Webbs Garden Centres takes on Garden Organic retail arm as charity has redundancy talks

Webbs Garden Centres is to open a branch at Garden Organic's Ryton Gardens in Coventry.

Webbs has agreed to enter into a partnership with Garden Organic to take on the current retail, conference and catering operations at the Ryton site, retaining the staff that work in those existing operations.

The 90-staff Garden Organic charity is currently going through redundancy talks but said the move for Webbs to take a long-term rental agreement at the charity's retail arm was not linked.

A representative said: "Our intention is for a partnership operation with Webbs to complete by February. There is no link to redundancy talks at Garden Organic. All staff employed by Garden Organic Enterprises will be transferred to Webbs and become Webbs staff. We have had a redundancy consultation period for other staff and a statement is going to be made available [on Tuesday 24 November]."

Garden Organic will continue to run and develop the organic gardens at Ryton. The charity hopes the new garden centre will increase visitor numbers to the 10ha of demonstration gardens and will help to generate income to support Garden Organic's charitable work.

Webbs and Garden Organic have yet to work out the garden centre's range but it will not necessarily be all organic.

Webbs chief executive Boyd Douglas-Davies said: "Garden Organic accept there is a choice and organic will be the first choice. We will be promoting organic opportunities. But the centre is already not organic. The restaurant is, but the garden shop and food shop are not. That's not going to be changing. Organic is the first choice but not the only choice."

The centre could open by February 2010.

Webbs executive chairman Ed Webb said: "When Garden Organic first approached us about creating a garden centre aimed at promoting sustainable gardening at Ryton, we were immediately excited. The gardens are not only a living testament of how successful organic gardens can be, they are also a unique visitor attraction designed to both inspire and educate a wide variety of ages and gardeners in sustainable gardening practices. We intend to enhance their popularity further by adding a gardening offer to the site. 

"We understand many current garden centre customers would, given the choice, prefer to garden chemical-free, especially those new to the activity through the recent rise in popularity of grow-your-own. With Garden Organic's expertise, we are really excited at looking at ways to best educate our customers. We also look forward to working with our suppliers to develop further ranges with Garden Organic's support."

Garden Organic chief executive Myles Bremner said: "We are absolutely delighted to be forging this new partnership, here at the home of Garden Organic at Ryton. By developing our trading activities with a commercial partner like Webbs, we will be in a stronger position to enable as many people as possible across the UK to enjoy organic and climate-friendly gardening and growing. And with Webbs' commitment to trading excellence, we look forward to a stronger financial future too."

The charity added: "The administration of Garden Organic's charitable activities and research projects will remain on-site at Ryton and its demonstration gardens will remain open to the public. Webbs will trade as Webbs Ryton Gardens. Webbs Ryton Gardens is a pilot store and will offer a comprehensive range of natural gardening products, garden plants and local and organic food. Should the concept prove successful, it will be a future influence on Webbs' existing stores' formats. Webbs are also very keen to support Garden Organic's Heritage Seed Library, by making available for sale rare and heirloom plants, grown on site by Garden Organic. They will also be helping the charity increase public support for their cause with the promotion of Garden Organic membership through their new retail activities."


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