Best Garden Centre Event

Winner: The Big Weekend, Glendoick Garden Centre

Glendoick put on The Big Weekend in June 2015, involving all local primary schools and community youth groups. In wanting to celebrate the local children, Glendoick offered them the opportunity to design, produce and sell a product at the garden centre in Glencarse, Perthshire.

Scottish Government finance minister John Swinney opened the event and toured tables overflowing with cards, calendars, candles, soaps and jute bags. Glendoick also laid on a barbecue, bouncy castle, face painting and local suppliers with lots of food and drink. The weekend brought the highest footfall in the centre's history and record June weekend takings.

Jane Cox, who runs the centre with husband Kenneth, visited each of the seven primary schools and children's groups twice, the first time to teach children about enterprise and advise on choosing a product and how to cost it. The second visit, once they had a proof or prototype, concentrated on pricing, marketing and merchandising their product.

In the lead-up to the weekend, while the children were busy with their usual school curriculum and making their products, hand-made posters started appearing in every village post office and local shop. Door-to-door leafleting with their own hand-made flyers began dropping through neighbouring letter boxes.

Glendoick decided to call it The Carse Children's Market and five groups would take up a table each on both Saturday and Sunday, to celebrate the children of the Carse, the 14-mile local valley in which Glendoick is set, and offer them a business opportunity.

There were free food and drink tastings to add to the festive occasion. Glendoick also invited 10 local suppliers to come and talk to customers about their products. For the barbecue, the chef moved out of the kitchen and cooked up a storm with local beef burgers and sausage rolls.

Hanging basket demonstrations were arranged to get ready for summer colour. On the day all the local children appeared with boxes full of their product and trailing endless supplies of merchandising that would have made an expert window dresser jealous.

They were playing shop for real and taking it very seriously while having a lot of fun. Their energy as they set up their stands was palpable and filled the garden centre with a special feeling. Customers were drawn to the noise and followed their ears, rather than the signposting.

When Swinney opened the event at 11am the tables were already teeming with customers and he had trouble getting around, but he managed to engage so many children as they proudly explained their products.

On sale were calendars made up of winning photographs taken by pupils, hand-made soaps with scents such as rose and lavender and the more audacious bubblegum and strawberry-and-vanilla scented candles in hand-decorated recycled jars.

Longforgan Primary School involved all its pupils in decorating jute bags, from the youngest making potato paintings while the older embroidered tartan socks and pants on a washing line onto the bags.

The Brownies made "thank you" cards with teabags. The Scouts sold colourful toggle key rings. The youngest class made hand-painted coasters from clay. The local Sunday school crocheted animals and mug warmers, taught by the elders of the village. The children raised around £2,000 for their own funds while the garden centre saw the highest footfall in its 43-year history.

Christmas Funday, Sidmouth Garden Centre
Real Ice Rink, Whitehall Garden Centre

Award sponsor

SOLEX, organised by the Leisure & Outdoor Furniture Association, is an annual event that brings together all the leading manufacturers of garden products and provides a showcase for exciting new developments in the retail and contract markets. SOLEX 2016 will be at the Birmingham NEC on 5-7 July.

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