The Wokingham Paper

Falconry centre searches for new home after 11 years at Ladds Garden Village

Sadie Shepherd is relocating her falconry centre, after all tenants at Ladds Garden Village were served notice last month. Picture: Sadie Shepherd

The independent businesses have been served notice after the new owner took over at the start of September

A FALCONRY CENTRE in Hare Hatch has been served notice after a new landowner took over this month.

Ladds Garden Village, which had been managed by the Holliman family for 40 years, has been sold to The Granary Group and now all 10 independent retailers are looking for new premises.

Included in these is Sadie Shepherd, founder of Feathers and Fur Falconry Centre, which has been at Ladds Garden Village for 11 years this month.

Ms Shepherd, who had spent lockdown renovating the aviaries and improving her visitors centre, said she was shocked to find out her falconry centre does not fit within the new investor’s plans.

“I was absolutely devastated,” she said. “I’ve been here seven days a week, 365 days a year and within a 10-mintute meeting it was game over.

“I feel that we would have been a great benefit to any new owner as we have a wonderful client base and have had such support over the lockdown and the past difficulties.”

Ms Shepherd, who owns hawks, falcons and owls, is now looking for a new site. But with strict requirements for space, flying fields, running water, electricity and consideration for neighbours, she has to think carefully about locations.

“I’ve started looking for sites this week, she said. “We can’t be near any chickens, pheasants or ducks because my birds are predatory and will eat their neighbours.

“I’m looking at garden centres or private farms, but I’m half reluctant to go to a private location because all of our support has come from visitors.”

The centre, which runs hands-on experiences, is free to visit from Tuesday to Sunday every week.

Ms Shepherd said she did not realise how many people care about her “little business”.

But after posting a video on social media calling for help to find a new location, she received almost 300 messages of support, with nearly 500 people sharing the message and 120,000 people watching.

“I am blown away and humbled by people’s support,” she said.

“It’s so easy to have such a shielded view when you work seven days a week with animals —but to have felt such love has been amazing.”

She hopes to set up a GoFundMe page soon, to help cover the costs of moving.

Paired with a loss of £10,000 income from visits to schools and clubs, Ms Shepherd said her centre will need a helping hand to manage a move this big.

“We’ve been given three months to trade, and then an additional three months to move,” she explained. “I’m grateful to the new owner for giving us extra time. We have to build each aviary and move the birds one at a time — I can’t put them together because they’ll eat each other.”

Although devastated at the time, Ms Shepherd said she is now looking ahead to great things. Her plans to officially become a zoo were put on pause due to the pandemic, but once the falconry centre has found and settled into its new home, the process will be restarted.

“We will find a new site and we will grow beyond what we are now with plans for a souvenir shop, home schooling days, falconry and owl keeping courses, and a zoo licence,” Ms Shepherd added.

Claire Holliman, whose family previously owned the site, said: “Ladd Limited have been given an amazing opportunity by The Granary Group Limited to re-develop the whole retail area creating a new look Garden Centre and lifestyle wellness hub opening in 2021.

“This does however sadly mean that the current independent retail traders will be vacating to allow the full refurbishment to take place, the plant wholesale nursery will not be affected.

“Though this is the end of an era for Ladds it is a new and exciting beginning for the Garden Centre site.”

The Berkshire Gardener

The new centre will be called The Berkshire Gardener and hopes to host a food hall, farm shop and cafe among other changes.

The company’s website says: “Within the relaxing surroundings of the café and adjoining courtyard, customers will be able to enjoy a selection of lite lunches, proper coffee, drinks and homemade cakes.

“The courtyard will wrap around the exterior of the café allowing shoppers to enjoy views of an array of plants and shrubs available to purchase.”

Managing director Jon Burke said on the website: “We believe this is an outstanding opportunity to create a unique destination with an amazing lifestyle garden centre at its heart.

“We will be reinvesting in this site for the next three years with many new jobs created.”

Mr Burke said he hopes to launch the new site in March 2021 which will include “a major redevelopment of the current frontage, plant area and main store, the centre can become a contemporary gardening retail village attracting customers from far and wide.

“The site will not only include a new indoor lighting and furniture showroom, food hall and farm shop but also a stunning cafe restaurant and courtyard garden.”

Since taking over the site at the start of the month, The Granary Group has started demolition in the main building and walls are being pulled down.

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