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The Knowe Garden Centre


As a direct result of taking part in Community Learning Exchange visits and mentoring, Auchinleck Community Development Initiative secured over £500,000 of funding and successfully developed a landscaping and gardening social enterprise providing permanent employment and community benefits.

Key facts

Who: Auchinleck Community Development Initiative, Auchinleck, East Ayrshire: A community led anchor organisation with a specific aim of regenerating the local communities.

Visited: The Alnwick Garden, Northumberland: Formal gardens and garden centre which form a busy tourist attraction.
Boyndie Visitor Centre, Banff: Six acres of garden, woodland and paths with restaurant and visitor centre.

When: Multiple visits from 2013-2018

Learnt:How to run commercially-focused landscaping and gardening social enterprises, providing employment, skills development and community-engagement opportunities.


Auchinleck Community Development Initiative (ACDI) was founded in the deprived area of Auchinleck to improve the area and create jobs. One of their first projects was taking over derelict sites and turning them into small volunteer-led community gardens, growing and selling plants to generate a turnover of £2,000-3,000 a year. The Future Jobs Fund enabled the project to grow and employ people for a while but when it ended the organisation was unsure where to go next. Two Community Learning Exchange visits and mentoring provided the answer and are now credited with giving ACDI the inspiration and tools to open The Knowe Garden Centre and run a commercial gardening operation, generating permanent employment opportunities.

ACDI representatives initially visited The Alnwick Garden in 2013, and later on the Boyndie Visitor Centre, for ideas on how to generate income all year-round and maximise sales, and for advice on volunteer management. The visits, made multiple times to Alnwick Garden over a few years, assisted ACDI in different ways to develop a plan for achieving their goals and Alnwick Garden provided ongoing mentoring and support to ACDI.

ACDI implemented ideas from their first visit to improve sales, increasing their income to a sustained £8,000/annum. They then replicated the Alnwick Garden model of providing produce for local schools as part of a healthy eating initiative and developed this further to secure contracts to design, deliver and manage two primary school growing gardens. A further visit cemented ACDIs drive to offer landscaping and gardening services and based on information from the visits they secured funding for equipment and to employ a Procurement and Contracts Officer, rebranding as ‘Auchinleck Premier Landscaping’, and delivering public and private contracts.

Over time, ACDI started to recognise that they needed a larger financially-sustainable base for their activities. The idea developed through further visits was to create a garden centre with coffee shop which grew and sold plants all year-round; to become more commercially-focused in their branding and pricing policies; to deliver training and educational workshops; and to use the garden centre as a base to fulfil their growing number of gardening contracts. They also wanted to improve their volunteer management practices and achieve accreditation for this. The visits gave them the information they needed to build a detailed strategy for implementing their ideas.

Funding for a feasibility study was awarded to ACDI based on their strategy and they undertook a community asset transfer to get 2½ acres of unused land from the council in the heart of the community. They successfully secured a lease on the land and £500,000 of development funding to build growing facilities and employ two people full-time to increase commercial sales. ACDI rebranded their community gardens as the more commercial ‘The Knowe Garden Centre’ in 2018, developed a website for the Centre and are currently implementing a detailed marketing plan.

The Knowe Garden Centre is now an oasis of greenery in the midst of a run-down estate, growing and selling plants, holding horticultural workshops and training events, teaching plant science to local schools and providing a public garden area for the local community. There is a sensory area, poison garden and schoolchildren volunteering scheme, all ideas adapted from the visits. They reached their volunteer management goals also with assistance from The Alnwick Garden, writing and implementing new policies and achieving Volunteer Friendly Award status. They continue to be mentored by The Alnwick Garden and are just starting to implement their new 2019-2022 business plan, including revised pricing structure as advised by Boyndie Visitor Centre.

The Knowe Garden Centre and Auchinleck Premier Landscaping have created six new permanent jobs, but it’s also given the community confidence that they can lead positive change. People of all ages have been able to get involved, enjoying time outdoors, growing food and flowers, and developing social connections.

More information

About Auchinleck Community Development Initiative, Auchinleck Premier Landscaping and The Knowe Garden Centre –

About The Alnwick Garden –

About Boyndie Vistor Centre –

About the Community Learning Exchange –

About Scottish Community Alliance –