The Art of Christmas

For residents of and visitors to Preston, Barton Grange is usually at top of the list when it comes to places to visit especially at Christmas, writes Emma Brereton

We all know that Christmas is big business. It’s a time of year where people actually want to part with their money, they’re shopping for a purpose both for themselves and for friends and family. That sounds a bit commercial-centric, insinuating that Christmas has become all about money, but when you dig deeper within a business like Barton Grange, you see how much effort goes into making the festive season enjoyable for everyone who visits.

I’m lucky enough to meet with Kate Ford, marketing manager at Barton Grange who tells me the lengths the team go to, to bring Christmas to life throughout the whole building, incorporating every single department.

“You may be standing in the homeware department or where we sell indoor plants, wherever you are we want our customers to feel the spirit of Christmas,” says Kate.

There’s no doubt that September to December is a huge affair with a dedicated team of people behind the centre’s famous displays and grotto. It takes months of planning and the result is a mature, considered and well organised arrangement of Christmas themes, some of which you’d never have thought of yourself but definitely help you to visualise your Christmas setting for 2017.

Barton Grange Garden Centre opened in March 2008 by HRH Princess Anne. An independent, family run business, the centre is committed to the old-fashioned ideas of friendly customer service and good, solid advice.

The Garden Centre is part of the Barton Grange Group, owned and run by the Topping family from Barton. The group of companies dates back to 1945 when Mr and Mrs Edward Topping bought a small manor house on the A6 at Barton with plans to turn it into a hotel.

More than 70 years later, the group now includes not only the planned hotel, but the award-winning Barton Grange Garden Centre, a successful landscaping business, two large plant nurseries and a marina on the Lancaster Canal with the group’s exciting multi-purpose leisure venue, The Flower Bowl, under construction as I type.

I was also lucky enough to speak with David Fawcett-Ropner, the display team manager who said that they start thinking about next Christmas whilst building the current year’s displays. “There’s lots of inspiration to be found when you’re surrounded by festive décor,” he says.

“We decide on our colour themes for next Christmas a whole year before. All the key Christmas suppliers release details of their products and colour trends late in the year, so once we know which colours are going to be available, we combine those with our own ideas to come up with a plan.”

The planning involves creating mood boards, combining all the different ideas from the team so that by January they are fairly clear what the themes will be.

And that’s not all, the buyers attend fairs in the new year in Europe and Harrogate and once they have attended all the fairs, the final buying decisions are made.

It’s early October when I visit so the whole Christmas display isn’t quite finished but the main themes for the season are all out, all of which are nothing short of fabulous.

Based around the strapline: Christmas – inspired by nature, there are seven themes that will definitely spark inspiration for this year’s festive table and home décor. It’s an explosion of colour and you can tell the team are experienced at what they do, after all they have won The Garden Centre Association Christmas competition eight out of the last ten years.

Constellation, First Snowfall, Whisper in the Woods, Glacier Lake, Sahara, Rainforest and traditional, there are decorations to suit all tastes as well as items you wouldn’t usually associate with Christmas but they somehow work and this year I’m definitely having a rainforest parrot on my tree.

First Snowfall is caressed with blush pinks and silvers, while Sahara captures the heat of the Far East. There are ideas that are there for you to recreate at home, whilst there are some family favourites thrown in for good measure like Elf on a Shelf, Christmas Eve plates and stockings to complete a more traditional and cosy Christmas look.

Everywhere you look, display team members are working tirelessly to get Christmas 2017 off to a flying start.

“Building the arrangements actually starts off site in June,” says Kate. “We have a dedicated building where we can start creating the displays we’ve decided on.”

“By mid-September all of the displays in the main Christmas area are out with the rest of our Christmas decorations drip fed out with the whole centre dripping in festive cheer by the third week of October. The lights display comes to life on 20th November and then it’s time for our Christmas events to start.”

The grotto at Barton Grange is legendary and appointments to see the big man himself are almost all booked up. During the festive season, the Riverside Café and Willows Restaurant will serve approximately 14,000 mince pies whilst the indoor Christmas decoration department can expect to shift almost 4,000 artificial Christmas plus hundreds more real trees that are also available.

Almost 14,000 mince pies might sound a lot for a three-month period but since most of the produce at Barton Grange is locally sourced, this is just one of the reasons people flock to visit the eateries at the centre as well as the farm shop.

“Where we can, we ensure that our food produce is locally sourced,” says Kate. It’s all beautifully presented and whether you’re buying for yourself or food for gifts, there’s plenty of choice.”

“Our farm shop hosts the only concession we have at the centre,” says Kate. “All our fresh meat is from Honeywells butchers one of the most famous butchers in Lancashire. It sells the finest quality meats and we are lucky to have them at Barton Grange.”

The farm shop is beautiful, yellow, orange and purple carrots, the best cauliflowers from Tarleton, it’s a showcase of everything that’s brilliant about Lancashire and what can grow here. Moving on to the deli counters and you will find hand raised pies and cheesecakes from the Blackpool Cheesecake Company. They’re little works of art that would be the perfect finishing touch to any Christmas table.

It seems that Barton Grange has Christmas all wrapped up and unlike some establishments over the festive season, it’s actually a pleasure to shop there. I’d love to get everything for my Christmas table from the farm shop and hearing about the hamper service Barton Grange has, as well as its selection of wines and locally made chocolates like Beech’s, I’m excited to start my own Christmas shopping.

Christmas might feel like it starts earlier and earlier every year, but next time you’re wandering around, exacerbated from hearing “I wish it could be Christmas” for the umpteenth time, remember there is a team of people who have been thinking about this season for almost a year and they care about making it feel special year in year out.

“It makes the team feel great when products sell well over the festive period,” says Kate. “This isn’t down to what it means for our bottom line, it makes them feel good because it means all the research they did, whilst other people were sunning themselves on a beach somewhere, has paid off. A product they chose has proved to be popular, and that’s when all the Christmas pressure is worthwhile.”



Tedd Walmsley

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