Wednesday, 06 July 2022

Garden centres re-open with precautions in place

Garden centres re-open with precautions in place

GARDEN centres in the Henley area are taking precautions to protect staff and customers from the coronavirus as they re-open for business.

They were told they could start trading again when the Goverment relaxed some of the lockdown measures and encouraged people to return to work if they could not do their job at home.

Many had been closed since March, when the Government ordered all non-essential businesses to close to curb the spread of the disease.

Now plant growers, nurseries and garden centres have introduced special measures for safety reasons.

Staff have to wear gloves, face masks, aprons and visors and customers must follow one-way systems to adhere to the social distancing guidelines.

Some are limiting the number of visitors and staff on site and have been stocking up on hand sanitiser to ensure staff clean their hands regularly.

Toad Hall Garden Centre in Marlow Road, Henley, re-opened on Wednesday last week.

Owner Tristan Stubbs said: “It has gone very smoothly — we haven’t had any queues and the customers seem very happy with the one-way systems we’ve put in place.

“We have a new entrance, which means we have one door where people come in and another for them to leave. We’re also implementing all the government guidelines, such as social distancing, and this is working effectively.

“Compost and bedding plants seem to be the main things that are selling.

“We’ve had some staff on furlough through the lockdown, although we offered a click and collect service, so we were able to rotate stock and didn’t have to throw anything away.

“We aren’t back at full staffing yet, as we have a café and restaurant and these areas of the business have to stay closed. We’ve probably got about 30 to 40 per cent of them back working at the moment.

“It’s still early days and we couldn’t say what the next steps might be as that would depend on the changing circumstances and whatever official advice is given.”

The Herb Farm in Sonning Common was due to re-open on Wednesday.

It has seven members of staff but manager David Burton said the business will be operating with reduced numbers initially to help keep down the amount of people on site. He said: “We are in the process of getting the site ready by implementing all the guidelines that the Government has issued. We want to protect our staff and the people coming on site from any infections.

“The staff will have to wear aprons, gloves, face masks and plastic visors and we are waiting for those to be delivered before we can re-open.

“Within the shop we will limit the number of people to 30 and then operate a process where one person leaves and another comes in if it reaches the limit.

“The majority of the site is outside, so we are fairly confident that we can make sure that everyone will be kept safe.

“There will be a barrier in front of the till and we will make sure staff are trained in proper hand-washing techniques.

“We are implementing a one-way system to make sure contact is kept to a minimum and have signage up to make sure people are adhering to the social distancing guidelines.”

He said the business had some delivery trade during the lockdown.

“We have been able to do some deliveries in the local area and to places like Henley and Caversham,” he said.

“We are going to need an increase in business to help us to get through this year. We are hoping to ramp up in the next couple of months as we return to normality. We’ll just have to take each day as it comes.”

Hare Hatch Sheeplands, near Wargrave, has also been offering a home delivery service during the pandemic.

Co-owner Andy Dicks said many of the necessary measures were already in place when the nursery was told it could re-open on Wednesday last week.

He said: “The staff wear face masks and shields and visitors should be wearing them for their own protection. Even the machine which people use to key-in their pin number is wiped down after each use.

“There is lots of new signage and we have a doorman as well as a dedicated way in and way out. The coffee shop is still closed.”

Mr Dicks said customers were returning, adding: “Bedding plants are popular. Everybody wants those displays, hanging baskets and vegetables.

“Every other customer that has come in has asked for runner beans or tomatoes. It is the normal stuff they would have bought in late March but haven’t been able to until now.

“We are confident, judging by the early signs, that things will go well.”

Woodcote Nursery & Garden Centre had not closed during the lockdown as it sells fuel as well as pet supplies and hardware products.

Mike Hill, who has owned the business for 25 years and lives on site with his wife and daughter, said: “The local community have been so up for it and we have had a lot of thanks for staying open. We haven’t had one negative comment.

“We put in a one-way system from the very beginning and we have hand-washing facilities as you enter and leave.

“I have ordered a plastic screen for the till and we have gloves and masks for staff to wear. We also have 2m lines throughout the garden centre, leading up to the till area.

“About half of our customers are wearing their own masks and I guess it is a personal choice. I don’t wear one. As an employer, we have done all we can to make the PPE available.

“If everybody is sensible it should be fine. There have only been a couple of arguments caused by people not keeping their distance.”

Mr Hill said he was finding it hard to get some stock, such as compost and vegetable plants, as suppliers were only just returning to work themselves.

He added: “I think suppliers underestimated the demand and then by the time they got their furloughed workers back they were struggling to keep up.

“I have got no bedding plants or compost but we have a few hanging baskets. The vegetables only came back a couple of weeks ago.

“I think we will come out of this year about the same as usual because we have had a really good April.

“Because other garden centres have not been open, we did not have the same competition. A lot of other people will be in a worse situation than us.”

Playhatch Garden Centre, part of British Garden Centres, has also
re-opened and has put a series of safety measures in place.

In a message to customers, the company said: “We ask you to respect all the measures we have put in place.

“We want you to feel safe and we will do all we can to ensure this is the case when you visit.”

“We would prefer you to shop in groups of a maximum of two but understand that may not be possible due to care responsibilities for other family members.

“If you are visiting in a group of three or more, please speak with the entry attendant on how we would like you to shop with us.

“Some of our suppliers are only just coming back to work this week, so on occasions you may not find exactly what you are looking for.”

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