Applications open for 2024 Rising Stars programme

Company: GCA

When Haydon Walters from British Garden Centres’ Thatcham Garden Centre was crowned the winner of 2023’s Westland Horticulture sponsored Rising Stars recently applications also opened for this year’s programme too (2024).

Haydon was declared the winner after his presentation was voted the best by delegates during the Garden Centre Association’s (GCA) annual conference in the Cotswolds last Monday (January 29).

GCA Inspector Gordon Emslie, who mentored the candidates throughout the process, says: “We had an excellent team of participants this year, who all delivered outstanding projects. Their personal journeys over the last eight months have been fantastic to witness where they all have learned so much about themselves. It has been a real privilege in getting the opportunity to watch them grow in their own self-belief and personal confidence. I am now really looking forward to meeting this year’s candidates.”

GCA garden centre members can nominate staff for the 2024 Rising Stars programme and all the details are on the organisation’s website.

A spokesperson from Westland Horticulture said: “We’ve been proud sponsors of the Rising Stars programme for the past 15 years. We’re very pleased it’s happening again in 2024, so if you have any budding ‘stars’ in your team, take a look at the application form.”

The closing date for entries is March 1, 2024.

Haydon explains: “I am delighted and could not be more grateful for everyone voting for my project. I would like to thank Westlands, GCA and British Garden Centres for allowing me this opportunity. It has been amazing getting to travel around the UK visiting unique places and getting to learn a huge amount. To my fellow Rising Stars who have been a massive support to me throughout the journey, thank you and I am going to miss you all. I have made some great friends.”

Haydon’s project was designed to enable young people and children to grow their own flowers and veg through a self-made activity book.

Amy Stubbs, Project and Development Manager at British Garden Centres, adds: “A huge congratulations to Haydon for winning the Rising Stars Award, the BGC family are so proud of him and our other team members who took part. It is a fantastic way to recognise new and up-and-coming staff in our industry who are already making a difference and promoting gardening in such an enthusiastic and positive way. I know that Haydon will go on to do great things, and well done to all the other highly commended entrants. I hope that the Rising Stars Award continues to encourage other young people to think about this sector as an opportunity to grow a career and develop.”

Haydon designed and produced all the content for his activity book and delivered five live onsite interactive growing sessions with children at the garden centre during the summer.

Gordon continues: “The success of his project was such that over 500 children in the Thatcham area experienced growing seedlings for themselves.

“I would like to congratulate all our finalists, Callum Spencer from Stewarts Broomhill, Warren Bolton, Thurrock Garden Centre, Shelly Harrison, Haskins Snowhill and Kerry Barrett, Upminster Garden Centre, British Garden Centres, for their dedication and enthusiasm throughout and for grasping the opportunity that Rising Stars gave them. They should all be very proud of their achievements.”

Once all the nominations are received on March 1, they will be reviewed, and the successful candidates will be invited to join the programme for 2024. They will be asked to take part in a series of workshops led by Gordon on topics such as retail disciplines, driving sales and financial awareness.

Their work will be assessed throughout the year to review the various elements on which they’ve received coaching.

The best performing finalists will be invited to the seventh workshop and will then be asked to the annual GCA Conference in January 2025, where they will present their projects to delegates. Gordon will also provide coaching in presentation skills in advance of the conference.

Peter Burks, GCA Chief Executive, says: “These young horticulturists were the stars of our conference. We had five amazing presentations, which everyone enthused about afterwards, it was very hard trying to decide who to vote for but in the end, Haydon won out and was awarded with the top title. His idea and the work he put into it was exceptional.”

For further information and to nominate a Rising Star for 2024, please visit

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