This is why we all need to support Harrogate charity Horticap this Christmas

Visiting the home of much-loved Harrogate charity Horticap, the same meaningful words keep coming up to describe just how much the place means to people - ‘it’s like a family.’

Thursday, 21st November 2019, 2:41 pm
Updated Thursday, 21st November 2019, 2:42 pm

For the last 35 years, the popular community hub on Otley Road has brought friendship, joy and bucketloads of laughter to hundreds of students and the wider community it serves - providing life-changing training in horticulture for adults with learning disabilities, while creating a paradise for visitors to enjoy in the process.

Like every family, though, Horticap has had its ups and downs, with 2019 serving up a bitter cocktail of road closures, diversions and other access issues to contend with - the nine days of the UCI Road World Championships saw an estimated loss of earnings of £3,000, and road works earlier this year saw the charity’s shop and cafe taking just £3 in one day, and losses of between £5,000 and £6,000 over a two-week period.

Students Liam Dodds, Paul O'Brien, Karl Jameson and Carl Crooks. Picture: Gerard Binks.

So as Horticap enters its busiest season, with Christmas trees, wreaths and other festive goods at the heart of its production, students and staff would love to see as many familiar and new faces popping in to see them as possible, to help boost morale and funds after a challenging year.

Operations manager Phil Airey said community support means everything to small local charities. He said: “Fundraising and donations matters so much more than the money itself - it’s the fact that people have thought about us, and gone out of their way to fundraise and help the students.

“They have gone out and spread the word about Horticap - the small amounts make as much of a difference as the big amounts. We are very lucky at Horticap - Harrogate people, no matter what predicament we’ve been in, have turned out to support us in their droves after we’ve gone through periods like this.

"During the UCI, we were cut off, and completely surrounded by road closures, and some of our students couldn’t get in. But despite the negative impact, we did enjoy the event and made the most of it where we could.”

Hannah Etchells in the green house. Picture: Gerard Binks.

So valued is Horticap’s work that their proud patron continues to be none other than TV gardening legend and national treasure Alan Titchmarsh, who frequently visits and lends his support and encouragement.

It is an exciting time for the charity, with major development plans being driven forward to build a new two-storey cafe and shop. Speaking to just some of their dedicated students, it’s clear just how much this promisingly bright future for Horticap means to them.

Paul O’Brien has worked at Horticap for 34 years, and proudly wears a high-vis jacket with ‘Number One’ printed on the back as a mark of his long and impressive service. As he gave the Harrogate Advertiser a tour of the gardens, Paul was glowing with pride as he pointed out his own hard work, and the hard work of all his friends at Horticap.

Councillors make decision on multi-million plans for motorway services near BoroughbridgeThere is even a sign with Paul’s words praising Horticap printed on it, which reads: “Coming to Horticap keeps me busy and active. I am probably the best man at most jobs, and always help my mates.”

Pictured in the cafe eager to serve are Charlotte Simpson and Mark Walker. Picture: Gerard Binks.

And fellow student Michael Lofthouse said he enjoys the wide range of tasks he completes on a daily basis. He said: “It’s a fun place to be, and I enjoy what I do.” The new cafe would expand this range of tasks further for any students who are looking to try something new.

Operations manager Phil Airey said the ambition is to make Horticap even more of a community hub, and explore new ways of showcasing the great work that students do.

Phil said: “Our students live for coming up here, it means the absolute earth to them. They have their own jobs to do, and get a real sense of achievement out of it. Gardening is a leveller - everybody can get involved, and our students make friends very easily up here.

“Horticulture is so therapeutic, and students get such a buzz out of seeing people buy their plants. A lot of our students are autistic and like repetitive jobs, so tasks can give them a great sense of self-ownership.

Pictured with the plans for the new cafe and shop are Timothy Simpson and Vicky Taylor. Picture: Gerard Binks.

“This new cafe is massive for us - students will be able to serve the customers and learn new skills. We are super excited about it.” Phil said their hopes are that the cafe will be built by June or July of next year. It will serve a wider range of food and ‘proper’ cups of tea and coffee.

Tom Dickinson, who also works at Horticap, said: “This is another string to our bow, one more great thing that our students can do. We all go through the school system and can find that it’s quite regimented. At Horticap, we give students more freedom, and it’s incredible to watch them learn, grow in confidence and self-esteem, and use their initiative.

“We have a relaxed atmosphere up here, and it’s chilled out, but it’s also a workplace as well where our students get a great sense of pride out of doing what they do. I always think Horticap is a bit of a hidden gem, and I think that’s what people love about it, discovering who we are and what we’re about.

The Coca Cola Christmas truck is back - Here all of the tour dates and locations“Christmas is amazing up here - even if you are not a Christmassy person, you feed off the students’ energy and enthusiasm.” Phil said Horticap just simply wouldn’t be Horticap without their students.

He said: “When you come up here, you only see ability, you forget about any disability. It’s such a happy place to be, some days it’s just magical. There’s always an amazing atmosphere. Without our students, it would be nothing, we would just be a garden centre - it would be soulless.”

Discover Horticap - opening times and what you can see

Students Stephen Green, Mandy Shield, Alex Horner, Hannah Brown, Hannah Borlase, and Timothy Simpson. Picture: Gerard Binks.

Horticap has become renowned for its stunning selection of Christmas trees, and students and staff are hopeful that the Harrogate community will get behind them as much as possible as we head into the festive season.

Students build, maintain and grow Horticap’s beautiful garden at Bluecoat Wood Nurseries on Otley Road for visitors of all ages to enjoy. The garden, wildlife area and shop are all open to the public every day, from 10am to 4pm, and the much-loved tearoom is open until 3.30pm.