A landscaping company has expanded its operations into Staffordshire, creating five new jobs so far – and combining its commercial work with educational programmes to inspire schoolchildren to take up land-based careers. The combination is thought to be the first of its kind in the country.
Great Grounds received £50,000 of funding via Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership’s Growth Hub to convert redundant barns at Oak Tree Farm, Dilhorne, in the Staffordshire Moorlands, into its new base covering the West Midlands.
The firm, which has its head office in Stockport, Greater Manchester, provides a full range of commercial landscaping and grounds maintenance services. In addition it specialises in working with primary schools to improve their school grounds, using natural and recycled materials, while at the same time providing interactive careers education workshops for their pupils.
The workshops, delivered by Great Grounds own qualified teaching staff, show children the jobs of skilled tradespeople and link what they are learning at school, in subjects such as maths and science, with the knowledge that people need to undertake real jobs, ranging from tree surgery to bricklaying.
The barns on the 25-acre Dilhorne site are being converted to provide a purpose-built exhibition and meeting space, plus offices for Great Grounds’ new business development team. The site, which boasts woodland, ponds, meadows and a small herd of alpacas, will also be used to help schoolchildren learn more about outdoor trades.
Funding was secured from the European Regional Development Fund’s Business Growth Programme after the firm’s founder Tony Millar approached the Growth Hub for advice.
“One of my first ports of call on moving into Staffordshire was to contact the Growth Hub for information on sources of funding,” Tony Millar said. “I have had fantastic support from them, and from Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce.
“Moving into this area has opened up a whole range of opportunities and the Growth Hub has smoothed the path for me. Applying for funding can be a daunting process for a small business but I have had excellent advice and support throughout.
“We are really pleased to have been awarded grant funding and look forward to recruiting our first staff in Staffordshire. One job will create a unique opportunity. We are looking for a member of the operational staff to also have a formal teaching qualification. We already have one member of staff with this unusual combination of skills and we are hopeful that we can find more. An in-depth understanding about the connection between skilled trades and the curriculum is essential to our work.
“It’s about inspiring children to learn, particularly those who don’t engage particularly well with mainstream education. Once they make the connection between what they are learning in the classroom and real-world jobs it can transform their attitude.
“They discover that there are worthwhile careers to be had in skilled manual trades – and improving recruitment into these trades will be crucial to tackle future skills gaps in the economy. For every civil engineer heading a project there may well be 1,000 people in skilled and semi-skilled trades making it happen.”
Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire LEP chairman David Frost CBE commented: “We are delighted to welcome Great Grounds to Staffordshire and to have supported the firm’s move by helping it gain funding.
“This is an excellent example of an innovative and forward-looking business that will not only contribute to the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire economy but also help to boost skills and enthuse youngsters about the careers opportunities open to them.”
Great Grounds will start operating from its Staffordshire Moorlands base in February, and is planning an official launch event later in the spring. Schools and businesses can find our more by visiting its website: www.GreatGrounds.co.uk
Firms seeking funding and all kinds of business advice can contact the LEP’s Business Helpline on 0300 111 8002, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Growth Hub website: www.stokestaffsgrowthhub.co.uk
The Business Growth Programme (BGP) – managed by Birmingham City Council’s Business Development & Innovation Team and part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund offers a comprehensive package of business support to B2B Small to Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) based in the Greater Birmingham & Solihull, Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, and The Marches Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) areas.
The Business Growth Programme has received £16.3m of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Department of Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/guidance/england-2014-to-2020-european-structural-and-investment-funds