Published: 06:00, 09 July 2019
| Updated: 14:05, 09 July 2019
A family-run garden centre has been brought back from the brink of closure just months after its manager tragically died.
Celia Hanks feared Gardeners Paradise would have to shut after Lloyds bank denied her access to company funds following the death of her brother, Nigel Hanks, putting the firm in financial dire straits.
But shortly after being contacted by the KM Group, the bank resolved the issue, allowing her and her partner Roy Chandler to save the business in Stodmarsh near Canterbury.
The couple, who own the business, took the garden centre over 20 years ago and Mr Hanks worked for them, doing the day-to-day running of it.
It was originally started in 1922 by their grandfather.
Mr Hanks, a 63-year-old grandfather described as happy-go-lucky, was found dead at the nursery on April 22.
An inquest opening heard he died from hanging and had also suffered a gunshot wound.
His devastated family have since been keeping the business going, with Ms Hanks and Mr Chandler coming out of retirement to run it.
But the couple say they had to use their savings to keep it open due to Lloyds bank’s refusal to let them access funds in the company account.
In an attempt to save the centre they contacted the Kentish Gazette newspaper for help and within days of stepping in, the matter was resolved.
“The business would have folded otherwise; we would have had to close after almost 100 years,” said Mr Chandler.
“We’re really grateful to the Gazette and want to thank you for everything.”
Ms Hanks says they had been running the business “hand-to-mouth”.
“We’d been unable to use the account for over eight weeks, even though we’d done every single thing that was asked and provided all the paperwork requested,” she said.
Mr Chandler says they feared their good reputation would be tarnished due to being unable to pay suppliers and were heartbroken at the prospect of having to close.
“This was all built by hand,” he said.
“This isn’t just a business, this is the family’s history.
"We're so relieved, but we're angry and disappointed with the bank... their bereavement department is about as good as a chocolate teapot" - Roy Chandler
“We’re so relieved, but we’re angry and disappointed with the bank.
“Their bereavement department is about as good as a chocolate teapot.”
Ms Hanks says the matter has placed huge stress on the family, who are still coming to terms with the loss of Mr Hanks.
The father-of-two, who lived in a house at the garden centre with wife Jane, was well-known in the area.
“He was friendly and very happy-go-lucky - always laughing and joking,” said Ms Hanks.
“Roy and I had been travelling for five years, but luckily we’d come back early as we were buying a house so we got to see Nigel every day beforehand.
“He was very popular - there were at least 300 people at his funeral.”
A Lloyds spokesman said the bank has apologised to the family and offered a compensation payment.
“We were very sorry to hear of the passing of Mr Hanks and pass our condolences to his family,” he added.
“As a partnership account is unable to operate with only one partner, we had to close the existing account and open a new one, so that the business could continue to trade.
“Unfortunately, this process took longer than usual and we didn’t do enough to keep our customer updated. A new account is now active.”
More by this authorMarijke Hall