A popular garden centre in Sunderland is set to grow further after a successful financial year.

Bishopwearmouth Co-operative, which is based on Chester Road, and provides employment opportunities for adults with disabilities, has struck a deal with Sunderland City Council to acquire a listed building that is situated next-door to the garden centre.

The business, which has been supported by the North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC), converted into a co-operative company in 2016 and delivers a wide range of professional horticultural and floristry services to customers across the North East.

By transforming the newly-acquired building into a tea room which should be open by the spring, will allow the business to add catering to its existing list of services.

The company’s Managing Director, Shaun Donnelly, says “the expansion will not only create employment opportunities for disabled members of the community but will also improve our customers overall experience.

“Everybody wants convenience these days and as a retailer we are keen to offer new services, the tearoom will see us provide food, cakes, teas and coffees to our customers; it’ll be ideal for people who want to sit down and have something to eat before or after they’ve been shopping in the garden centre.”

Shaun continues, “It has been a really successful year for us, we’ve exceeded our income forecasts and footfall within the garden centre continues to rise, so the tea room is a key factor in our growth.”

Speaking on the employment opportunities the tea room will provide, Shaun added: “We’ll be looking to recruit six members of staff to form our catering team as well as 10 disabled members of staff who would like an opportunity in catering.

“Being able to provide these opportunities is a way of giving back to the community and we’re very proud to be able to provide the service we do.”

Bishopwearmouth Co-operative’s growth has been continuously supported by the North East BIC’s Social Enterprise Manager, Kevin Marquis, and Social Enterprise Adviser, Ernest Dodds.

Shaun commented: “We wouldn’t be where we are now without Kevin and Ernest’s support.

“Kevin helped us understand our community goals and made sure all of our plans and policies were in place and Ernest provided us with vital financial support by helping us accurately evaluate our cash flow.”

Kevin Marquis added: “This is one of the best social and co-operative businesses I have worked with.

“Credit must go to both the co-op’s staff and Sunderland City Council who have worked so hard to make this ‘spin-out’ of the former council service a commercial success.

“This success has enabled the co-op to flourish as an independent business for the benefit of their clients as well as their staff and the paying customer.”

For more information about Bishopwearmouth Co-operative visit https://bishopwearmouth.com/