Home » A Sponsored Swim to Save the Garden Museum

A Sponsored Swim to Save the Garden Museum

50 miles from Newlyn in Cornwall to Tresco Abbey Garden

1/5/21 – Update

Fantastic news! On Friday 30 April 2021, Garden Museum Director Christopher Woodward finally set foot on the Isle of Tresco, after completing his sponsored swim to save the Garden Museum from closure in consequence of the pandemic. This makes Christopher the first person to ever swim the 50 mile route from Newlyn, Cornwall, to Tresco! In the coming days we will share more pictures and video diaries of his final few days.

Last spring, we announced that we needed £370,000 to save the Museum, to make up for the loss of income from the pandemic. Rather astonishingly, donations to the Swim have reached £418,000 (incl. Gift Aid), and over one thousand people have donated. We are so grateful for all your support. But since last spring the target has increased, owing to the ‘second wave’ extending the closure of the Museum by an extra five months. Our new target is £500,000.

As Christopher says “Thanks to our Friends, Patrons and supporters, our Emergency Appeal has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. If we reach this new target the Garden Museum will be safe. Not just safe, ready for an exciting programme of exhibitions and festivals in the year ahead, and can back to our work in teaching children about plants and gardens, and building an archive of Britain’s garden history. Now that I have made it to Tresco, a Foundation has pledged another £50,0000, making the current total of £468,000.”

It’s not too late to support the sponsored swim: you can make a donation, send a message of congratulations or read more about his feat. As our doors remain closed, every penny makes a huge difference.

27/04/21 – BACK TO SEA

“Last November, lockdown for the ‘second wave’ of the pandemic stopped my sponsored swim from Newlyn to Tresco just past Wolf Rock Lighthouse, which stands halfway to the Isles of Scilly (and is named after the howl of the wind through the reef). Twenty five miles to go!

I hope to go back to Cornwall on the week beginning 26th April – and jump back in at that point – as the captain of our support boat, Charles Good, reports a favourable five-day tide. The water in April is colder than in November, but at ten degrees I can swim. The unknown factor is the wind. Once it goes above Force Four, the waves are too high. But we shan’t find out until our boat is out at sea…

Last spring, we announced to our Friends and supporters that we needed £370,000 to save the Museum. That was, very simply, the minimum we needed to make up for the loss of income from the pandemic, in addition to the very generous interventions by the government through the Culture Recovery Fund; by the National Heritage Lottery Fund; by Lambeth Council and the Garfield Weston Foundation; the Clore and Rayne Foundations have, also, enabled us to continue our learning work on-line to vulnerable groups in the community.

But £370,000 seemed an impossible gap. Rather astonishingly, donations to the Swim have reached £385,000, exclusive of Gift Aid. Over one thousand people have donated, two-thirds for the first time. For a Museum of our youth and size that is an astonishing number – and for Trustees, volunteers, and staff, a wonderful feeling of validation and support.

I have to finish the swim, of course.

And since last spring the target has increased, owing to the ‘second wave’ extending the closure of the Museum by an extra five months (we can re-open on 17th May, if all goes well). The greatest impact has been on venue hire, our most critical commercial activity: we have lost 97% of our expected income.

Our new target is £500,000. One Foundation has pledged a further £50,000 towards that if I reach Tresco. So, we are getting close. If we reach £500,000 the Garden Museum will be safe. Not just safe: ready for an exciting programme in the year ahead.

Updates will follow on this page although please be aware that we are at the mercy of the wind!

One of the pleasures of idling in Penzance was reading ‘Seashaken Houses: A Lighthouse History from Eddystone to Fastnet’ (2018) by the young architectural historian Tom Nancollas. It’s enthralling. And Wolf Rock, he tells us, was the lighthouse keepers shunned, owing to the roughness of the Straits; as no boat landing was ever possible you had to be winched up to a window to begin your stint. And it was a very narrow lighthouse. But Wolf Rock is behind us, and to a swimmer in the waves it is a handsome sight.”


Donate now

Sponsor Christopher’s Scilly Isles Swim

Live Updates 

UPDATE: 9/11/20 Christopher’s video diary of his progress on Day Four – and making it halfway to the Isles of Scilly.

UPDATE: 21/10/20 Christopher has written an update to all sponsors about his progress, the ferocious tides, and when he will be back in the water, which you can read here.

Our Director’s Sponsored Swim letter, May 2020

I am writing to ask for your support to save the Garden Museum from the impact of the coronavirus: this year we need to raise an additional £370,000 to make up for lost income, to re-open, and to get our programme of exhibitions, events and education work started again.

To help raise this lost income, I am going to swim fifty miles from Newlyn in Cornwall to Tresco, on the Isles of Scilly. It retraces a journey made by the painter-gardener Cedric Morris, one of our Museum’s ‘patron saints’, in 1950, seventy years ago. Cedric went by boat; no one has swum the route before.

Swim route

Since 2010, I’ve done four swims to help raise funds to build the Museum. And promised not to ask for sponsorship again. And then came the virus.

The Museum is particularly vulnerable because 70% of our income is from visitors, events, café and venue hire. Between March and June we will have lost £270,000.

Our Appeal is to raise funds to replace that income, so that we can re-open to visitors, turn back on the lights, re-assemble our team – currently on Furlough or part-time – and start putting on events, education, and exhibitions again.

Even when closed, as now, it costs £17,000 a month in fixed costs of insurance, environmental systems, and maintenance to keep the historic building and its collection safe and secure. But we have so much to offer Friends, schools, neighbours and visitors. On the horizon we have exhibitions on Derek Jarman, Constance Spry, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s ‘The Secret Garden’, Geoffrey Jellicoe and Lucian Freud. Last year sixty schools came to study plant biology; sixty community groups met; there were 73 food learning events, including a ground-breaking partnership with our local GP surgery offering sessions for patients with Type 2 Diabetes; our Clay 4 Dementia programme won a national award.

We have set up the country’s first archive of garden design, and this has become a buzzing centre of original research and publications. Our next research project is to explore the gardens made in London by the Windrush generation. We make films of our heroes and heroines, from Beth Chatto to Penelope Hobhouse. We hold British Flowers Week, and Fairs on House-plants, and art, potatoes and pumpkins, and are the only Museum to have its own Literary Festival. We are beginning design work on Lambeth Green, a 5.3 acre park to be made around the Museum, with a horticultural training centre and a ‘green traffic junction’ which could be an exemplar for the city of the future.

All that is on hold, and at risk, because of the virus.

Swimming fifty miles of Atlantic is, I suppose, one way of showing pride in, and care for, the Museum we have built. Earlier sponsored swims were inspired by the life, gardening and travels of John Tradescant, the great gardener whose tomb inspired the foundation of the world’s first Museum dedicated to gardens: the Hellespont in 2010, The Strait of Gibraltar in 2011, the Thames from Oxford to London in 2014, and three years ago a section of The Arctic Circle. However, I’ve run out of journeys inspired by Tradescant.

A new hero is the artist-gardener Cedric Morris, whose garden at Benton End in Suffolk was celebrated in one of our most popular exhibition to date two years ago. In the winter of 1950 he shut up the Art School he’d established in the Tudor house, and sailed from Newlyn – the artists’ colony where he had lived in the 1920s – to Tresco, where he stayed at The Atlantic Inn, painted, and, we imagine, botanized in the exceptional sub-tropical gardens begun by the Dorrien Smith family in the 19th-century.

The Museum is, at heart, about celebrating heroes and heroines, and their love for gardening. Cedric, like Tradescant, like Gertrude Jekyll or Russell Page, embodies that spirit: he liked plants, art, travel, solitude, people, sun, rain, food, but was happiest gardening. He was also, above all, an educator, and learning is the pulse of the Garden Museum.

Every donation, of whatever size, will help us come through this crisis, and, above all, we look forward to opening our doors and welcoming you back to the Museum.

Yours sincerely,

Christopher Woodward



Donate now

Sponsor Christopher’s Scilly Isles Swim