Garden centre staff selected to attend IGCA Congress in Amsterdam

Company: GCA
  • Holly Byrne and Mat Hester, Millbrook GC
  • Laura Matheson and Will Blake, St Peters GC

The Garden Centre Association (GCA) Trust recently selected Laura Matheson from St Peters Garden Centre and Holly Byrne from Millbrook Garden Centre Gravesend to attend this year’s International Garden Centre Association (IGCA) Congress (June 2022).

The two candidates will receive a sponsored place at the IGCA Congress in August as part of the Dick Allen Scholarship Award Scheme.

Sue Allen, Trust Chairman, said: “At last, the annual IGCA Congress looks set to take place once again from August 28 for six days of amazing experiences and the opportunity to make and renew international friendships, as well as seeing how Dutch garden centres continue to excel and inspire their sector of retailing.

“Pre-Covid, each year, through funding by the Dick Allen Scholarship Fund, we sponsor two delegates from UK garden centres to attend. In 2020, we selected our delegates but then the pandemic took hold and the Congress was cancelled for two years, so we are very pleased that one of our original candidates, Laura, selected in 2020, is still able to use this unique opportunity. Both Laura and Will Blake, the Managing Director at St Peters Garden Centre, are delighted that this long-delayed award can now be used.”

Laura joined St Peters Garden Centre almost 17 years ago, starting as a weekend checkout assistant at the age of 16. She has now worked her way up to the position of Buyer in the Home, Lifestyle, Gift, Christmas and Clothing categories in the garden centre.

She said: “I feel very fortunate to have been given this opportunity. The chance to visit some of the most forward-thinking garden centres and growers in Holland will be of great value to me. To be able to do this with people as passionate about this incredible industry as I am is something that will be an experience I will not forget.”

Will Blake, the Managing Director at St Peters Garden Centre has been on four IGCA trips.

He said: “What an amazing opportunity. Each one of the trips I attended was packed full of brilliant ideas, inspiration, and a healthy amount of learning. Not to mention spending a week with a great bunch of likeminded garden centre people. Laura’s passion, commitment, and drive to push our garden centre forward is second to none, so I know she will absolutely make the most of this amazing opportunity!”


Applications for the other place at the Congress were invited earlier this year and the second delegate, Holly Byrne, was selected and will be joining Laura on the tour.

Holly, who joined Millbrook Garden Centre Gravesend eight years ago, starting as a weekend member of staff on the tills and progressed in the business while studying accountancy, said: “I am so thankful to be given this opportunity to go to the IGCA in Holland, as it will be hugely beneficial to be able to see how their garden centres arrange and merchandise stock. I’m especially looking forward to seeing their fantastic range of houseplants. I’m also looking forward to meeting other retailers and growers from the industry to share ideas and hopefully make some lasting connections with them, especially as my management experience has all been through a pandemic.”

Tammy Woodhouse, Managing Director of Millbrook Garden Centre Gravesend, who is also the current Garden Centre Association Chairman, is delighted that Holly has been awarded a place on the trip.

She said: “We were very pleased when Holly chose a career with us, rather than becoming an accountant, and she has now been promoted to Shop Manager at Gravesend. After the last two years of working through COVID and rising to all sorts of challenges that she probably never anticipated, it is fantastic that she has this opportunity.

“I know she will enjoy meeting and learning from like-minded people from garden centres all over the world and will come back with plenty of ideas and enthusiasm to take Millbrook forwards in the future.”

The object of the GCA Trust is to advance among the general public and, in particular among horticultural students, education in horticulture, and particularly garden centres, by the provision and administration of scholarships and bursaries, including prizes to foster such education.

The Trust also aims to assist horticultural students to study, research into and gain experience of horticulture.

For further information, please call 01244 952170. Alternatively, please visit, log on to or follow the organisation on Twitter at

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