New jobs created as rare species arboretum offers glamping accommodation

Photograph: (Left to Right) Gina Atkinson, Alfie Smith, Claire Price, Mel Jones & Karrie-Anne Collingwood

A 130-year-old arboretum in Kent, which has won 28 gold medals at RHS Chelsea Flower Show for its rhododendrons and acid-loving shrubs and trees, is to offer glamping accommodation, with help from a £300,000 business finance facility from Reward Finance Group, leading to the creation of new jobs.

Reuthe’s in Seal Chart near Sevenoaks, was rescued by Claire Price in 2016 after it had become derelict, with the arboretum in danger of losing many of its prize-winning specimens due to years of neglect.

Buying it as a retirement project, Claire worked closely with the Royal Horticultural Society’s Rhododendron and Camelia Group and breathed new life into the 11-acre site, rescuing the valuable plants, some of which are the only examples left in the world.

Since then, Claire has transformed Reuthe’s, by creating a vibrant start-up business that is a trailblazer in the world of agro-tourism, with community and charity, founding principles of her business activities.

Calling it ‘The Lost Gardens of Sevenoaks’, she has opened the woodlands to the public, for the first time in its history, and created a 12-month programme of tourist activities. These include alpaca treks, festivals, mindfulness courses, farmers and craft markets, and a woodland bistro. She is also offering the venue for weddings as well as offering spa retreats.

It has resulted in the creation of more than 20 jobs from event co-ordinators, gardeners, and café staff. There is even an Alpaca whisperer!

Tapping into the collective zeitgeist for the healing power of nature and horticulture during the pandemic, Claire is to offer glamping accommodation as a natural addition to her current operations.

With the glamping pods needing to be ready for next spring, she had to quickly arrange the finance and Reward Finance Group was recommended as a funding partner.

Business development director at Reward, Steph Brown, met with Claire and was impressed with what she had achieved over the last five years.

“Claire is an enormously ambitious and driven individual who fought tooth and nail to save Reuthe’s from a competing bid from a car breakers yard,” she said.

“She has since worked tirelessly to not only save but transform Reuthe’s into a magnificent horticultural centre and tourist attraction. Her plans for glamping accommodation make perfect sense and we had no hesitation in quickly providing the business finance to enable them to be ready for the holiday season next year.”

Claire added, “Steph Brown and Reward are a breath of fresh air for SMEs trying to navigate the ‘turbulent sea’ of business funding. They do what they say, and they achieve completion dates effortlessly. By quickly understanding what I have already achieved at Reuthe’s, and recognising the benefits of adding glamping to our offering, they have enabled me to create even more sustainable rural jobs in the hard-hit hospitality sector.”