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Former gardener wins top land management prize at Royal Agricultural University

The Business Magazine article image for: Former gardener wins top land management prize at Royal Agricultural University
Victoria Menzies
12 October 2023
Victoria Menzies

A rural land management student, who previously ran her own horticultural business, has been awarded this year’s Pilkington Farms Partnership Prize for being the top performing student in the first two years of her course at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU).

Victoria Menzies, 26, who is originally from Thakeham in Sussex, initially trained as a gardener, obtaining her RHS level 3 qualification before setting up Thakeham Garden Company which she ran for three years.

However, in 2021, towards the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, she decided to follow her heart and enrolled on the BSc Rural Land Management course at the RAU in Cirencester, Gloucestershire.

Read more: Royal Agricultural University comes ‘top of its class’ for working with industry

She said: “When I left school I started studying a similar degree at Reading University but then I was unwell and so I left Reading after only about 6 months. Once I was better, I trained as a gardener and then set up my business in 2019.

“The Covid pandemic changed things for a lot of people and, while my business was going well, I always knew that land management was what I had always really wanted to do and I think the pandemic just made me realise that I should pursue my dream. Coming back to rural land management just felt like the natural thing to do.”

The Pilkington Farms Partnership Prize, which covers the winning student’s final year tuition fees, is given annually to the top-performing undergraduate student in their second year of study on a land or property undergraduate degree at the RAU.

Created by Richard Pilkington, an alumnus and friend to the RAU’s Land and Property graduates, the prize is designed to reward academic performance and to celebrate excellence and innovation in real estate and land management and was first awarded in 2021.

It is awarded based on sustained, excellent, academic performance and is given in 50/50 increments at the beginning of semesters one and two of the student’s final year.

Victoria added: “In my first year at the RAU, Alice Crump, a third-year student who had won the Pilkington Farms Partnership Prize in its first year, gave a talk about her time at the RAU and mentioned the prize. I remember thinking at the time “wouldn’t that be nice” but it didn’t occur to me then that it would be me in 2023!

“I was so delighted when I got the call to say I had won - it was completely out of the blue but a really lovely surprise. Returning to education as a self-funded mature student who has worked full time and had my own business was a big decision, so this prize makes a huge difference.”

Alongside her studies, Victoria had a placement with the land and property agents Savills this summer and has continued to work with them, at weekends in their Cirencester residential office and also as a rural assistant, which has given her valuable hands-on experience.

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She concluded: “I have had a few emails with Richard Pilkington and I hope we will be able to meet up soon. I am just so grateful to him for setting up this prize and, one day, I would love to be in a position where I am able to do something similar and give something back in the way that he has.”

William Leschallas, Head of Employability and Professional Engagement at the RAU, said: “I am absolutely delighted that Victoria has won this fantastic prize. Her hard work over the last two years has been well rewarded against some close competition.

“Having also done so well in getting to the Women in Property South West Student Awards earlier this summer, this is further recognition for all her hard work. I would also like to thank the Pilkington Farms Partnership for their continued support and offer of this very generous prize.”


Peter Davison is deputy editor of The Business Magazine. He has spent his life in journalism – doing work experience in newsrooms in and around Bristol while still at school, and landing his first job on a local newspaper aged 19. By 28 he was the youngest newspaper editor in the country.

An early advocate of online news, he spent the first years of the 2000s telling his bosses that the internet posed both the biggest opportunity and greatest threat to the newspaper industry and the art of journalism. He was right on both counts.

Since 2006 he has enjoyed a career as a freelance journalist. He lives in rural Wiltshire with one wife, two children, and three cats.

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