Humble Beginnings 1984 to 1994

Horticap’s development started on 21 October 1982, when a meeting of interested people was convened under the auspices of The Royal Society of Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults (better known as MENCAP)

Although it quickly became clear that there was a great need for a horticultural training scheme in the Harrogate District, two problems needed to be solved:

  • How to find the money to meet the capital cost?
  • How to obtain some four acres of suitable land?

An approach to Marks and Spencer resulted in a generous offer of £12,000 plus all the proceeds from the sale of tickets for a televised fashion show held at the Harrogate Conference Centre. The final amount received from M&S was £25,000.

1984 site looking south west
Ground prep 1986
Double digging the soil 1988
Preparing the land in 1985

Finding land proved more difficult. After initial disappointments, four acres on Otley Road between Harlow Carr Gardens and Beckwithshaw were leased for ten years from the Harrogate Hockey and Squash Club.

A plan of action was formulated and a limited company set up on 12 January 1984 under the chairmanship of Mr John Wootten, then general manager of Marks and Spencer, Harrogate.

It was decided from the outset that the scheme was to be run along the lines of a commercial enterprise and a manager and senior instructor was appointed in April 1985. In the same year ‘HORTICAP’ (Horticultural Capabilities) was registered with the Charity Commissioners.

First accommodation at Horticap in 1986
Car boot plant sales in 1988

The four acres of land was windswept, waterlogged and landlocked behind the Harrogate Hockey Club practice ground, [recorded as Bluecoat Wood on the ordnance survey map]. The first task was site preparation; land drainage and cultivation, installation of services, a roadway, car park, potting shed, the erection of windbreaks and a small greenhouse.

In 1987 the freehold of Bluecoat Wood was purchased by Horticap from the Harrogate Hockey Club. A crew bus and trailer were purchased with the support of the Lords Taverners in 1988.

1990 saw the signing of a three-year service agreement with North Yorkshire County Council and the introduction of a direct public bus service to transport students from the town centre.

By the early 1990s the number of students had risen from the initial 5 to around 14. With new accommodation, polytunnels and a second glasshouse the students were getting stuck in to growing a small range of bedding plants and perennials sold mainly to local shops and nurseries. Approximately one quarter of the site was being used to produce flowers for drying and arranging.

Inside the Horticap greenhouses 1986-88
Picking flowers to dry 1994
Horticap Bluecoat Wood aerial pic 1993

Read more about the Horticap Story:

Skip to content