I’m delighted to report that as of Wednesday 13 May, all three of our garden centres will reopen to the public from 9am – 4pm, Monday to Saturday, and 10am – 4:30pm on Sunday. Things won’t be quite the same though, so I wanted to share some of the new measures and systems that we’re putting into place.

In order to reopen, we have agreed a set of protocols with the government to ensure that we can keep customers and our teams safe.

These include separate entrance and exit doors, one-way systems and a limit on the number of customers onsite at any one time. Screens have also been erected by the tills, where payment by card will be preferred. To avoid browsing we have been asked by the government not to sell gifts for the time-being, while large items such as garden furniture can be purchased by taking the relevant barcodes to the till, where the team will arrange for free home delivery. A drive-through compost shop has also been introduced, for those who just need a few bags.

We’ll be greatly reduced in staff numbers, as team members who are vulnerable, have vulnerable family or have children, are still unable to come in, so please bear with us as we get this new system up-and-running. Restocking will have to take place after we close each afternoon and in-store advice will be somewhat limited to maintain social distancing.

To help customers manage the new one-way system, the team has produced maps of each site, so that shopping lists can be made in the right order. You can view these below.

We will continue to accept telephone orders for free delivery, to look after those who are still stuck at home. Such orders can’t be picked until after customers have gone home, so with this in mind, to begin with we will open with reduced hours.

As customers return to our garden centres and pressure lifts off the delivery system, we will be able to start taking orders for home delivery via email as well.

When we closed on 23 March we had a decision to make as a business; to close completely and furlough all staff or to continue to trade using our delivery service. The second option has been hugely costly, yet we saw it as our social responsibility to look after those who are stuck at home, as we knew this would benefit them hugely. Our deliveries have allowed people to carry on gardening, keeping them mentally and physically fit, whilst also giving them something productive to do. We also knew that, whereas we might survive by hiding under a blanket during lockdown, that our growers, who have supplied us for years, would not. So the decision was made to reorganise the business to be run purely from telephone orders with the few staff we had available.

On a busy spring day, we would normally expect over a thousand visitors to Castle Gardens alone, so there was no way that we could handle such demand over the phone. Many in the industry tried what we were doing and gave up, some after the first morning. I’m sure those who struggled to get through were frustrated, but the number of emails, cards and letters we received thanking us for what we were doing was overwhelming.

We’ll be taking a big step towards normality on Wednesday, as all three garden centres reopen. We’ve reinvented the business once in the last two months and I feel confident that we can do it again.