The latest from the GCA

Mike Burks, GCA Chairman, updates GCU on the latest developments within the organisation.

As I mentioned in my previous column, it has been devastating to see our beloved garden centres across the country forced to close due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Not only did we miss one of our busiest times of the year, Easter, but the closures have meant gardeners weren’t able to properly prepare for the new season.

The closures also had huge effects on the wider industry, particularly with plant waste. Growers faced nearly losing their entire incomes, as they had no outlets for their plants.

However, in true British ‘keep calm and carry on’ spirit, we were extremely proud to see how well our member garden centres coped with the lockdown. Many of them began offering online or telephone orders and delivery services, doing their absolute best to ensure their much-loved customers could continue gardening during the pandemic. As we know now, more than ever, gardening is hugely important and beneficial to us physically and mentally, especially during a crisis.

As time has moved on, and as I write this, garden centres in England and Wales have been allowed to re-open with strict social distancing measures in place.

Re-opening a garden centre with these measures is unprecedented for our members, but they have done an excellent job in ensuring everyone remains safe. Many have created queuing procedures and one-way systems, as well as placing markers on the floors and hand sanitising stations where possible. They are also limiting the numbers of people in their centres at any one time.

Although all of these changes are in place and expected to be for some time to come, the excellent customer service, range of plants and the expert advice on offer all remain central to our member centres.

As lockdown restrictions ease, we hope to see the re-opening of concessions in our centres and, also, we have our fingers crossed that Scottish and Northern Irish garden centres will be open again soon, as they still remain closed at the time of writing this.

It is hoped that restaurants and bars will re-open again in July too and we hope this is the same for restaurants and cafés within our member garden centres. When they do re-open, we’re confident our members will be able to stick to the strict social distancing measures that may be required.

It’s been an unprecedented time for us as an Association too. Early on during the crisis, we postponed our annual inspections and went on to cancel them. Although centres are now opening, we’re not sure if our inspections will return later in the year, but we’ll be keeping our members fully informed on developments.

We also won’t be holding our regional meetings, which is a great shame, as they are a date in the calendar that we all look forward to. They are a great opportunity for our members to get together and share best practice, however it’s simply not safe to do so at this time, but we hope they will return again next year.