GCA Column: Conference 2024

GCA Chief Executive, Peter Burks, writes: It has been an interesting time for me this year having been involved in organising the biggest event in the Garden Centre Association’s year, our annual conference, for the first time for 10 years. You often hear people comment that they started work on the next event as soon as the last one finished, but you may have doubted if this is true, however, for us it really is.

As it is the job of the Chairman, or Chairman elect, in the years when our bi-annual Chairman’s role changes, to organise the conference, it has fallen this year, to Will Blake from St Peters Garden Centre to do the job.

Our first meeting was just three weeks after the 2023 conference concluded. The early weeks are about finding and booking a suitable venue. We need to consider its location, where we held it this year, and discuss if it is big enough to be able to host the various events and house all the 200 plus guests, who will hopefully attend.

Once we had a short list, we then need to visit them all to get a feel for the rooms, conference facilities and, of course, the staff. Earlier this year, we settled quickly on the De Vere Cotswold Water Parks, a lovely, modern, spacious hotel with plenty of rooms, easy access from the M4 and M5 and, as the name suggest, it looks out over a lovely large lake.

Next in the planning stage comes deciding an overarching theme for the conference presentations, which in 2024 will be ‘The Future of Garden Centre Retailing’. Do we really know what this might be?

Well, Will has found a good group of varied speakers, who will do their best to tell us. Finding good speakers is a very long-winded process, often helped by some personal recommendations from fellow GCA members, who have seen a great speaker somewhere before. We then check out their websites and view the videos that they share and select a group who will present a range of ideas. We also then bring in the sub themes of the conference, which for 2024 are Environment and Sustainability, Trends and Insights and Health and Wellbeing. So, who are these wise individuals?

On Monday, our first speaker is Josh McBain, Global Consultancy Director at Foresight Factory. He’ll be speaking about ‘The Future of Garden Retailing’. He led the research for the Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable Group’s ‘Growing a Green Economy’ report in 2021, which demonstrated the future value the industry could have in driving UK economic growth. He’s also been listed by Data IQ magazine as one of the top 100 most influential people working in Big Data in the UK.

Josh is followed on the podium on Monday by a dynamic duo Mark Stevenson and Ed Gillespie (pictured top), who will be speaking about the Environment & Sustainability. Expert on Global Trends and Innovation, ‘Reluctant Futurist’ Mark is a strategic advisor to governments, investors, NGOs and corporates, and co-founder of Carbon Removals company CUR8.

Environmental Entrepreneur and author, Ed, focuses on sustainability and innovation. He is the author of ‘Only Planet – a flight-free adventure around the world’ – a book about his circumnavigation of the globe without getting on a plane. Ed’s core talent is taking the complex, interconnected, interdependent nature of the many challenges the world faces, from climate change to disruptive innovation, and making common sense of them.

On Tuesday, we’ll be welcoming to the stage economist Mark Berrisford-Smith, who has spent most of his career working at HSBC. From 2012 until 2023, he was Head of Economics for the Bank’s Commercial Banking division in the UK. He will be followed by bestselling author, broadcaster and neuroscience presenter, Dr Hannah Critchlow, who was named in 2019 by the journal, Nature as ‘Rising Star in Life Sciences’. She’s a Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and regularly appears on TV and Radio, most recently as a Science Presenter for ‘Family Brain Games’. She’ll be speaking about wellbeing.

We’re also delighted to welcome back our motivational keynote speaker, Casper Craven. Casper gave a brilliant presentation at our 2023 conference and delegates expressed a keenness to have him back again. He’s twice sailed around the world and is one of the country’s foremost experts on leadership and the role of teamwork. Casper’s talk is entitled ‘Be More Human’ – so this spans several of our key conference topics.

As well as a being fabulous chance to hear all these marvellous speakers, our conference is also a great opportunity to meet, network and have fun with fellow members, an event not to be missed. You can book tickets at www.gca.org.uk if you are a member, if not please contact info@gca.org.uk.


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