Garden centre group secures CBILS funding as horticulture industry hit hard by Covid-19

Whitehall Garden Centres 1_

As Britain’s best known gardener, Alan Titchmarsh, urges UK gardeners to ‘Buy British to save our plant industry’, a South West family run garden centre group has secured funding from Barclays to support it through the current crisis and help local customers keep gardening.

Whitehall Garden Centres headquartered at Lacock, near Chippenham, Wiltshire, has secured the funding as part of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) introduced by the government, to meet working capital requirements. The firm also owns and operates Whitchurch Garden Centre in Norton Lane, Bristol and Woodborough Garden Centre near Marlborough, Wiltshire.

Whitehall Garden Centres is a fourth generational family business, now managed by Peter and Claire Self and their daughters, and today employs more than 275 people. The business has diversified in recent years to become a leading visitor destination offering farm shops, Christmas grotto, ice rink and a pet and aquatics centre, in addition to the traditional garden centre offering.

Having to close its doors at a peak time in the horticultural calendar and over the Easter Holiday break has had a devastating impact on footfall and income streams.  The firm has since launched an online offering to help customers keep gardening during lockdown and has donated unused spring bedding plants to local schools and organisations supporting NHS staff.

A new industry report conducted by Horticulture Trade Association, published in April, revealed that the government’s current proposed aid package does not work for the horticultural industry and that a third of UK growers claim they will be insolvent by the end of June because of the impact of coronavirus.

To support the HTA campaign to reopen garden centres, a guidance document has been produced to ensure all garden centres open in a safe manner for staff and customers alike – should the Government formally announce a relaxation.

The document has been informed by leading HTA retailers, the British Retail Consortium, and the relevant government guidance as a recommendation of best practice regarding social distancing.

In response to the findings, the nation’s favourite celebrity gardeners, along with the HTA who conducted the survey amongst the UK’s ornamental grower businesses, are calling for the Government to act now and support growers before it is too late.

Peter Self, Managing Director, Whitehall Garden Centres, said: “Our sincerest thanks must go to Barclays for the speed and efficiency with dealing with our application, from presentation of our business plan to drawdown was only six working days, a credit to all involved. Being supported at this critical time has given us the confidence to plan for our future and gave us funds to pay our colleagues and suppliers, enabling the management team to focus on how we can best service our loyal gardening customers, with our online home delivery and click collect services, both now being expanded at pace as part of our future offering.”

Martin Crook, Relationship Director at Barclays, Bath, added: “This is a business that we have worked closely with over a number of years and when the request came in for support; I was determined to help as quickly as possible. Horticulture, like many other sectors in the current climate, is finding trading conditions really tough and it’s vital that we support where we can. This, coupled with the strength of the management team, has enabled us to respond quickly to this request and to provide the required funding within days.”

HTA Chairman, James Barnes, said, “The HTA has been highlighting the unique plight of the UK grower sector and the need for direct government assistance given the inapplicability of the current financial aid schemes. Opening garden centres will not only help open sales outlets but will assist the mental health and well-being of so many people isolating at home and the importance of having something to do at home keeps you at home. We are doing everything we can to enable garden centres to reopen safely and as soon as possible should the government alter the guidelines for our sector. This new guidance document is integral for all operators to get back to business as safely as they can and gives them the help they need to protect their staff and customers in these unsettling times.”