CamdenNewJournal

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Charity garden centre fears ‘financial hit’ if council rent park to Christmas tree firm

Hundreds sign petition urging Camden Council to protect disabled employees at Mill Lane Garden Centre

18 October, 2018

Residents feared staff at the garden centre in Mill Lane, pictured, would lose out 

HUNDREDS of people have urged Camden Council not to rent a public park to a Christmas tree company over fears it will compete with a charity garden centre staffed by disabled employees.

Residents fear that Pines and Needles, which is run by the heirs to the Tate and Lyle sugar firm, will take vital festive trade away from Mill Lane Garden Centre if it is allowed to set up shop in Fortune Green.

The social enterprise in Mill Lane, which is part of the Camden Society, funnels profits into training and job opportunities for disabled people, with the sale of trees and wreaths a major moneyspinner.

The charity said it saw sales drop by around 25 per cent last year after Pines and Needles were allowed to open a stall a few hundred metres.

Denise Largin, chief executive of the Camden Society, said: “It’s a real worry that the centre could take another financial hit if the company is allowed to return to Fortune Green this year. Last year we saw our sales drop by around 25 per cent and we can’t afford to see our income drop like this every year if this continues.”

She said that Christmas sales are “vital to its long- term sustainability”, add- ing: “Without it, people with a learning disability face the prospect of losing the opportunities it gives them and face the possibility of losing out on leading full lives in their local community.”

A petition calling on the council to block the move has amassed more than 300 names in six days.

West Hampstead resident Natasha Back, one of those organising resistance to Pines and Needles, said: “Our message is clear: just leave Fortune Green. I totally accept that Camden are suffering huge cuts at the moment, but this will have a huge impact on a local social enterprise.”

The company paid around the council £4,500 to rent the space last year, with donations also made to the Camden Society and Friends of Fortune Green. It is understood they have offered to donate 200 trees to the garden centre.

Pines and Needles said in a statement: “Pines and Needles is hugely proud of its charitable work over the years and has offered a huge amount of support and assistance to both Mill Lane Garden Centre and the Friends of Fortune Green.

“Pines and Needles operates more than 20 stores in London in the run-up to Christmas and our research proves that our presence adds value to the local area – new visitors, increased footfall and more spend. Indeed, we employ a number of local workers at each site and these local people would lose their jobs if we were not to return.

“Of course, this is ultimately a decision for Camden Council but we hope to see our loyal customers back at Fortune Green later this year.”

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