EXCLUSIVE: Garden centre closure shock

Leighton Buzzard's popular garden centre is to cease trading this autumn, 22 years after two brothers transformed a derelict site into a thriving community-based multi-use retail facility.
CALLING IT A DAY: Garden centre owners Stuart and Martin HammondCALLING IT A DAY: Garden centre owners Stuart and Martin Hammond
CALLING IT A DAY: Garden centre owners Stuart and Martin Hammond

Owners Martin and Stuart Hammond, who opened Leighton Buzzard Garden Centre in 1995, a year after purchasing the three-acre site in Hockliffe Road, have now decided to retire to pursue other interests.

Two full-time employees and 10 mainly semi-retired people employed on a part-time basis will be affected by the closure, which is likely to take place in September. They will receive enhanced redundancy payments when their employment ends.

Ten other businesses occupying rented facilities on site and employing around 40 people, will be unaffected by the closure of the garden centre activities.

Says Martin, 57: “We have very much enjoyed developing the garden centre over the years, but feel we can now take it no further without a substantial investment which we just cannot justify.

“In recent years, we have had discussions with other major garden centre operators, but they have shown no interest in continuing what has been developed into a thriving, profitable business with a turnover exceeding a million pounds a year.”

Adds Stuart, 54: “We have been blessed with a great team of people who have worked for us over the years, and it’s because we want to maximise the time they have to find alternative employment that we have announced our decision now.

“All staff and tenants have been briefed and understand our decision, though as you would expect, some are disappointed that the garden centre activities are to cease. However, we will do what we can to help find our employees alternative jobs if they so wish.”

Although the garden centre coffee shop will close, the tenancy agreements of ten other businesses on the site will not be affected by the closure.

They 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.

Adds Martin: “We understand there’s been speculation about the site being sold for housing or a relief road; we are unaware of any such proposals. We have however, informed the district and town council of our decision.

“Stuart and I have four children between us, but none are interested in managing the garden centre, which is a very demanding, time-consuming responsibility.

“So while we are still young enough to travel the world and catch up on activities we have had to ignore while managing and developing the business, we have, after much consideration of the options available to us, decided to call it a day.

“We will of course, consider any sensible viable approach made to us. However, our immediate focus is on providing our customers and clients with a business-as-usual service until we cease trading in September, helping our employees find alternative jobs and developing other business opportunities on the site to complement those which will remain trading successfully for many years to come.”

DHorticultural Trades Association, to maximise interest in the availability of the site for ongoing horticultural use.

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