The College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) has said it is celebrating the success of it’s gold and silver medal-winning graduates ahead of International Women’s Day this Friday (March 8).

CAFRE graduates recently returned to Greenmount campus to share their experiences of the Worldskills UK National Finals held in Manchester last November at the CAFRE horticulture careers day.

Taking part in the landscape gardening final and forestry final, were four CAFRE representatives and, after the three-day skills challenge, three were awarded medals.

In floristry, Edel Michael was awarded a silver medal. In landscape gardening, Jacob Mercer placed fourth, Aimee Copeland achieved a silver medal and Anna McLoughlin won the gold medal.

McLoughlin is the first female competitor in landscape gardening to achieve this.

On winning the gold medal, McLoughlin said: “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.”

McLoughlin said she is looking forward to the year ahead to see what opportunities her success at WorldSkill UK competitions will bring.

National competition

Senior lecturer at CAFRE, Lori Hartman, said that, leading up to the national competition, CAFRE tutors worked with the competitors to provide additional training in preparation for the 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,” she said.

“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 of Maghera represented CAFRE. Her floristry journey began in April 2023, with a creation that was judged by photographs to secure a place in a regional heat.

Reflecting on her competition experience, Michael 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 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 two metres high, to demonstrate my aptitude for technical work and creative processes required in modern floristry,” Michael said.


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 brought to the event which, the college declared, was “full of praise for the Olympians of the UK Skills”.

(L-r) Senior CAFRE lecturer Lori Hartman with Anna McLoughlin, Edel Michael, Jacob Mercer, Aimee Copeland and CAFRE lecturer Martin Wooster

Commenting on the competition, Aimee Copeland of 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.”

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.