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27 August 2019

Helping Dorset’s rural economy bloom

Helping Dorset’s rural economy bloom

Dorset’s rural economy has received a financial boost that will help the county’s cutting edge agri-tech industry bloom.

The Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has awarded £297,000 to Stewarts Garden Centres towards a new highly productive £1.5 million agri-tech glasshouse at its Broomhill site, near Wimborne.

Stewarts, which operates two garden centres and a nursery in Dorset, says the glasshouse will revolutionise the business and enable it to compete more effectively against importers.

The family firm, whose history goes back eight generations to 1742, will also join forces with Kingston Maurward College to offer exciting work placements for students to gain experience in agri-tech.

There are also plans to run education tours and welcome school trips as well as introducing a volunteer scheme for horticultural enthusiasts.

Dorset LEP Chairman, Jim Stewart, said: “We are delighted to play our part in providing a significant boost to one of the county’s oldest family firms and it will also have a real beneficial impact on Dorset’s wider rural economy.

“Investing in agri-tech, which uses technology in agriculturehorticulture and aquaculture to improve yield, efficiency, and profitability, is one of the LEP’s top priorities.

“By operating more efficiently, Stewarts’ site at Broomhill will be able to grow more for its own centres and other UK garden centres.

“This is not only better for the environment as the garden centres will be less reliant on imports and other growers in the UK but it will also safeguard rural jobs and generate more income for the area.”

Stewarts’ two garden centres in Dorset plus its centre in Hampshire attract around 1.1 million visitors annually.

The company employs 230 people in Dorset and growing its own products is at the heart of its business.

Its current operation at Broomhill is labour intensive, with physical work at ground level. This means it is not able to produce as many plants as other more modern operations.

The new 9,000 square metre agri-tech glasshouse will feature automated machinery for handling plants and computer-controlled heating and shading zones.

This will result in increased productivity and the range of plants capable of being grown will increase fourfold.

It will also enable Stewarts to more easily react to changes in trends and demand.          

The glasshouse will be open to the public for tours and there are plans to make it a pioneering education facility in the south west, with organised visits for school children throughout the year.

A new volunteer programme will be introduced to engage horticultural enthusiasts and Stewarts is looking to create up to 20 work placements for Kingston Maurward students.

The glasshouse will not only safeguard and upskill 13 rural jobs but is also expected to create five new specialist rural horticultural jobs by 2024.

Dorset LEP’s grant will help fund the investments into the irrigation system, temperature controlled growing areas, water treatment and the development of educational facilities, such as IT and audio-visual equipment.

Managing Director of Stewarts, Martin Stewart said: “We are honoured to have been awarded this grant. The construction of a state-of-the-art, fully automated growing facility has been a long-held dream of ours.

“The growing of plants was how our company started and we are determined that it continues to form the backbone of our business.

“The production of plants has changed beyond all recognition in the past 20 years with many of the Dutch growing facilities investing heavily in automation.

“My ambition is to build something that we are proud of, enables us to continue as plant growers and helps us to promote the educational aspects of what we do.

“To link up with the greatly admired Kingston Maurward College makes so much sense. If we can inspire people of all ages to take an interest in plant growing then we will have achieved something truly worthwhile.”

Jake Berry, Minister for Growth, said: “We’re committed to boosting economic growth across the whole of the UK and building a Britain fit for the future.

“Supporting our rural areas to thrive is central to this ambition so I am proud the Local Growth Fund is investing in this traditional local business which will enable them to modernise and grow, as well as protecting and creating jobs in the area.”

Construction on the agri-tech glasshouse is set to get underway in October this year and is expected be fully operational in October 2020.

 

Note to editors:

Local Growth Fund:

Local Enterprise Partnerships are playing a vital role in driving forward economic growth across the country, helping to build a country that works for everyone.

By 2021 the government will have invested over £12bm through the Local Growth Fund, allowing LEPs to use their knowledge to get all areas of the country firing on all cylinders.

Additional key facts:

  • There are 38 LEPs covering England.
  • The government has awarded £9.1bn in three rounds of Growth Deals to local areas to drive economic growth.
  • LEPs are investing in a wide range of projects, including transport, skills, business support, broadband, innovation and flood defences.

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