September Meeting 2017

‘Discover Kew’

Paul Gunn – Volunteer for Discovery & Access, Kew Gardens

Paul is one of 780 volunteers without whose work Kew Gardens would be unsustainable. His particular responsibilities lie in the field of accessibility for disadvantaged groups and the disabled but he began by telling us a little about the Gardens as whole and the restorations and renovations of the buildings which are currently being carried out.

Kew Gardens is a UNESCO World Heritage site, covering over 300 acres, which also houses the National Seed Bank and Kew Palace.    The world famous Palm House was built in the mid-19th century, using what was then revolutionary technology derived from iron boat building and fitted with innovatory curved glass.



    Kew Gardens has recently received a bequest of over £100,000 and this is being used to fund the replanting of the main Broad Walk so that it has year-round colour in the borders.    It is anticipated that over 16,000 plants will be used in this spectacular makeover.

Restoration work on the Temperate House, which is closed at present, is coming to an end. The House is currently enclosed in a huge plastic tent and 70,000 pieces of metal and glass have been removed, repainted or restored. It is due to re-open to the public in May 2018 after 5 years work. 

Similarly the landmark ‘Pagoda’ is also under renovation.   Built on the order of George III in 1762, it is owned by the Royal Palaces, who are spending £4.5 million to bring it back to its former glory. It is 10 storeys high with a total of 253 steps and each storey has a projecting roof covered with ceramic tiles.        Each storey was formerly adorned with large dragons. These were reputed to be made of solid gold and sold by George IV to repay his debts but actually they were of painted wood which has rotted away.    They are to be replaced using more modern technology and it is again hoped to re-open the building to the public in the spring of 2018.



Kew Gardens also has its own police, the Kew Constabulary, which has patrolled the grounds since 1847.     The officers have the same powers as the Metropolitan Police and are used to keep order within the bounds of the garden.

Paul also spoke about ways of getting around the large site, first mentioning the Kew Explorer – a ‘hop on and off’ land train, pulled by an electric Land Rover.  This has a volunteer guide who gives  a commentary, and there are hearing loops and 5 collapsible wheelchair spaces.     There are also 8 mobility scooters which are pre-bookable via the website. 

The management of Kew Gardens want everyone to have an enjoyable time and is fully committed to the Government’s policies on Accessibility. The management are very keen to attract new visitors who might not necessarily come to the site for various reasons and especially those with limited mobility, general disability or sensory loss. 

To further this aim, Discovery bus tours have been established for those not able to walk and a British sign language guide is available on request to those who are hard of hearing.   There are also Discovery Walking Tours for up to five people which include the presence of carers.     These tours can be tailored to meet most if not all specific needs, such as sensory deprivation etc.     Tours last about an hour and full information about these facilities is given on the website



To residents of Richmond upon Thames and neighbouring boroughs, free monthly health walks are offered to those who want to stay fit and active.        They are scheduled to take place on the first Wednesday of each month excluding January when the weather is not suitable.     There are also free monthly health walks for people living with dementia on the third Tuesday of each month – again excluding January.    These visits are guided by trained volunteers and the groups frequently return as they have been found to be very beneficial to the participants. 

Paul then spoke about the Community Access Membership Scheme (CAMS).    This is a group annual membership scheme for charitable organisations who provide services directly to people who face physical, sensory, psychological or social barriers to visiting Kew Gardens independently.


For a small fee, organisations can have a quota of either 60 or 120 free visits through the year.  To be eligible for membership to this facility organisations much be either a registered charity or a community interest company (CIC), or a community benefit society or an a organisation which provides services directly to people who face physical,  sensory, psychological or social barriers to visiting Kew. For example, survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have already visited Kew as a group.The Kew Access Forum, a consultative forum of individuals who have experience of disability and a keen interest in making the Gardens accessible, plays a vital contributory role in furthering this work.

At question time, Paul Kershaw asked if the Probus Club of Twickenham would be eligible to join the CAMS scheme, even though it was not a registered charity.      Paul Gunn said he would make enquiries about this and inform the officers in due course.

The vote of thanks was given by President  David Richardson who thanked Paul for his informative talk which he was sure would be of interest to members.


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