A NORTH Yorkshire plant nursery has used the coronavirus pandemic to develop the way it does business.

Ravensworth Nurseries – a wholesale grower and garden centre near Richmond – had to adapt quickly when the virus forced its closure last spring with greenhouses full of stock ready for market.

Fiona Dean, director of the 50-year-old family business, said: “It was quite a shock at the time but we knew we had to find a way to get our plants, shrubs and seeds to our customers.

She explained to Rishi Sunak during his recent visit to the nursery that an initial offer via social media to deliver within a 20-mile radius was almost overwhelmed by demand.

She said the response was remarkable. “The phone never stopped ringing and we could barely keep up.

“We knew we had upgrade our website and online system to cope and with the help of Reflection Media in Richmond we did that. During that initial period we did more than 3,000 home deliveries.

“We learned an awful lot very quickly and the crisis helped us to make that step and to embrace what an improved digital offering could do for us going forward.”

Mr Sunak said he was very impressed with the way the nursery’s management and staff had adapted so quickly to survive the most difficult early months of the pandemic and then use the experience to develop their plans for the future.

He said: “This was a business that faced a particularly difficult challenge at the start of the pandemic but showed it could innovate quickly to get to its market. It also provided a great local service to many people who, because of the restrictions and the weather, had a greater opportunity to spend time in their gardens.

“It responded magnificently to that challenge and is now well placed for 2021.”

Mrs Dean showed Mr Sunak some of the thousands of poinsettia plants it grows for the Christmas market. Ravensworth is the largest grower of poinsettias in the North of England and also supplies many local authorities in the North with bedding plants.

She also discussed the nursery’s plans for a £1.1m development and expansion of the garden centre with the possible addition of a café in the future.