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Gardening business digs in with good practice

24 October 2022

While Oliver Lockwood was on furlough in 2020 the seed of an idea began to formulate for his future. Having always loved gardening could he go from a corporate marketing job to being someone who turns up in a van, sits on a bucket to eat lunch and looks after someone else’s garden? After working on a family garden, the answer came back as a huge yes!

Oliver started Stonebridge Garden Services in September of that year providing lawn care and garden maintenance to residential customers in Leicestershire. Growth has been rapid as the team expands, including his wife Gemma. It is seeing more than 50% of its income from repeat business with new work largely coming via referrals from existing customers.

A meeting with his accountant led to the topic of grant funding and Oliver was referred to the Business Gateway Growth Hub and Business Adviser, Aruna Bhagwan.

Over the last year, Oliver and Gemma have had several meetings with Aruna and also attended workshops on applying for grant funding and HR through the Business Gateway. Oliver said: “We’ve been willing to spend money on training but as a start-up, it’s vital for us to take advantage of everything free. The concern I have when you look around at other things is the quality.

“Aruna signposted quality, free training and advice. Above anything else, that’s the thing we’ve been very confident about. Everything that comes via the Business Gateway has come with almost a quality badge attached because it’s been very good.”

Stonebridge aims to be a sustainable business. It has changed a lot of its gardening kit to electric and installed an electric charging point for vans. It was Aruna who introduced them to the VegVan Community Farm, another Business Gateway client, enabling them to divert green waste from landfill to the farm where they can use it.

Business Adviser, Aruna Bhagwan said: “Oliver’s passion and enthusiasm for the business is infectious. They’ve really worked on setting something up which will benefit their people and their customers. I’ve been able to guide them with their strategy and signpost them to other resources, which is a key strength of the Growth Hub. They’ve also adjusted their approach to grant applications, taking advice on board from our conversations and courses attended. Stonebridge is definitely one to watch.”

One thing that did leave a lasting impression on Oliver from his last job at Ibstock PLC was the impact a social conscience and vision could have and how you can use business to do good. Oliver explained: “It’s rare gardening companies are set up to succeed and look after their customers or look after staff through salaries or holiday pay. Fundamentally, we identified gardening as an area we had a passion for and one that would get us close to people who really needed our help.”

“We’re finding more and more people who are caring for older relatives with dementia or other illnesses. We have eight staff, all the kit we need and a scheduling system second to none that family members can use to see payments and schedules.”

Social responsibility also applies to those working for the business. Oliver continued: “When you find people and you can give them a safe space to work, they feel both respected and appreciated. If they do specific tasks very well it allows them to grow with those tasks.  If they love certain jobs why would I get someone else to do them?

“This not only opens up opportunities for them but us too as we optimise our workforce and add specialisms where appropriate. We need to stop using words like disabilities because when we hire people, they might not be able to do everything, but if they can do the things we want them to do well, where’s the disability?”

Oliver has ADHD which he says was more of a challenge whilst at school than now. He feels that it’s a benefit far more than a negative. Therefore, he is keen to bring out people’s strengths rather than focus on labels.

Oliver plans to have, at any given point in time, at least 25% of their hours operated by people with learning difficulties or disabilities. He also wants to diversify his team to include more women and people from different ethnicities and backgrounds. But Oliver emphasises that every single decision has been made to have a commercial upside.

“It costs a lot of money to bring someone onboard and there’s all that uncertainty. So when you’ve got someone you can dedicate to certain tasks, like mowing, and they are happy to do that, they are in a comfortable environment and you look after them, they are going to stick with you – hopefully for a long time. So you don’t have to worry about onboarding new people or staff turnover.”

To find out more about advice and support from the Business Gateway call 0116 366 8487 or email

Pic 1 top right – The Stonebridge team has grown rapidly and now includes eight staff members l-r Anita, Oliver, Dan, Liam, Sam, Gavin, Darren and Gemma

image of man wearing visor

Pic 2 Oliver Lockwood is building a business with a social conscience.

Three people in front of hedge

Pic 3: L-r Business Adviser Aruna Bhagwan has been supporting Oliver and Gemma Lockwood with their business strategy

man mowing lawn

Pic 4 Mowing away, team member Dan gets stuck in with his gardening duties.