The Thanet Earth Centre of Excellence at Hadlow college has been a long time in its development, but it has been worth the wait. It will connect the college with the sector in its provision of much needed greenhouse technical specialists and contribute to the future of the UK-grown fresh produce sector.

In his opening address at the launch on 5 June, Rob James, technical director with Thanet Earth, said: “There are incredible careers available across the fresh produce supply chain. Collaboration between education and industry is critical to changing perceptions of the sector and ensuring young people develop relevant, practical and employable skills.” He added: “The availability of skilled people with the right capabilities is key to the success and future of British horticulture.”

Speaking to Rob, it seems the project has very much been a labour of love. He talked about personally tending the young tomato plants at weekends, being involved in the varietal selection and working closely with Alan Harvey, head of horticulture at Hadlow, in the development of the programme that accompanies the new facility.

This passion for the project shone through all of the speakers on the day and many of the attendees. It’s never easy to get a project of this scale and complexity over the line; this one clearly has a lot of great people behind it and has been delivered at a very timely moment.

Growing Kent and Medway (GK&M) have been partners in the initiative. Dr Nikki Harrison, director of GK&M, praised the development of a pipeline of new talent and skills to keep our region at the forefront of horticultural innovation.

She reminded the audience that there was a great advantage in being in Kent, the geographical location adding to the commitment to high tech sustainable production, enabling growth and innovation. GK&M were a lead in the region-wide Workforce 2030 consultation which has had a key role in improving the communication between employers and education to feed talent into the sector and has delivered a new approach to student mentoring, further supporting new talent.

Carol Ford, one of the leads on the workforce consultation, spoke warmly of the incredible characters we have in our sector, the skilled, hardworking, solution-finding people who are drawn to horticulture. She reminded guests of the skills crisis in the sector, how it is a business imperative that we bring new talent to the workforce.

Next came Hadlow graduates Guy Johnson and John Farthing, both of whom praised the support of the college and its role in forming career paths through its partnerships with industry. Both had been part of the Thanet Earth fellowship programme, which gave them valuable knowledge from a technically advanced organisation. They both recognised the importance of the strong partnerships with businesses that ensured that they had the skills to be a benefit to a business, ready for work.

Roger Gough, Leader of Kent County Council, opened by reminding everyone that if we ate only UK-produced food we would run out of stock on 7 August, adding that Kent feeds the nation and that the productivity of the county is a key contribution to keeping the nation healthy. With only 17% of the fruit and 58% of the veg consumed annually produced on these shores, new talent will be needed to create greater food security going forward.

I was delighted to be invited to the opening. Apart from how good it was to be back at the college, it was a pleasure to see so many key players from the county – business, political, farming and education – all in attendance. Backing the partnership was a real sign of support for the college and showcased great potential for horticulture.

For more like this, sign up for the FREE South East Farmer e-newsletter here and receive all the latest farming news, reviews and insight straight to your inbox.