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Rushfields: Celebrating 40 Years

As Rushfields Plant Centre in Poynings gears up to celebrate its 40th anniversary this year, James Forryan talked to founders Colin and Kathryn Langridge about the keys to their longevity and what they’ve learned over their 40 years in business

Back in 1984, when brother and sister Colin and Kathryn Langridge first purchased a small plot of land on the edge of the Sussex village of Poynings, the site of their nascent plant-growing business came with a warning. “It used to belong to the Crown Estate,” Colin explained, “and it came with a covenant; we are not allowed to annoy the Monarch, or her successor.”

Not only have they managed to navigate the last four decades without incurring the displeasure of the late Queen Elizabeth – or indeed the reigning King Charles – but the pair have seen their modest venture bloom into one of the area’s best-loved fixtures, drawing in visitors daily from across Sussex. Beyond its large garden centre, offering everything from gardening tools to an impressive array of locally-grown plants and vegetables, Rushfields has evolved over its 40-year lifespan to include an award-winning farm shop specialising in local produce (including their legendary pies), as well as a bustling café which has become a focal point for the local community.

It’s a long way from Colin and Kathryn’s humble beginnings, and the success of Rushfields over the years hasn’t come without its challenges – not to mention a lot of hard work. “We both came out of school with one O-level; an ungraded in R.E.” said Colin of their early years. “We weren’t really academic students… but we both went on to horticultural college and for me that was the first time in my life that I enjoyed education.” Alongside their studies at Brinsbury College in Pulborough, both worked as gardeners for local councils – Kathryn in Worthing, Colin in Brighton & Hove – before renting their first acre of land together in 1981, beginning as a simple nursery growing plants in poly-tunnels. “I don’t believe that you need a university education,” explained Colin, “but what we did have is the background from our parents, which taught us the skills we needed to succeed.”

Seizing the chance to buy the ready-named Rushfields site three years later “for the princely sum of £13,000”, the pair were able to quickly expand their growing capabilities – but even then not everything went smoothly. “The first greenhouse we put up in 1986,” recalled Kathryn, “and it blew down in ’87 in the hurricane.” Not to be deterred, the pair took the setback as a valuable lesson in facing adversity. “It makes you a stronger person,” Kathryn explained, “and it makes you more determined to achieve results.” Over the following years, several new greenhouses were installed on the site, eventually to be replaced in 1999 by the impressive glasshouse that now dominates the plant centre’s expansive layout.

No business survives for four decades on determination alone, though, so what have been the other key factors in Rushfields’ longevity? One of them is keeping their supply chains local wherever possible. “We are still grower-retailers, we still grow our own plants, whereas many other garden centres buy in their stock”, said Kathryn. “That gives us the ability to produce a better product,” continued Colin, “but also there’s availability all the time. If we’ve run out of something by three o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, we can bring it straight in from the nursery.”

This philosophy extends to their external suppliers too. “We’re both Sussex people, we were born less than ten miles from here, and to us Sussex is very important,” explained Colin, describing the relationships they’ve developed with suppliers in the area over the years. “We focus on local produce and we have around 50 local suppliers, including the farm over the road which supplies us with lamb and beef.” Those relationships were particularly important when it came to diversifying the business with the opening of their farm shop in 2010. “As a family we’re very interested in food,” said Colin of the expansion, “so we saw that as a logical progression.”

Indeed, the farm shop has been another important factor in the Rushfields success story, as has the addition of the café, which has become a popular local meeting point. “Nowadays, if you don’t have a café in a garden centre, you won’t have a garden centre,” explained Kathryn. “It’s a very key focal point for people to meet, people like the social activity of meeting up, having coffee and cake or some lunch. It’s even more important now than it was 10 years ago.”

Perhaps the biggest key to their success though is Colin and Kathryn themselves, along with their respective partners, Pam and Adrian. “It’s a family business and we have that family feel. Some of our staff have been with us for a long time,” said Kathryn, and it’s a familiar story with their loyal customer base too. “We’ve seen their children grow up, now their children have got children,” Kathryn added. “They’re used to seeing us, we’re always around on the shop floor.”

So how will they be celebrating their 40th anniversary? “We’re starting off on March 23rd,” said Colin, “all our customers coming in that weekend will have a piece of birthday cake and a glass of fizz. There will be events and offers throughout the year, and we’ll be having a big birthday bash in the summer.”

 

Rushfields Plant Centre

Henfield Road, Poynings

BN45 7AY

01273 857445

www.rushfields.com

hello@rushfields.com

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