International Women’s Day – CAFRE’s Medal winners

Date published: 04 March 2024

This International Women’s Day (IWD), we’re celebrating the success of our Gold and Silver Medal winning College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) graduates.

Following their success at WorldSkills UK National Finals held in Manchester last November CAFRE graduates recently returned to Greenmount Campus to share their experiences at the Horticulture Careers Day.

During a discussion panel, Horticulture and Floristry students were encouraged by the Finalists to reflect on their career aspirations. They were inspired to step out of their comfort zones and participate in competitions to showcase their skills.

WorldSkills UK competitions are considered the Olympics for the skills industries, enabling individuals studying or working in a range of trades to showcase their abilities. Taking part in the Landscape Gardening final and Floristry final were four outstanding CAFRE representatives. After the competitive three-day skills challenge CAFRE was delighted three of our graduates were awarded medals.

Commenting on the competition Aimee Copeland (Randalstown) said:

“The cycle for WorldSkills UK competitions started in April 2023 with a written assessment, which gained us places in a local skills heat which was held in June. In a first for CAFRE, three Horticulture representatives from the college progressed to the National competition. Representing Horticulture in the Landscape Gardening competition was my class mate Anna McLoughlin (Ballymena) and Jacob Mercer (Newtownabbey), a current Level 3 student.”

Lori Hartman, Senior Lecturer at CAFRE said: “Leading up to the national competition, CAFRE tutors worked with the competitors to provide additional training in preparation for the timed competition. Ready to compete, the students headed to Oldham College. The eight finalists were given only 16.5 hours to build a 12m2 garden from the ground up. The design included paving, decking, fencing, brickwork, lighting, a water feature and planting. Additionally, competitors had to work within 3mm tolerances. The competition demands accuracy, quality and efficiency for competitors to be successful.”

Floristry graduate Edel Michael (Maghera) represented CAFRE. Similarly, Edel’s journey began in April 2023 with a floristry creation that was judged by photographs to secure a place in a regional heat. Reflecting on her competition experience Edel said,

“I travelled to England in October to undertake training with WorldSkills tutors ahead of the final in November. The training was held in conjunction with Floricon, the annual Floristry industry trade show sponsored by the British Florist Association. This combination of events allowed me to not only train, but also gain valuable networking opportunities with the wider industry”.

The Floristry Skills competition challenged competitors to create five distinct pieces within a tight timeframe. The designs tested a wide range of Floristry skills including pieces to be worn, a free-standing arrangement, a hanging installation and a hand tied bouquet.

“I created a shoulder corsage using gold aluminium wire as a base along with delicate flowers and grasses and a necklace that made use of succulent plants. For my free-standing piece, I built a structure that was 2 metres high, to demonstrate my aptitude for technical work and creative processes required in modern floristry,” said Edel.

Following the competitions, an Awards Ceremony was held in Manchester City for all discipline areas bringing together hundreds of competitors. CAFRE students, graduates and tutors involved in the competition were treated to a show stopping event which was full of praise for the Olympians of the UK Skills!

All CAFRE competitors made excellent strides in their respective discipline areas. In Floristry, Edel Michael was awarded a Silver medal. In Landscape Gardening, Jacob Mercer (Newtownabbey) placed fourth, Aimee Copeland achieved a Silver medal and Anna McLoughlin (Ballymena) won the Gold medal. Anna is the first female competitor in Landscape Gardening to achieve this coveted position.

On winning gold, Anna commented: “WorldSkills UK is a great learning experience; not only the actual competition itself, but also the training leading up to it. The opportunity to travel and meet other young people who are interested in landscape gardening and the chance to make great connections in the industry was invaluable.

“From achieving Silver in 2022 to bringing home the Gold in 2023, I’ve had so many fun and amazing experiences open up to me. I’ve worked on a show garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show with Mark Gregory (Landform UK) and I took part in the build of the King’s Coronation Garden in Hazelbank Park, Newtownabbey. I look forward to the year ahead to see what opportunities my success at WorldSkill UK competitions will bring!”

Moving forward, the top four UK Landscape Gardening competitors (which includes Anna McLoughlin, Aimee Copeland and Jacob Mercer) will take part in BBC Gardener’s World Live in June 2024.

These accolades are a testament to the dedication and hard work these competitors put into their skills areas. They are also a reflection of the amazing opportunities available to students and the quality education available across CAFRE campuses.

If you would like to find out more about CAFRE Floristry, Horticulture or other land-based courses, please visit the CAFRE website to learn more.

Notes to editors: 

  1. Photo caption: Lori Hartman (Senior Lecturer, CAFRE) and Martin Wooster (lecturer, CAFRE) welcomed WorldSkills UK finalists back to Greenmount Campus to share their competition experiences with Floristry and Horticulture students. Pictured are Anna McLoughlin (Ballymena), Edel Michael (Maghera), Jacob Mercer (Newtownabbey) and Aimee Copeland (Randalstown).
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