After saving Leighton Buzzard’s Garden Centre, Milton Keynes businessman rescues Willington operation

KEN CHEN: Already at work at Willington.
KEN CHEN: Already at work at Willington.

A Milton Keynes businessman has rescued a second garden centre facing closure, saving a total of 40 jobs and vowing to invest in the new ventures to make them “a supplier of quality products to gardening enthusiasts.”

Just two months after taking over the Leighton Buzzard Garden Centre, businessman Ken Chen is the new owner of the Willington Garden Centre, the flagship operation of the Home & Garden Group which called in administrators in March when their operations got into financial difficulties.

WILLINGTON GARDEN CENTRE: Under New Management.

WILLINGTON GARDEN CENTRE: Under New Management.

Mr Chen has signed a 15-year lease with the local owner of the Willington site, strategically located in Sandy Road and convenient for Bedford, Sandy and Biggleswade communities.

Multi-lingual Mr Chen, who spent his childhood years in China and Hong Kong before moving to Ireland where he went to university in Dublin, launched his Newbridge Premium Pots company based at Bradwell Abbey, Milton Keynes, in 2009.

It is now one of the largest suppliers of glazed terracotta pots in all colours, shapes and sizes to garden centres and other retail outlets in England and Wales. His other business interests include a dealership in prestige motor vehicles.

Says Mr Chen, a 38-year-old father of two young daughters with wife SeSe: “There is a natural synergy between our existing successful pot-supply business and garden centres, which we have supplied for many years.

TEAM BUILDING: New Willington owners Ken and SeSe Chen with staff  members Jade Pickering (left) and Gemma Spavins (right).

TEAM BUILDING: New Willington owners Ken and SeSe Chen with staff members Jade Pickering (left) and Gemma Spavins (right).

“Having acquired both the former Home & Garden sites in Leighton Buzzard and Willington within the space of less than three months, we will be working with the experienced management teams we have retained at both locations to ensure these garden centres become the location of choice for horticulturists and gardening enthusiasts.”

Mr Chen will be focusing much of his attention on developing facilities at the Willington site, both horticulturally, enhancing catering at the in-house Blossom Café, and in garden support services. An aquarium centre and shed supplier are currently based at Willington, and Mr Chen is anxious to attract new tenants to the four-acre site to “enhance the all-round facilities for customers”.

“We believe both Leighton Buzzard and Willington Garden Centres can be developed into premier facilities, which, during our stewardship, will focus on quality and value. We are in this for the long term and will be drawing up plans to improve the facilities whilst maintaining all the services provided by a traditional garden centre.”

Both the Leighton Buzzard and Willington centres were part of the family-owned Home & Garden Group based at Upper Caldecote, near Biggleswade. Its portfolio traded from nine sites located in the Midlands and the South.

But in March, it was announced that the business was going into administration with London-based accountants Mazars LLP appointed to “sell the business as a going concern.”

With its headquarters in Upper Caldecote, H&G had other centres located in Worcester, Nottingham, Kettering, Ferndown, Chichester and Rowlands Castle.