Takeover saves garden centre from closure

Stuart (left) and Martin Hammond who have given Leighton's Garden  Centre a new lease of life.

Stuart (left) and Martin Hammond who have given Leighton's Garden Centre a new lease of life.

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Leighton Buzzard Garden Centre has been saved, with contracts exchanged between the current owners and one of the biggest horticultural growers in the region in a deal that will create new jobs with investment plans for years to come.

Just two months after owners Martin and Stuart Hammond announced their decision to retire, the family-owned and Bedfordshire-based Home and Garden Group will be taking control of the Hockliffe Road garden centre facilities with effect from next week (June 13) with “business continuing as usual”.

Says Martin, who with brother Stuart has developed the garden centre for 20 years since purchasing the derelict three-acre site in 1994: “We are absolutely delighted the garden centre will continue with the new operators committed to its development and future success.

“It has been a prominent feature in Leighton Buzzard for two decades, and will continue to be so with fresh ideas and long-term plans by a family firmly rooted in the horticultural world.”

The Home and Garden Group, with its operations centre at Upper Caldecote, near Biggleswade, was founded in the 1960s by Paul Chessum, who is now chairman of the group managed by son David White and daughter Karen Gill.

With the Leighton Buzzard outlet now part of its portfolio, it now has ten garden centres located in the Midlands and the south, and a vast nursery facility, with around five million plants under cultivation at any one time – including around 600 varieties of roses.

The group supplies a vast range of products to commercial outlets as well as to its own garden centres.

Karen said: “The Leighton Buzzard centre is a perfect addition to our existing business which focuses on cultivating great products sold at great value for money prices. We have a reputation for being the ‘gardeners’ garden centre’ and we look forward to Leighton and its long established clients becoming part of the family.”

Brother David focuses on the sales and marketing activities of a business which currently has over 200 employees and which has offered jobs to the 14 staff at the Leighton operations.

David said: “Events have moved fast since we first approached Martin and Stuart about taking over their business, and whilst we want to maintain the friendly family atmosphere of the Leighton centre, we already have plans to improve the shopping experience with substantial investment in new stock, poly-tunnels and other additions.

“There’s likely to be a little disruption for a week or two whilst we get our feet under the table, but we’re a family business and in this for the long term.”

The Hammond brothers initially decided to hang up their pruning shears this autumn to pursue other interests, but agreed to grant a 15-year lease to Home & Garden earlier than planned to enable a “smooth transition” of activities and enable the new operators to introduce new plant ranges during the busy summer season.

Nine other businesses occupying rented facilities on the multi-use retail site and employing around 40 people will be unaffected; however, with the lapse of the current lease to on-site coffee shop operators, Home and Garden plan to open a ‘Blossom Cafe’ similar to those they have at five of their other garden centres.

Other businesses on the Leighton site include an aquatics centre, beauticians, dog groomers, a pet shop, car wash, crafts centre, hot tub and pool suppliers and installers, a conservatory company and a children’s nursery.

Martin added: “There was much ill-informed speculation about the future of the site when we announced our plans to retire, but we said at the time that we would consider any sensible viable approach made to us.

“We’ve been true to our word; now we hope that the many customers who expressed their disappointment will now get behind the new operators and support them and their objectives.

“It’s a great result which will be of immense benefit to the town, its communities and particularly its many gardening enthusiasts.”