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News > CAFRE Horticulture and Floristry students at WorldSkills UK competitions


CAFRE Horticulture and Floristry students at WorldSkills UK competitions

December 21, 2021

Three CAFRE students had the fantastic opportunity to compete in their unique skills areas of Floristry and Horticulture as part of the WorldSkills UK competitions with competitors from Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. The competition is normally held in Birmingham in November every year, but this year due to Covid-19 restrictions each competition was held separately.

To gain a place in the competition, students had to compete at local heats held at CAFRE in June 2021. These narrowed the field of competitors. Once students had passed the local heat they took part in specialist training at Greenmount throughout the summer and early autumn in preparation for the UK wide competitions.


CAFRE Level 3 Floristry student Jessica Boyd from Kilrea, secured a place in the WorldSkills UK Floristry competition. The competition partner, the British Floristry Association (BFA) provided training further training on the lead up to the November competition.

“When I entered the local heat back in June, it looked like a fun opportunity and a chance to get some feedback on my work. I was surprised and delighted to gain a place as a competitor at the UK wide competition! Balancing my studies, working in the flower shop and finding time for the training exercises has been a real challenge”.

In November, Jessica travelled to Morten Morrell College in Warwickshire, for the UK competition. “Everyone involved was so lovely. The enthusiasm that all the competitors had was truly infectious and really spurred me on. The challenge was to prioritise which elements of each piece to focus my precious competition time on”.

Jessica is in her second year of Floristry studies at CAFRE. Timeliness and working to a specification are an integral and important part of the course, but being involved in competition work has brought these skills to the forefront.

“During the competition I realised just how important these transferrable skills are in Floristry,  remaining calm under pressure, learning to prioritise pieces of work, being decisive and stretching myself creatively,” said Jessica.

Horticulture – Landscape Gardening

CAFRE Level 3 Horticulture students Kelcy Blair from Ballyclare, Michael Junk from Ballymena and Peter McCartney from Greenisland all made it through the local heats for the Landscape Gardening competition in June, taking an impressive 3 out of 8 coveted places in the UK wide competition. They practiced the range of landscaping skills that could come up in competition throughout the summer and early autumn alongside their CAFRE tutors.

Landscape gardening requires skills a broad range of skills including selecting and planting of plants and construction skills for hard elements such as decking, paving and pergolas. The competitors were able to use the horticulture estate workshops and dedicated hard landscaping practice area at CAFRE Greenmount Campus to hone their skills.

Kelcy Blair graduates from CAFRE

Kelcy commented “The teaching staff at CAFRE encouraged me to enter the competition, and they’ve made time over the summer and autumn to help us prepare for the UK final. Our instructors and tutor mocked up different construction skills so we could practice various timber joints or paving cuts”.

Times being what they are Kelcy and Michael ended up being the only CAFRE landscape gardening competitors able to travel to England for the competition in November. For Michael, this was his first experience flying, a reminder that WorldSkills UK provides much more for individuals than just skills training. CAFRE students in the past have travelled as far away as Leipzig Germany, Sao Paulo Brazil and Kazan Russia.

This year’s landscape gardening competition was held at Myerscough College in Lancashire, England. The Association for Professional Landscapers (APL) is the industry completion partner and oversees the UK competition. The new surroundings and gruelling competition schedule were just some of the challenges the competitors faced. Each competitor had 3 days to build and plant a 3x4m garden to a complex design. The gardens allow competitors to showcase a full range of skills.

Kelcy, CAFRE’s first female competitor in WorldSkills UK landscape gardening, said “The biggest challenge for me was trying to complete all the hard landscaping elements of the garden within the competition time scale and to exacting specification required. I had to do all the work on my own. I had to make decisions, manage my time and motivate myself to keep going despite the fatigue. It was daunting but a huge boost to my confidence at the same time. Every day I could see my progress and felt my confidence grow”. 

Michael Junk

Michael added “There were also a myriad of different hand and power tools to get familiar with in a short space of time. It was great to take the skills we’d learned at Greenmount and put them to use in the competition on a full garden construction. I don’t think either of us had ever built a full garden before”.

Accomplished WorldSkills UK competitors

The hard work and focus of all the CAFRE competitors paid off. Jessica Boyd came away from the Floristry competition filled with inspiration to grow creatively as a Florist. Kelcy Blair had a fantastic learning experience as a current Horticulture student and the competition has given her drive and enthusiasm to explore more areas of horticulture.

Michael Junk, who graduated from CAFRE this autumn as one of the top members of the class of 2021 and winner of the College’s Plants Person of the year, was delighted to be awarded a Bronze medal for the WorldSkills UK Landscape Gardening Competition.

 “When I went to England to compete, I never dreamed I would do so well. I got to know the other competitors and people involved in running the competition. I think WorldSkills is an amazing opportunity and I’d definitely encourage anyone studying a skill to get involved”.

WorldSkills Shanghai 2022

While the WorldSkills competition journey ends here for now for these 3 CAFRE students, CAFRE Floristry graduate Clara Agnew from Hamiltonsbawn continues her journey towards China. Clara was the 2019 WorldSkills UK Floristry competitor and was selected to train as part of squad UK. From this small squad one person will be chosen in spring 2022 to compete for Floristry on Team UK in Shanghai for WorldSkills 2022.

As part of her preparation, Clara has received intense training through WorldSkills UK. Throughout the pandemic, she joined online training sessions. The first ‘in person’ training was finally held in summer 2021 and was a welcome relief from the challenges of online.

Clara Agnew Floristry student

“I’ve been training now for 24 months and am working towards my final assessment hurdle in April 2022. This will determine the person who takes the single place to represent Floristry on Team UK in Shanghai in October 2022!  The training I’ve had has been phenomenal. Between having a dedicated training manager (Laura Leong, WorldSkills UK), working with master florists from around the world and even receiving training on the likes of coping with the stress and achieving a competitor’s mindset – it has been an intense journey but ultimately I believe a life and career changing experience”.

“The WorldSkills competition is essentially a skills Olympics, showcasing young people’s skills. I wouldn’t have got so far at this stage of my career without my CAFRE tutors – Anne Marie Grant and Sherry Suett who have always encouraged me to do my best”.

CAFRE’s staff and students all wish Clara every success as she sets her sights on Shanghai. No matter what, Clara has a blooming future ahead of her as a professional Florist!

CAFRE staff and WorldSkills UK competitors are appreciative of the tremendous support given by industry competition partners – British Florist Association and Association of Professional Landscapers as well as local support from the WorldSkills Champions across the FE College network and NI’s Department of Economy.