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Garden centres reopen their doors to customers in the region

By Dayna Farrington | Walsall | News | Published: | Last Updated:

Garden centres across the Black Country and Staffordshire were preparing to open their doors to customers today – as bosses urged customers to follow social distancing guidelines.

Walsall Garden Centre owner Mark Clifton gets ready for the reopening on Wednesday

While most businesses and venues are to remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, garden centres in England are being allowed to reopen.

Most centres have been closed to customers since mid-March. Nurseries and garden centres across the region have faced ruin as the market for seasonal plants shut down at a time when people normally flock there to restock their gardens for the summer.

A number of centres across the Black Country and Staffordshire will open their doors today – with strict new measures in place, including limiting the number of visitors on site, one-way systems and new entrances.

Walsall Garden Centre shop assistant Stephen Meddings checks the plants before reopening

Any cafes, restaurants and children’s play areas at garden centres will remain shut.

The UK’s 2,000 garden centres and nurseries were forced to close in March because, unlike DIY chains such as B&Q and Homebase, they were not granted “essential” retailer status. The shutdown came at a critical time of year, with 70 per cent of sales rung up in spring, forcing devastated growers to throw away millions of plants.

The green light could not come too soon for the industry, which has been pleading for a £250m state aid package to avoid collapse. Grower Far Plants said it had lost about £5m worth of stock due to the lockdown, with key sales dates at Easter and May bank holiday lost.

Like many, Walsall Garden Centre staff were looking forward to opening the doors and welcoming customers again.

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Mark Litherland, manager, said: "We are looking forward to reopening today but we are also apprehensive about what to expect – we have put many policies in place for the safety of our staff and customers.

"We have put signs up stressing the importance of the social distancing and two metre rule, arrows to guide customers in one direction through the shop, Perspex screens at the tills, hand sanitiser around the store and we will be wiping the handles of trolleys.

"We have done a very small amount of deliveries while being closed. We have had staff in tending to the plants, maintaining the store and preparing for our eventual reopening.

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"We are looking forward to seeing our regular customers – and we will still do those deliveries for those who are vulnerable and others who don't want to come to the store.

"I think it is important for people's mental and physical health that they are able to get out in their gardens and do stuff."

Walsall Garden Centre manager, Mark Litherland, gets ready for reopening on Wednesday

Lealans Garden Centre, off the Bridgnorth Road, near Wolverhampton, was also set to open today – but with strict measures to keep their staff and customers safe. The centre will operate a one in, one out policy, and if the car park becomes too overcrowded they will shut the gates.

Ann Winwood, one of the directors, said: “We are opening our doors today, with shorter opening hours than normal and rules in place for social distancing.

“It has been a difficult few months and we have been working behind the scenes looking after the plants. We had a delivery service set up during the closure – and we will continue to do that for people who don’t want to come out to the centre.

“I hope people will be sensible and follow the guidelines of social distancing, which we are supposed to follow. April, May and June are our busiest months, it is where we take enough to get through the winter months – it is yet to be seen whether we can catch up. We don’t know how it is going to play out – we will just take it one day at a time.”

Cypress Nurseries, off Powke Lane, in Rowley Regis, was also set to reopen – but is asking customers to instead ring them to book a slot to visit, as they don’t want their small to be overwhelmed.

Bruce Screen, who owns the family-run business which is celebrating its 100th year this year, said: "We are only a small nursery, and we don't have a big car park, so we don't want overcrowding. If customers phone up, we can tell them a time to come visit.

"We have had constant deliveries since we have been closed – our three phones have been going all the time. But it will be good to get back to some sort of normality."

Among those reopening today is Webbs in West Hagley, near Stourbridge. Webbs in Wychbold, in Droitwich, will open tomorrow.

Walsall Garden Centre has taken steps to reopen and make the garden centre safe for staff and customers

Bosses at Webbs say the safety of customers and colleagues are at the centre of their new operating plan – and a series of social distancing and health and safety measures have been put in place, including perspex screens and a limit onnumbers.

Nick Baker, head of operations at Webbs, said: “We are reopening our stores to help our customers repair, improve and maintain their homes and gardens while staying at home – as well as shop from our local foodhall.

“It is important to us that our customers feel safe when they shop with us, so prior to making a trip, our customers will need to understand our new Covid-19 health and safety policy and our temporary store opening times.”

New health and safety measures in place in store include limiting the number of customers in store at any one time managed at entrance points and car parks; no groups of more than two people per visit; new signs and floor markings are in place to help customers and staff keep two metres apart and antibacterial stations and trolley and basket cleaning points will be provided.

All tills in the Hagley and Wychbold stores have also been fitted with Perspex screens to protect customers and colleagues.

Dobbies Garden Centre in Gailey, near Wolverhampton, will also open today.

Graeme Jenkins, chief executive officer of Dobbies, said: “We have taken care to ensure we are following guidance provided by the Government, British Retail Consortium and Horticultural Trade Association to reopen responsibly.

“Our team is well prepared, social distancing measures are in place and we look forward to welcoming customers back into our store in Gailey and across England.

“I would like to thank our team members and customers for their understanding during these uncertain times.”

While Cooks Garden Centre, in Stourport, Wyre Forest, won't be opening its doors just yet.

Owner Paul Cook said: "We've got a very effective delivery service of hundreds a week and we will carry that on.

"We will only open when it's safe to do so, when we have changed the site.

"The whole site will be completely different, we're going to segregate people, put in a one-way system, it's going to be a massive operation.

"It's going to be in place for a number of weeks so we might as well get it right now.

"We won't be opening until May 20, or maybe the weekend after."

Dayna Farrington

By Dayna Farrington
Senior reporter based at Wolverhampton

Reporter for the Express & Star based at Wolverhampton.

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