You may have noticed from the Curator's page that there is the need to support a planning application to secure the sustainable future of the RTVC. So we decided to handle some of the questions about the food and drink issues that could be raised along the way. The RTVC sees these issues as often the cause of exaggeration and out of keeping with the Centres main purpose, but in the interest of providing information we have answered some of these questions below.
Is the RTVC a cafe?
No, the RTVC is an exhibition and information centre which happens to have food and drink on-board for the benefit of the public. There is a dedicated space inside the hold of the vessel for displays and meetings which are held for the public, groups and informally to do environmental work. The RTVC tries to create an environment which is sociable and fun and one in which learning almost takes place by just "being there".
When the RTVC is manned do you approach the visitors if they have only come aboard for food and drink?
Yes we do, this is an "out-reach" project, that means we wish to make contact with new people and get them involved. People need to participate in environmental matters and as most environmental organisations have found, it is very difficult to increase levels of this involvement. The nature of the RTVC attracts the general public to the Thames and helps our aim to outreach and meet these new people. To attract members of the general public to anything is incredible difficult, so the the waterside opportunities encouraged by the London Plan such as creating gatherings by the waterside, for whatever reason, does allow this outreach. See the definition of outreach in the right column.
Can members of the public just come aboard and have food and drink without viewing the exhibition?
Yes, the last time we looked, this was a free country, so people can just do just that. They can also just come aboard and look at the exhibition without buying food and drink. The exhibition space remains free of charge and the most important part of the RTVC work. However the people that do come aboard eat and have a good time by being on the Thames, provide the funding for this river related project. The RTVC has planning consent for this public function and it would be a serious misinterpretation of the facts and exaggeration to think that the sale of food and drink is the principal activity, or is something that is unrelated to the primary purpose of the visitor centre. After all its in the name River Thames Visitor Centre, that means open to all for the benefit and the enjoyment of the Thames. Lots of things can on the surface look like one thing, but really be another. Take a Swan, the grace as they glide through the water, but underneath their legs are powerering away. No matter how times a few misguilded individuals claim that the food and drink is dominent, it will not change the fact that this is a really popular Thames facility to visit and any such view only displays a serious naivity regaring all the work we do at the RTVC and the project as a whole.
How is just coming aboard to eat and drink related to the environmental work at the RTVC?
The RTVC was set up that so people can enjoy being on the Thames, from the moment a visitor leaves "dry land" at the entrance to the river centre, they have one of the few opportunities to be on the water. This in itself is a major part of getting people interested in the natural world and for most this leads to wishing to know more.The RTVC is housed on a National Historic Ship, this piece of maritime heritage needs looking after, maintenance and repair and this takes time and money. The RTVC also provides a headquarters free-of-charge for other environmental groups and social well-being projects. This is a drop-in centre requires no need to book, or pay and our work carries on we without any grant funding. The work that takes place is priceless, because we know how to have fun.
Does the sale of food and drink put pressure on the RTVC to be more commercial?
No, in an ideal world the it would be nice for the RTVC to receive a grant from the government, and there are, like any project, funding realities. But the RTVC has meticulously followed the same principals that it had in 2005 when it opened to the public. The RTVC has set aside areas on-board which met the various aims of this environmental outreach project and these have not and will not change. The exhibition space is the largest proportion of the usable internal area available and this does more than provide displays and information, it facilitates use by the public and groups and provides a headquarters for their work at and outside the RTVC. As this is a small floating mooring it has no ability to get larger so the only pressure is to be sustainable and be better at what it does.
Why isn't the RTVC manned more often?
Because there are no paid staff and to persuade people to give up their time to volunteer is hard. The Curator volunteered 500hrs in 2010 and made a significant contribution to environmental education for local people and visitors from London and all around the world. When the river centre is manned there is a significant buzz about the place and because the REIC has just started a large research project, which will continue during 2012, the level of manning will be great in 2012.
Why doesn't the RTVC do more projects, events etc?
The RTVC is a social enterprise and has no grants, or wealthy patrons. All the work depends on the very variable income it has from people coming aboard and spending some money. The RTVC has big plans for 2012, but it can only achieve these aims with the help of the public. It is unrealist for anyone to expect something for nothing, yet at the RTVC's balance of uses seems to make that possible. However with the help of the REIC, the RTVC will be looking into other forms of income in future to increasde the levels and quality of the exhibition and future projects.
Do a small number of people think that the RTVC is not as good as they would like it to be?
Yes they do. In doing outreach the knowledgeable and experienced campaigners know there is never an end, you are always between here and there. When the RTVC just started, it was empty and over the years more information has been displayed. If we were a high budget charity, we would have sufficient funding to do many things, but the trouble is the majority of charities have high over-heads often up to 60% or above of their income goes on staff and other costs. We have no grants and have to rely on the ancillary income from any food and drink being sold to have any income at all. The RTVC has not ever made a profit, as it is a social enterprise, yet even the money we do get is mostly not enough the run the centre without private donation. So the RTVC says that if these people would like a better river centre, we are most happy to receive donations.
Why does the RTVC do this environmental work if it does not get a grant?
It is simple, because no-one else does. There are other groups in the Borough that receive huge sums of money from the Council to do river clean-up, look after building and operate under the banner of environmental groups, but no other environmental project is open to the public in Richmond. Since the RTVC started its project in 1995, The RTVC has not seen those groups solving the important environmental issues we all face; managing the Thames, reducing pollution from Modgen STW, finding out through community surveys what are the environmental issue which the residents really think are important and working on those. The RTVC being on the towpath gets to meet hundreds of people everyday and provides the information that helps them.
What is the most important issue in Richmond Borough?
After extensive survey it was discovered that parks and open spaces including the Thames was the most important issue. This was coupled to the loss of this space because of increasing housing developments.
What is the most important issue in the world?
The reason that environmental scientist think globally and act locally is that global problems affect us locally. Over-population is the earth's greatest problem and it manifests itself in Richmond with this pressure for housing on our green spaces.
What do you think about an environmental group that would support a large housing scheme, even if it had some community benefit?
Clearly they would not be environmentalists. The RTVC is widely recognised as an asset to the Borough, however it did not need enabling housing to pay for it. The greatest successes in the history of enviroinmentalism have come about through private ownership. Richmond Park, Kew Gardens, Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club, Old Deer Park and the RTVC only exist because of the mature custodianship by the Crown. These areas have been protected from development by the benevelence of the private owner. It is a good lesson for all environmentalists to learn, that if you want to stop a highway, just get thousands of people to buy one square foot each in front of the proposed route. It is almost impossible for the road to go ahead. This is the same for a River Centre, the best way to fund it is through private ownership, so that there is no need for housing.
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