Colne Valley Garden Centre turns into soup kitchen and Scotsdales sells out of sledges in the big freeze

Garden centres are starting soup kitchens and selling salt and sledges to stop trade grinding to a halt as customers chose not to garden in the snow or to drive on icy roads.

Colne Valley Garden Centre in Golcar, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, has decided to open up its cafe to everyone, and offer free soup until the snow has gone, after concerned staff saw elderly residents struggling on the snow and ice-covered streets.

Representative Sue Coverdale said: "We'll carry on with this while the snow lasts, which will be a while yet. We've had the radio here and the local paper. Hopefully, this will bring people in who would not have come otherwise. But it's still hazardous underfoot and on side roads."

As well as attracting customers, bringing in products is difficult, say centre owners.

Cambridge-based Scotsdales managing director Caroline Owen said sledges are like "gold dust" and rock salt is short, though a logs delivery had just come through the snows.

Dorset-based Golden Acres operations director Simon Edwards said trade at its four centres is "bloody awful" thanks to the weather, which has seen temperatures drop to -17°C in Oxfordshire, 30cm of snow fall in many areas and 10% of staff miss work on 5-6 January, according to the Federation of Small Businesses.

Edwards said one of his garden centre managers took 6 hours to get home on the night of 5 January, but all Golden Acres centres had remained open. He added: "But staff are just dusting, polishing and cleaning."

Edwards said cashing in on sledges and rock salt is a risky business: "You can get left with 10 pallets of grit for 5 years and then the bags rot."

He added that Golden Acres is using 10-12% more fuel oil to keep temperatures up in its growing operation.

Edwards said the main worry was pipes bursting when the big freeze thaws. He added that delays in fuel deliveries were a worry: "If everyone is calling at the same time hospitals and schools will get preference over garden centres and nurseries."

But he said gas supply was not a problem at the one site where GAN uses it.

Edwards said he was glad the cold snap was happening now before the GAN trade show (10 February, Bournemouth), which has sold more than 200 of its 220 stands.

South Coast-based Philip Evason, retail operations director at Haskins Garden Centres, said: "We are trading quietly at three of our centres but Crawley didn't open at all on 6 January because we had 9-10 inches of snow. We would have had no customers and only a skeleton staff. At Ferndown people are bubbling in but it is getting to the position where people won't travel."

West Sussex-based Philip Sanders, owner of Blue Ribbon Plants, said: "The weather is playing havoc with us. We can't get deliveries out because of it."


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