STEWARTS Garden Centres has nearly finished building a £3million glasshouse which will educate people in horticulture while growing plants for sale.

Stewarts Agritech Glasshouse at Broomhill, near Wimborne, will grow plants for selling in garden centres and plant shops.

The glasshouse, supported by funding from Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Low Carbon Dorset, will reduce reliance on imports and safeguard rural jobs.

It will be a base for horticultural education for schools and colleges, showcasing horticultural practice, agritech machinery and low-carbon technology.

Cecilia Bufton, chair of Dorset LEP, said: “Dorset LEP allocated approximately £300,000 of the UK government’s Local Growth Fund to this project.

“This innovative agritech facility will be a much-needed home for practical horticultural education in Dorset.”

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Luke Rake, Dorset LEP board member and principal of Kingston Maurward College, said: “This project is not just an example of an innovative business succeeding in agritech.

“This is a key education facility which will be used by local businesses, schools, and colleges like Kingston Maurward College. Agritech is a high-growth sector in Dorset and that’s why Dorset LEP has featured it within the Local Industrial Strategy for Dorset. Projects like this will boost the agritech sector and benefit our local economy.”

The 10,000 square metre glasshouse will enable the garden centre to grow 500,000 plants a year.

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Martin Stewart, managing director of Stewarts Garden Centres, said: “Ten years ago, it was a dream of ours to build a glasshouse like this.

“We built this for commercial reasons, but we also built it to teach people about modern horticulture. We will have up to seven classroom facilities that could be used for primary schools through to education classes with Kingston Maurward College.

“We’re very proud to say that this is a sustainable venture, and we hope this is absolutely carbon neutral when fully operational.”

Katie Dawes, communications and engagement officer at Low Carbon Dorset, said: “Low Carbon Dorset has provided financial and technical support for the low-carbon aspects of this project which included a ground-source heat pump and solar thermal screening for the new glasshouse, and LED lighting and solar panels at Stewarts Garden Centres Broomhill and Christchurch sites.

“Combined, these measures will save around 450 tonnes of CO2e and £50,000 in energy costs each year.”

Stewarts Agritech Glasshouse is expected to be completed later this year and opened to the public in spring 2022. Education facilities will be completed and ready to invite students by September 2022.