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GCA Trust sponsored delegates say IGCA Congress ‘exceeded expectations’

Emma Lamb and Sam Clark who were sponsored by the GCA Trust to attend the International Garden Centre Association (IGCA) Congress have reported back about their experiences.

Barton Grange Garden Centre’s Emma and Sam, who works for Cowell’s Garden Centre, were picked for the Trust’s Dick Allen Scholarship Award Scheme and joined more than 220 delegates in Windsor in September.

Emma Lamb, who works in Senior Sales in the outside plant area at Barton Grange Garden Centre, said: “I would like to say ‘thank you’ to The Dick Allen Scholarship Fund for awarding me a sponsored place on the IGCA Windsor Congress, a truly insightful and inspirational experience.

“The Congress exceeded all expectations from the start with every day brimming with new ideas shared and connecting the industry on a worldwide level. This is something truly unique and I am delighted I had the opportunity to contribute to this. Coming back from congress I gained a sense of community within the garden centre sector, allowing me a new platform to gain experience and share personal ideas with industry leaders.

“Moving forward from the trip, within Barton Grange, I have taken ideas and inspirations from centres visited and looked into ways in which we can bring our centre and the environment we create in the future to be at the forefront of the new era of garden centres.

“For me a highlight of the congress was visiting the newly opened RHS Wisley Centre and seeing how architecturally and visually different their concept of a garden centre is. This excited me to the possibilities of where the industry is going. I am excited for my progression now going forward and the IGCA has definitely given me a new vision.”

The two delegates selected by the trustees were from northern centres, so they had the opportunity not only to meet more than 220 like-minded professionals from around the world, but also to visit centres in the London and South east regions during the six days of the congress.

Sue Allen, Chairman of the GCA Trust, said: “It was a privilege for the UK GCA to host the IGCA Congress in Windsor this year and be able to sponsor two members of staff from British garden centres to attend this unique event.

“As part of the interactive group they started the week with a visit to the new retail development at The Coal Drops Yard, Kings Cross, where cutting-edge retailers are showing the way forward in a unique and exciting way. From then on delegates were inspired not only by visits to garden centres but also by presentations by the British GCA inspection team and by John Lewis, followed by trips to nearby John Lewis stores.

“RHS Wisley, Kew Gardens and Hatfield House boasted British gardening at its best.”

Delegates also enjoyed a river cruise on the Thames complete with a stop-off at the London Eye.

Sam Clark, who works as a Plant Area Supervisor at Cowell’s Garden Centre, said: “I had the most amazing experience on the IGCA Windsor trip, it was truly eye opening to see some of the country’s leading centres in the South east, the infrastructure and layout coupled with crisp clear signage was what I’ll personally be taking from the visits.

“The invaluable networking and sharing of thoughts and ideas was also mind boggling, some of the social media used by other centres has already been implemented back at Cowell’s with our rare houseplant plant release dates and new collector’s corner.

“All in all I’d just love to say a huge ‘thank you’ for being gifted such a wonderful opportunity to further myself and Cowell’s, it’s always great to approach things with a fresh perspective and the week has certainly changed my outlook.”

Sam began working at Cowell’s Garden Centre in 2008 on the checkouts and went on to work in the plant area.

Martin Cowell, Director at Cowell’s Garden Centre, said: “We were delighted that Sam was offered a place at this year’s IGCA Congress in Windsor by the GCA Trust. He has returned from the congress bursting with new ideas and full of inspiration following visits to some wonderful garden centres and gardens. I also have no doubt that the contacts Sam has made at the conference will be invaluable to him as he progresses within our industry.”

Emma joined Barton Grange Garden Centre in 2017.

Will Clark, Plant Area Manager at Barton Grange Garden Centre, said: “Emma really has come back with a bang! She has brought passion and enthusiasm to a whole new level, which has completely refreshed me and the team.

“She has come back with lots of fantastic ideas and made lots of new contacts. She has already made a name for herself in the horticultural world. Truly amazing! I am very proud of Emma’s achievements and very grateful to The Dick Allen Fund for giving her this fantastic opportunity. I feel her confidence has grown leaps and bounds. I’m now very excited to watch Emma’s progression here at Barton Grange.”

The Trust is now inviting donations to fund delegates to future congresses, including the next one in South Africa in October, 2020.

Anyone interested should contact Iain Wylie, GCA's Chief Executive on 01244 952170 or visit for more details.

Sue added: “Now that this annual initiative is firmly established and has proved to be a huge success for the sponsored delegates and their employers, I can confirm that the Trust is already looking ahead to repeating this in 2020 and beyond.

“Each year I am delighted to see how quickly our chosen recipients make firm friends within the group and ensure they gain every opportunity to help their personal development. The value of this unique opportunity cannot be overestimated.

“As I repeat every year, I am surprised how few GCA member companies offer a promising member of staff the chance to be selected. I can only hope that after the 2020 GCA conference in January, when that year’s applications are invited, the GCA Trust will be overwhelmed by the response.”

For those who wish to enter for next year’s award, there will be an announcement at the GCA Conference in January 2020 inviting applications.

For more information:
Garden Centre Association
01244 952170
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