HTA leads community push for garden centres

Events show garden centres how to act as community hubs by sharing best practice examples.

A series of events is aiming to show how garden centres can act as community hubs.

Retailers will share best practice at the events, which follow a recent HTA Member Voice survey that found 68 per cent of garden retailers help local charities, 75 per cent participate in community events and 67 per cent support school gardening.

HTA business development director Tim Briercliffe said garden centres were employers, outlets for local produce, a link with schools and charities and are used for family outings and events.

A new community hubs brochure highlights how community engagement can increase footfall, customer loyalty, staff satisfaction and enhance brand awareness.

He said centres should identify community contacts - schools, churches, groups and charities - and find funding from the Community Development Fund, Community First and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

At a recent Suttons-sponsored event on engaging communities, Woodcote Green Garden Centre general manager Phil Barnden said of his Garden Retail award-winning Green Fingered Kids Scheme: "As we got more successful, we wanted to give something back."

A voucher scheme for 220 primary schools had £18,000 to give away. At 50 per cent redemption it "got everybody going and will pay dividends", said Barnden. He added: "They might not spend money then, but they will. We're trying to create a caring/sharing atmosphere."

Woodcote Green sends an enterprise pack donated by suppliers to schools. Barnden said it was worth £20 and children can grow £100 worth of plants to sell at school fairs. In winter, he invites schools to the centre to show them how to use the kit.

Coolings in Kent hosted the event. Business development manager Neil Jackson said: "Garden centres all look fairly similar if you look at Dobbies. Being old-fashioned is a bit of a bonus these days."

He said Coolings played on its 100-year heritage and ran initiatives such as a lecture theatre. It also sponsored flower beds and supported a young offenders' garden in Bromley.

Coolings is also a Bromley enterprise awards sponsor and gives vouchers to charities. It has a nature trail for Brownies and school groups, runs a junior petunia competition and lends an egg incubator to schools.

Event series

21 February, Grosvenor Garden Centre, Chester

With case studies from the host centre and Dobbies garden centre, Liverpool

28 February, Cadbury Garden & Leisure, Bristol

With case studies from the host centre, Fermoy's Garden Centre (Newton Abbott) and Cleeve Nursery (near Bristol).


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