friends should grow accordingly’.

Misremembering?
John finishes his email by saying,

“I have no idea how my comments will be reported and I wanted you to understand my point of view directly.”

He goes on to say,

“Many of you will remember when I offered to donate our playground to the Town of Ventnor so it would be of more use to the local children and the headline read, ‘American businessman to close playground’.”

John is perhaps mis-remembering the reporting of comments he made in a Ventnor Town council meeting on 10th December 2012.

OnTheWight reported “Ventnor Botanic Garden children’s playground may be removed” and the CP’s headline read “Playground on the move” (IWCP 14.12.2012 pg 5).

Neither we, nor Google, recall any media outlet reporting ‘American businessman to close playground’, but as always, we remain keen to be corrected.

Image: Garry Knight under CC BY 2.0

Wednesday, 29th January, 2014 12:57pm

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ShortURL: http://wig.ht/2bxR

Filed under: Island-wide, Isle of Wight News, Top story

Any views or opinions presented in the comments below are solely those of the author and do not represent those of OnTheWight.
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Email updates?
Current Employee (maybe ex after this)
The thing is John will not take a single comment on board, he feels that everybody on here are just internet trolls that would never contribute towards the garden anyway. The sheer weight of opinion and the apparent love of the gardens appears far deeper than an internet troll but your voices will never be heard here. They will probably never be heard anywhere, the recipient would… Read more »
Margie

How on earth are the friends of the gardens going to raise up to 20% match funding for a £multi-million grant?

That’s a lot of plant sales and auctions.

Cynic

It would be interesting to know how much still remains in the Friends reserves, including that collected a couple of years ago to replace panels in the Tropical House.

Further, I seem to remember that the CIC deal included a £200,000 capital gift from the IWC with the objective of replacing/repairing the faulty lift. Has the lift been changed or not?

Craig

He certainly has transformed the place! But not for the better.

I’m a member and went down there last week. The place was like a ghost town. Everyone I saw working there looked totally miserable and disinterested and the gardens frankly looked a mess.

The plant sale bit at the front was an embarrassment.

tryme
I suppose we don’t expect too much of a garden in January, but I recall that there were always fascinating plants and trees that made Winter visits to VBG worthwhile. Have plants been neglected, or dug up for ‘re-design’ reasons? I hope not. If the place is allowed to run down it will seem a similar story to VWG, and some other purpose altogether for the plot… Read more »
occams raiser

All the old friends are leaving he just takes their money. theres a new breed in there. it will soon close and be sold

Amanda BH

The botanical gardens used to be a wonderful place to visit. Always busy and vibrant. These days it’s just dreary and gloomy and as Craig says, like a ghost town.

In my opinion, John Curtis made many mistakes when he took over and he’d now hoping that a multi-million pound grant is going to help him.

Adam

Now we are a few years down the line, perhaps some public consultation on the garden is due? I would be very interested to hear about public perceptions of the gardens and the change in usage over the period that it has been run by the CIC.

I still think it is too expensive and the offering in terms of food/drink/shops and education/exhibition need to be reviewed.

retired Hack
Putting up fences may stop “trespassers” but I’d be amazed if it produced enough extra fee-paying customers to pay for the wood. The basic flaw in the Gardens business plan has been obvious from the start, if not to Mr Curtis then certainly to us caulkheads. Island residents aren’t, in general, going to pay for something so optional as a visit there, when in the past it’s… Read more »
lardi

If the lease is anything like that for the Winter Gardens, don’t look for any solution

Maxine

Hear hear

tryme

I’m worried now that the “trespassing” (on what, our own land!) is to be used as an excuse to make Fortress VBG, the fences in fact preventing us from seeing what is going on…

Cynic

Don’t worry too much tryme!

“Trespass” is a civil offence, costly to take to court and the penalty (if ever the case is won ) is limited to damages, i.e. the cost to the landowner of that proven trespass.

tryme

That’s not the bit that worries me Cicero! ….but the possibility that fences will in fact be for hiding behind and getting on with various inappropriate plans (or devastating inactions).

tryme
I seem to remember it was predictable to most people from the get-go that few would pay the charges, (and by the way, some lessons in human nature need to be learnt by the naiive if it was thought people wouldn’t rather get in free if they can). It makes me wonder whether someone who presumably is an astute businessman wouldn’t have also realised all this, and… Read more »
dogpog
I’ve just been pointed to an article in the CP where Curtis claims he has contributed £300,000 to the garden.This,to the bst of my knowledge is facually incorrect. I can either check that the worthy reporter has not made a mistake, or simply ask the Council. As far as I’m aware the Council( us) has contributed £200,000 and the man himself has contributed around £80,000 which he… Read more »
Current employee (maybe ex after this)
He could but he is too busy running around trying to find out who is feeding info to this comments board. As we all suspected he thinks the comments on here are the making of 2 or 3 “usual suspects” and that nothing new is being said. The thing is do we see any supporters for Mr Curtis regime? I suspect that for every comment on here… Read more »
Man in Black

I saw the email he sent to Friends. His exact words were …

“We have invested over £300,000 in capital projects, not including operating capital requirements.”

Note he says ‘we’ not ‘me’. Is he trying to claim the credit for the council (ie. our) money?

Cynic

I repeat my questions:

* how much has been spent from the Friends reserves?

* Has IWC £200,000 gift for the lift to be resulted in its being repaired or changed or spent on other things?

Anybody know for sure?

dogpog
I don’t know about the Friends reserves, although myself and others have expressed concerns to the execs previously about unprecedented and to my mind, not wholly correct procedures.That is a separate issue for that charity.As I am now no longer a part of that,I suppose it’s up to them how they spend their money as long as it’s consitutional. The lift has been repaired now and then… Read more »
dogpog

And the Friends have paid for the redevelopment of the cafe area and some plants and the desecration across the road-much to my shame, as a previous Friend

dogpog

Yes

ronald regan

Its my understanding that no money of the £2000k from the council was allowed to be spent on the main building which includes the lift as this was a lottery funded project not council funded. So its been spent on the house in an amazing style of handmade blinds and under floor heating brass fittings

Cynic
I think you are correct. Here is what the briefing document (22/5/2012 Appendix D)for the IWC cabinet said at the time: “The Lessor will place £200,000 into a ring-fenced account for a fixed period of 5 years, and the Lessee will be able to draw down against this account towards the repair/restoration of specific buildings/structures including Signal Point House; the temperate house; the former smugglers museum and… Read more »
ronald regan

Also my sources tell me all the building work was paid to the builders cash in hand every week. Glad to see council money been spent this way. Hours written on the back of a fag paper.no wonder there is no money on the site and he’s chasing grants.

A sad supporter
I am not angry, I am just sad at what is happening. Here was a fantastic asset, one which was plain to most people could be used as a front runner in community relations and public bridge building. Not only could it have been made self sustainable but it could have engaged with the public in a way that no other business on the island could ever… Read more »
tryme
From OTW’s report it sounds as though Curtis is unfairly trying to blame media for things going wrong. I don’t recall anyone banging on about him being American. As ‘a sad supporter’ indicates, VBG was an internationally celebrated asset to the Island. It broadened the types of visitors we drew. And you don’t show round Prince Charles, which Simon Goodenough did, shortly before he left, without having… Read more »
Cynic
“I understand that Council (our )money has been used to refurbish the house on the site for John Curtis to live in…” Is that really true or just a rumour? I am confused because the current Curator said a year ago in the Garden Blog: “Once completed Signal Point House will be used as on site accomodation for students gaining work experience at the Garden, interns and… Read more »
dogpog
Maybe we’ll just need to wait and see. I’m not even sure Curtis himself knows what’s going on any more.He jumps from one madcap scheme to the next, never bothering to see anything through or communicate his message. This grant for instance, it’s fact that the garden failed to obtain a large grant a couple of years ago.East Wight has just been awarded a large lottery grant.Could… Read more »
dogpog
Further, there is a former working nursery now full of solar panels, which do not even heat the unfortunately renamed ‘tropical house’next to it and a load of old furniture littering up the place, and this is a valuable botanic garden for which they hope to obtain a large grant??? Does anyone know what happened to the money Curtis was supposed to put in, in order to… Read more »
dogpog
I agree with so many other comments about the state of the Garden-it’s very sad. I understand that Council (our )money has been used to refurbish the house on the site for John Curtis to live in, it includes bespoke wall paper and beautiful new fireplaces.This seems to be common knowledge among the staff. It does not appear that any money has been spent on the garden… Read more »
davimel
Come on people! Is ANYONE surprised at this? Where we used to have a wonderful addition to Ventnor ALL year round, and a place all of my family would visit at least once a month, we now have a commercial enterprise that is expected to attract huge revenue from people who do NOT have the money and possibly no inclination! Selling the family gold was a mistake,… Read more »
Current Employee (maybe ex after this)
Is it any surprise really? Of course John will be blaming the media for his issues, after all his ego will never allow him to recognise it is totally himself that has caused this situation. Not only did this man lie to the public at meetings something akin to a politician trying to get elected but he also has no idea about public relations and treats his… Read more »
tryme
“… he tells staff they have no friends and everybody hates them, they are bullies, they are a disgrace etc etc”. To make individuals feel isolated from any potential source of support, (their colleagues hate them, commenters OTW are trolls) is classic bullying behaviour that quickly demoralises: people recoil in horror and leave. Confusing too, when being accused of something that is in fact emanating from the… Read more »
dogpog
Yes,I’ve often noticed that when people are accused of these things, it’s often the accuser who is in fact pointing out unpleasant traits in themselves…it’s certainly clear from this forum that Curtis himself has no friends…it doesn’t seem there is a single person prepared to stand up for him. You’re also correct about the results of this kind of management technique.I personally know one member of staff… Read more »
milly
The Conservatives really did us badly on this and the Wintergardens and we should never forget. And businesses, pah! Why are they presented as the only solution? “you have to have business organise what to do they are the only ones who can sort it out!” Well they never do, name one that ever has.The WG is a prime example of failure – twice. The gardens will… Read more »
Ronald regan

Yeah

Richard D
Biggest surprise here is that so many of you are surprised. The council were so keen to offload the place, and couldnt believe their luck when this self proclaimed “philanthropist” rode into town. So they gave him 40 acres of sea views and 200 grand, and yet NOBODY knows where he came from, what experience he had, nor what his plans for the site were. Brill. Oh,… Read more »
dogpog
I think he’s got a few muppets in already.So many trained staff have gone and not just from the garden.Rumour has it that the two remaining gardeners are overseen by a young lad with no experience or qualifications, so keen is Curtis to disrupt what he sees as the old council system. It’s a little unfortunate Curtis himself clearly can’t manage and what little expertise is left… Read more »
Man in Black

What’s happened to Chris Kidd? Isn’t he the curator and head gardener anymore?

dogpog
I’m sure it’s pretty common knowledge but I understand that Chris’s role has been taken away and this young lad is in charge of the garden and gardening staff. And what’s to curate? There will no longer be a plant collection, the envy of other botanic gardens.Have you looked at the borders recently? They’re full of comfrey and weeds, hardly the specialist plants we used to love.… Read more »
Ronald regan
I’ve been told that no more scholarships can be done in the gardens as they don’t have the required number of staff to look after and teach them. Only three gardeners work in the garden now and not botanically trained either. They were told this last year. So most likely just Isle of Wight collage students who don’t have to live on the site will get work… Read more »
A sad supporter

I am not sure the lease allows the sale to developers, however, the rest of your post rings fairly likely.

Cynic

Have details of the lease been published or are they protected by “commercial confidentiality” as were similar deals by the previous IWC?

Cynic
AS was pointed out when the previous IWC were gifting VBG to the CIC, the probable latent value of VBG’s 29 acres for housing development @£500k/acre would be £14.5 million, doubling with planning permission. As development land values are increasing by up to 4.5& p.a., VBG could be a land bank awaiting the right time to sell. Rather like the Winter Gardens, some suspect. All that needs… Read more »
Ronald regan

You hit the nail on the head. I’ve just been told by another friend of the garden that the site across the road ie. there plant nursery in an area of seven acres is going to be turned into an Eco holiday home site quite soon.

tryme

But will he get planning permission?

A current employee (possibly ex after this)

I doubt permission will be a consideration to JC. After all he never got permission to alter the roof on Signal Point and never altered the house to comply with the housing of students.

lardi

Surely now is the time for the FRIENDS of VENTNOR BOTANIC GARDENS to come to the rescue. They are an influential and numerous bunch of passionate supporters. Being “friends” of the garden, they shouldn’t let their “friend” commit slow suicide.I am very surprised that they have not been more vocal and advised Mr Curtis that some of his ideas and expenditures are ruining the wonderful garden.

A sad supporter
Well said Lardi, the friends need an uprising. Unfortunately I feel it will never happen, in fact it is probably what JC wants himself, them to give him his 80k and he can ride off into the wind leaving the mess with them. I guess you have to ask the question:- is the garden better off now than it was in May 2012? For me the answer… Read more »
Cynic

How many Friends out of the 700+ (mainly Islanders) of a couple of years ago have renewed their memberships?

ronald regan

Just read the article in the county press. Does this man think were all fools..saying we’ve spent 300k in 18 months more than the council ever did. 200k of that is our money tax payers/council. What a cheek.

tryme
I hope someone has by now procured a copy of the lease & passed it to OTW. If it came back into community ownership I’m sure there would many willing helpers to work voluntarily under expert leadership, to bring back VBG to former glories. I’d very happily commit a regular part of my w/es, (not something I would ordinarily feel moved to do after a week at… Read more »
ronald regan

And it was said at the time of his application by him that he would invest £800k over the first five years. Surly this does not include wages and running costs ie water and power. Investment is an extra.

dogpog
What is it with Curtis and money? Presumably as the CIC is effectively an arm of a charity, he pays no tax on his investment in the garden. Now we find that there is a big disparity between what he says he’s put in and what he actually has…I will be contacting the CP to correct this error, since Curtis has failed to do so to date.… Read more »
peaceful_life
With some creative foresight this could/should be a cutting edge site teaching facility that produces and still retains the aesthetic utility for all to enjoy. Would dearly love to submit a plan for the gardens, but….only when placed back in the guardianship of the community. Sadly, this was all clearly foreseeable, it’s not too late to salvage some dignity from this situation and have the gardens gifted… Read more »
tryme

Well, if crowd-funding has gone a long way towards buying and renovating the Tivoli, and as thousands can be raised on the Island to support individual good causes, we could also raise whatever is agreed with Curtis to be an appropriate amount of money to buy the Gardens back ….. how exciting that would be!!! ;-D

peaceful_life

It would fall within the premise of something I know is being worked on.

;-0)

tryme

Fingers, toes, legs, minds – all crossed!

tryme

HRH himself might take (more than) an interest, & he has some pretty influential friends!!

tryme

Here is a charming gallery, (make sure you see them all, it’s not just of the crowd!), of CP photos showing happier times at VBG, when Charles & Camilla were visiting in 2009. He is a great ‘gardens’ man, of course.
http://www.iwcpgallery.co.uk/RoyalVentnor/pages/j35774.html

tryme

When my link to photos comes through, the gallery starts somewhere in the middle and goes through only to one side, depending on which you choose. So I suggest you click quickly through to the end of either side; & then you will have the whole lot to click back through at your leisure, and not miss any out.

Janet Scott

Crickey Tryme, that’s a bit deep!

tryme

Detailed maybe Janet, but deep…I don’t think so!

dogpog
It was! I attended RHS courses there and there was a unigue academic course running also.I think the site had an accepted status as a City and Guilds Centre too.There were school children there nearly every day in the spring and summer. Even last year, there was something going on with very young children and some adult courses and workshops. I wonder what went so horribly wrong?… Read more »
Della Pragnell

I am Della and I work at VBG. I have not posted on this site and do not find it amusing that someone else is writing in my name.

Simon Perry
OK … we’re suspending comments on this story while we take a look at what’s going on with the ‘Della’ comments. Della Pragnell has just phoned OnTheWight to say someone has been posting using the name ‘Della’. Given how unusual this name is, she tells us that people are (not surprisingly) jumping to the conclusion that it is her, Della Pragnell, posting these. She tells us, it… Read more »
Ronald Regan
As a very angry friend of the garden the site is been run into the ground. The large glasshouse is a filthy mix of beds and furniture in the lobby. It’s is dreadful inside no heat for the plants so god knows what it will end up as even though it’s been recovered in new glass. Which is not from mr Curtis money either but donations from… Read more »
tryme

Much worse than I feared. Heartbreaking.

Anonymous
(This comment (originally posted by someone using the name ‘Della’) was reported to us by Della Pragnell who works at the VBG. Given ‘Della’ is an unusual name, we’ve made the highly unusual decision of renaming the poster of this comment to become ‘anonymous’ to avoid any confusion between the two people. Commenters that impersonate other people are highly abnormal on this site. The last time we… Read more »
A sad supporter
Della, You clearly work at the garden, would you care to comment on the accusations of bullying in the work place from the top? Also are the rumours true about staff being paid cash in hand for building work at the garden? Do you have anything to add on the matter of using council money to fund hand made wallpaper and gold plated radiator taps for a… Read more »
Alison

He’s a lovely cuddly man who often lets us eat scraps from the bin

Cynic
@della “You all seem to have something to say on the matter, yet I did not see a single one of you offering to save your beloved garden when it was on its knees” Your loyalty is commendable however perhaps you are being a little unfair! Did you miss the public and private furore in these pages that happened at the time the previous IWC planned to… Read more »
peaceful_life

Hi, Della.

I can say with complete confidence, that Mr Curtis has had advice offered and projects put forth, these have been ignored.

The model at VBG isn’t adaptive for our changing/changed times.
The inputs and outputs aren’t measuring up, perhaps the overall ethos isn’t allowing for creativity.

Thanks.

A sad supporter
Wooooaaahh hold on a minute. What is going on here? So there are two Della’s? Both whom would appear to support VBG. Surely this cannot be for real. I suspect the truth is the two Della’s are in fact the same person and the first Della got upset by the questions I posed. So I shall ask them again to the second Della. You clearly work at… Read more »