The Rural Oscars Champions for the Midlands in the 2016 Countryside Alliance Awards (aka the Rural Oscars) have been announced. Businesses from Warwickshire, Derbyshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire have taken top honours and will now head to Parliament in March for the British finals and a shot at national glory.

The Awards are the Countryside Alliance’s annual celebration of rural produce, skills, enterprise and heritage through our small hard-working businesses. They are now in their twelfth year and have become the definitive rural business award to win. In 2016 we received over 7,500 public nominations which have been whittled down and judged and mean that these Champions are truly the cream of rural business. The Awards are public-nomination led across five categories:

  • Local Food & Drink
  • Village Shop/ Post Office
  • Tourism Enterprise
  • Farm Enterprise
  • Butcher


The Champions for the 2016 Rural Oscars in the Midlands are:


Midlands Champion in the Local food/ drink category

Joint Champion – Hillers Farm Shop, Dunnington, nr Alcester, Warwickshire 

Judge Jill Grieve commented: “This is the family-run enterprise that gets better and better. We have honoured Hillers before in these awards, but since then they have extended their shop, cheese counter and butchery (selling Ragley Estate game too), installed a fish counter and also converted some farm buildings into a café that is so popular that booking is essential. The Hillers family is part of the warp and weft of this Warwickshire community on the edge of the Ragley Estate and their commitment to food and farming, as well as their reputation as top local employers, makes the multi-strand farm shop a worthy winner. The fact that when the judges visited in January mince pies were still on sale because customers just couldn’t stop buying them says a lot about the popularity of the shop, as does the fact that it is standing strong even with the encroachment of Waitrose into Alcester and Stratford. A lot of family-recipes and delicious local meat, game, as well as seasonal fruit and veg, give Hillers an edge. Sisters Emma and Sally are ever-present and fully focussed on providing a welcoming family environment where taste and the best in British farming are paramount. Hillers customers are very, very lucky to have this gem on their doorstep.”


Joint Champion – Ludlow Food Centre, Bromfield, Ludlow, Shropshire 

Judge Sarah Lee says: “This is a smart operation which makes the most of its space and produces the huge majority of its produce on site, from pies and cakes to cheese, charcuterie, sausages and more. Each department is staffed with loyal and enthusiastic local people who all work closely together to enhance each other’s work and to ensure that the food centre as a whole is an impressive “one stop” enterprise. The café adjacent to the food hall is also a terrific shop window for what is on sale in the centre, and the hamper side of the business really ensures that Ludlow’s reputation as one of the finest local food shops in the country is well deserved. Here there is heritage, taste, high animal welfare standards, charming customer service and exceptional skill on show. Just visit.”


Midlands Champion in the Village shop / Post Office category

Napton Village Stores, Post Office and Café, Napton, Southam, Warwickshire 

Judge Sarah Lee said: “Hannah and Adam (pictured) have not been running Napton for very long, but as long standing villagers they knew exactly what was needed, and they have provided it in spades. Here is a community hub that has been extended to include a huge amount of essential produce as well as gifts and local artisan produce, with a friendly café area at the front where there is a small kitchen providing delicious sandwiches and home-made meals for local people and passing trade alike. The shop also continues to run a Post Office, a vital local service which is an increasingly rare and complicated endeavour. Hannah has a background in retail which is apparent in the way she identifies and markets the goods on sale, while Adam’s background in construction gives him a practical and no-nonsense approach to running the shop. Hannah and Adam decided to give up their respective careers in order to be in Napton full time for their young family – they have made such a success of the shop that they are working harder than ever! This is a wonderful resource in the village and is clearly much loved and appreciated.”

Highly Commended: Daybreak Services, Packington, Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire

Highly Commended: Kingland Post Office, Leominster, Herefordshire

Rural Hero: Robert Ruck at Wellington Delights, Herefordshire (this title is in the gift of the judges and is given out sparingly to those whose contribution and commitment to their community is particularly apparent. The Rural Hero award is a high recognition for the person awarded.)


Midlands Champion in the Tourism Enterprise category

Joint Champion: Bodenham Arboretum, Wolverley, Kidderminster, Worcestershire 

Judge Jill Grieve says: “When the Binnian family first bought what is now the Bodenham Arboretum in the 1970s it was scrubby sheep land, a world away from the living, breathing beauty spot it is now. The arboretum now has over 3,000 species of tree and shrub, lakes and ponds, an outdoor classroom so youngsters can get to grips with nature and an impressive visitor centre and café which is packed all year round. The heart of the venture is the fact that it is a family affair, and that is still very clear even though old Mr Binnian passed away a few years ago. The Arboretum has clearly enhanced the area and draws tourists as well as locals to enjoy a walk in this peaceful and beautiful part of Worcestershire. We are very pleased to name Bodenham Arboretum as the best Tourism Enterprise in the Midlands.”


Joint Champion: Bluebell Dairy, Brunswood Farm, Locko Road, Derby, Derbyshire

Judge Paul Dunn comments: “This is an inspiring tale of a family determined to make their dairy farm sustainable at a tough time for the industry, and beating the odds to do just that. Back in 2006/2007 when the farm was struggling to break even, the Brown family decided to diversify and considered various different avenues before realising that the most suitable option was to add value to their milk by making, retailing and wholesaling ice cream. Bluebell Dairy Ltd is now eight years old. It started with a very small ice cream production area, a small tea room with just 24 seats and a tiny play area and now welcomes 125,000 visitors to the farm each year. The business and facilities have grown tremendously and brought a fun and delicious new focal point to the area that wasn’t there before. The Browns feel proud that their business has achieved what it set out to do – they are still milking cows and are now planning to modernise the housing and milking parlour ready for the years of dairy farming ahead.”


Midlands Champion in the Farm Enterprise category: Warner Edwards Distillery, Falls Farm, Harrington, Northamptonshire 

Judge Jill Grieve says: “Tom Warner (pictured) is a force of nature who won’t let anything stop him when a good idea takes root. Having considered many different ways to diversify his family’s Northamptonshire farm, he hit upon making gin as a way of using many of the products grown on the farm, from elderflowers to sloes and other botanicals, and making something rather special. The distillery now enhances the farm and vice versa, and a newly planted botanicals garden in memory of Tom’s late mother is a touch that reminds you that the business is rooted in a close farming family. The gin itself is multi-award winning, but it’s the enthusiasm of Tom and his team as they work that is truly inspiring. The gin has ensured the farm’s future, but is so much more than that and has really put Warner Edwards on the map, enabling them to support other local businesses as they draw tourists into their beautiful little village.”

Highly Commended: Cedarstone, Rushock, Worcestershire


Midlands Champion in the Butcher category      

Joint Champion: Pete the Meat, 1246 Evesham Road, Astwood Bank, Redditch, Worcestershire

Judge Sarah Lee comments: “Anyone feeling a bit down about life should head to Pete the Meat’s Astwood Bank butcher’s shop – they will soon be cheered up by Pete and his excellent team who have a great line in banter and enthusiasm. This shop’s role in Astwood Bank is very clear – not only have the team sprayed their hair pink for a breast cancer fundraiser, among many fundraising efforts, but customers who came in while I was on a judging visit brought in cake, chat and compliments on a rolling basis. A butcher should be a central part of any high street and sadly it’s not always the case anymore. Pete and his team, including a young apprentice, are passionate about the community as well as about the exceptional produce they sell. Pete and his team produce a huge amount of their classic pies and sausages, which fly out of the shop, but they are also committed to trialling new ways to make their customer’s lives easier by making delicious seasoned or marinated dishes which just need to go into the oven. Pete has travelled widely and taken inspiration from butchers around the world – he is a charming and generous man who wholeheartedly deserves this award. I also can’t recommend the pork pie with Colston Basset & local cider chutney highly enough.”


Joint Champion: Clarkes of Queniborough, 29 Main Street, Queniborough, Leicestershire 

Judge Jim Barrington commented: “This shop is everything a butcher should be – central to the community, knowledgeable about farming and animal welfare and also kind and pleasant to speak to. Ian Clarke and his team are famous for miles around, and for good reason. There is a care taken by the butchers who know how each cut should be cooked, what difference an AGA will make in the process and where each beast has come from. The team are always moving forward and finding new ways to enhance the business too – last year, smoking their bacon in-house meant a rise in sales from 40kgs a week to 90 kgs, which is spectacular, especially considering the rise of multiples in the area. In addition Ian and his family are rooted in Queniborough life and act as a hub in the village, where information, gossip and news can be exchanged. Added to this, young Harry Clarke has recently become the fourth generation of the family to become a butcher, giving a bright future for this excellent business.”

Highly Commended: Joseph Morris, South Kilworth, Leicestershire