Botanic Gardens Conservation International
BGCI provides a global voice for all botanic gardens, championing and celebrating their inspiring work. We are the world's largest plant conservation network, open to all. Join us in helping to save the world's threatened plants.

The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Guiding at Kew

Contributed by Barbara Boyle, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, U.K.


I am the Volunteer Guides Co-ordinator at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. I’m very fortunate to lead a remarkable team of volunteers. The Kew Guides are passionate about Kew and passionate about guiding. To celebrate our 10th anniversary we have put together a short film about the pleasures and pitfalls of guiding at Kew. We call it ‘A Guide to Good Guiding – in 12 Easy Lessons’.

These are my lines in the film, my moment of glory on the silver screen. I was hoping to bring the completed video with me to show today but unfortunately it is languishing in post-production and all I have to show you are some of graphic designs for the titles.

Most of the Kew guides were involved in the production. One of the guides who worked in TV production before he retired was the scriptwriter, producer, director and chief cameraman. The rest of the film crew and cast were all volunteer guides. They got together on 4 or 5 occasions in August and completed the filming.

We had a budget of £20 for the whole project – not vast in Hollywood terms. There was no problem securing the cast and crew. The volunteer guides were delighted to participate and there was, in fact, considerable competition for the starring roles.

The problem was with the post-production team. We managed to engage the free services of a professional editor and a graphic designer – who just happened to be my son and daughter. It was no great surprise to me when their work commitments and holiday plans took precedence over our amateur production. I hope that the video will be completed for the guides’ General Meeting at the end of October, which means that the world premiere will be in London instead of Sydney.

So instead of showing the video, I will describe it briefly, explain why it was made, what the guides have already achieved and what they still expect to achieve. Finally I will put the project in the context of the volunteer guiding programme at Kew.

What is it About?

  1. It’s about guiding skills.
  2. Be prepared
  3. Assess your group
  4. Structure you tour
  5. Take account of the weather
  6. Signpost your tour
  7. Take control of your group
  8. Face your group
  9. Speak clearly
  10. Address the entire group
  11. Not too much detail
  12. Be prepared for the unexpected
  13. Keep to the facts

Each of these 12 headings introduces a brief scenario. Each scenario illustrates a simple but important message. All together they illustrate the pleasures of guiding at Kew, such is the rich and fascinating history of Kew and its unsurpassed collections. They also illustrate the pitfalls of guiding at Kew – such as the planes passing overhead every minute on their descent to Heathrow –and, of course, the unpredictable British weather!

The video starts on a serious note, moves into comedy and ends in farce. It is meant not only to instruct but also to entertain. And that is, after all, what good guiding is all about.

Why was it Made?

For a number of reasons. Firstly as part of the Kew Guides anniversary celebrations that have been taking place throughout 2002, the 10th anniversary of guiding at Kew.
10th anniversary celebrations

These include:

  • Celebration lunch
  • Kew Mutual Improvement Society presentation
  • Themed ‘Personality’ tours
  • Grand Charity Tour.

In July it was hoped to stage a Grand Charity Tour – a 'tourathon' – or guiding relay around the entire 300-acre site, but it became bogged down in a logistic quagmire and the project was abandoned. I sensed their disappointment and suggested that, instead, they make a video. I knew they were capable of this as they had produced a video 9 years ago.

At present (2002), there are 35 Volunteer Guides at Kew. Since the volunteer guiding programme began 10 years ago there have been 3 intakes of guides to replace those who have dropped out along the way and also to increase the size of the team. Remarkably, 11 of the original group are still guiding, 10 years on.
The first year of volunteer guiding at Kew was such a success that the Education Department decided to increase the team. The original guides felt that, although their induction training had been excellent on the history, science and collections of Kew, it was somewhat lacking on guiding skills. So when the recruitment process began for the second intake of guides, the first group produced a video based on their experiences, and presented it as a training tool for the second group When, 10 years later, it came to making a new video, the guides decided to redo and improve the original video, using guides from all three intakes.

The video was made for the following reasons:

  • To keep the guides happy
  • To celebrate their 10th anniversary
  • As a training tool for the next intake of guides
  • To present to the 5th Education Congress in Sydney.

What has Already been Achieved?

I think, in this particular case, the proof of the pudding is as much in the making as it is in the eating. Without even having the video ready to show, much has been achieved by its production:

  • A symbolic unity of the 3 intakes of guides
  • An exercise in team building
  • A social occasion
  • The incorporation of new ideas about good guiding l learned over the years
  • An opportunity to use and appreciate the talents of others in the guiding team
  • A learning experience.

What has Yet to be Achieved?

When the video is finally ready to be shown, it will have achieved the following:

  • It will be a memento of the team’s 10th anniversary
  • It will be a welcoming gift for the new batch of guides
  • It will act as an internal training tool
  • It will be a training video for a wider audience.

How does the Video fit into the Guiding Programme at Kew?

The answer is that it doesn’t really. It is not a component of the guiding programme. However, it is a very important component of the volunteer programme. Where there is no monetary remuneration there has to be some other form of reward and recognition. The making of the video fits into something broadly defined as ‘pastoral care’.

Guiding Programme at Kew

All this extra activity, not only for the production of a video but also for the 10th anniversary, was in addition to a very full guiding programme, which included.

  • Gate tours
  • Booked tours
  • Themed tours
  • Festival tours
  • Handling sessions
  • Discovery Bus tours

The Kew Guides also do 'roving' sessions in the great glasshouses, write special 'tour'-style articles for the Kew Magazine, maintain their own library and slide collection, give lectures in the gardens and outside and organise their own Guides mutual meetings where they exchange information to improve their tours and develop new ones.


I hope that this paper illustrates what I said at the beginning, and what I particularly wanted to bring to this Education Congress and that is that I am very fortunate indeed to lead a team of such enthusiastic, hard working, dedicated, resourceful, talented, in fact, remarkable volunteers. I have worked in the voluntary sector for 15 years and I have never met anything quite like them. The Kew Guides are passionate about Kew, passionate about guiding and passionate about connecting with plants.