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Nestled as we are in the very east of the U.K., in the fourth largest county of England (surface area of 2074 miles2) with one of the smaller populations (26th largest) we felt the need to set up a support network which didn’t involve hours of driving across the region. Currently our closest SGD cluster group meets in Essex, which for some of us necessitates a drive of over two hours, and although they are incredibly welcoming and superbly organised, the distance is too great for many in our area.

Having an SGD cluster group in our own county has given us a more local, more immediate resource where we can ask questions of other local designers facing similar issues to our own.

Our profession can often be quite solitary and we rarely get the chance to meet other designers.

The cluster group does however give us that opportunity. By way of our shared geography we can support each other with advice on technical and horticultural issues, and also with contacts for local suppliers, nurseries and partner professionals who also work in the area. Although we are currently quite small in number (at the time of writing this we have 13 members and are hoping for more), our group consists of all levels of experiences.

We have designers who have been practicing for thirty plus years chatting and networking alongside students just setting out in their garden design journeys and all those in-between. Two of our members are currently preparing for RHS show gardens this coming year, and all of us are busy in our daily practices. This range of experience benefits us all. Obviously those who have been practicing for longer can impart their accrued knowledge and wisdom but also those who are currently studying or more recently qualified have information regarding what is happening at that end of the industry. None of us benefits from isolation.

Setting up the group was a relatively easy endeavour.

I contacted our neighbours in Essex where most of our local members were on the mailing list and Rebecca Wallman, the superb lead for that cluster group, kindly sent out an email signposting our new group and asking anyone interested to contact myself. That gave us a few members. Then once we had made contact with our regional co-ordinator and complied with the relevant GDPR we were added to the SGD’s published list of cluster groups. From that we have also had an influx of new members.

Our first meeting was held in a local pub and we were only three people!

That was a bit disheartening, but it was a start. At the second meeting we numbered five, and then more recently we had a garden lighting talk and there was a group of nine people. Our next meeting is being held in a couple of weeks and we have a local olive tree supplier booked in to talk to us. I’m hoping for a good turnout. Key to getting people to attend is planning ahead.

Everyone is busy but there is a positive attitude towards the group and people are keen for it to succeed.

We currently have a bi-monthly schedule of meetings taking us into the latter part of this year. Some of those are planned to be more informal get-togethers where we can share what we have been up to and offer support to one another, and others are to be more structured industry professional talks and garden visits within our area.

If anyone reading this is considering setting up a new cluster group I would definitely recommend giving it a go. The SGD has been very helpful and everyone I have come in contact with on this journey has been incredibly supportive.

If however you are in the Norfolk area (or nearby) and you would like to join us at one of our meetings then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Pictured: Timothy Carless MSGD, Tamara Bridge (Pre Registered Member), Chris Deakin MSGD and myself, Stephane Lustig (Pre Registered Member)

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