On 22nd March 2017 the 2016 Countryside Alliance Awards, nicknamed the Rural Oscars, were handed out by the Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom MP at a Parliamentary reception. Businesses from across England and Wales, who had already won their regional title, came to Westminster to find out if they had taken the national title. Shortly after the prizes were handed out Westminster went into lockdown following a terrorist incident. While the attending rural business men and women, and Countryside Alliance staff, are all safe, our thoughts are very much with those affected by the incident. The professionalism and care shown by Parliamentary staff and security services was much appreciated and we all offer our thanks to them for their commitment.
At the Awards event in the House of Lords, the Environment Secretary told the assembled rural businessmen and women: “Rural businesses are not just the beating heart of our countryside – they are also a vital part of the UK’s economy, generating almost £230 billion every year. I’m really pleased the Countryside Alliance is honouring some of these hard working businesses and ensuring they get the recognition they deserve. Today’s winners and nominees represent the very best of Rural Britain and I’m delighted to celebrate the crucial role our post offices, farm shops and food start-ups play in connecting communities across the country.”
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 were whittled down and judged.
The British Champions as presented at Parliament are:
Champion in the Local food/ drink category: Lawns Farm Shop and Morthen Milk, nr Rotherham, S Yorkshire
Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner told the room: “This third-generation farm really impressed the judges, not least by its location, close to two huge motorways, which can be seen from the farm. The 2014 crisis in milk prices necessitated many changes for what was then predominantly a dairy farm, but realising that if the cows were to continue to be at the farm, change was needed. Action was taken, first by opening a farm shop to sell locally produced food and setting up a dairy to produce, bottle and deliver their own milk locally. The ethos will resonate with everyone here today: we aim to provide high quality produce, direct from the producer with authenticity, traceability and sustainability. Education is also central to the Lawns Farm Shop mission, and a number of open days are held each year honouring the fine traditions of piglet racing, welly wanging and afternoon tea. One fan put it well, saying: “Farm shops do not get better than this. There will never be a supermarket purchase for my meat products again as long as Lawns are trading.”
Highly Commended: Foxholes Farm Shop, Butchery and Tea Room, Hertford
Champion in the Village shop / Post Office category as sponsored by the Daily Telegraph: Ponsanooth Village Stores, Cornwall.
Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner told the room: “Since the new shop and Post Office opened after a flood, Michelle has diversified the store from the very dull to a shop now described as “an Aladdin’s cave of local gorgeousness!” All things local are stocked, and hot drinks and pasties are also available to bring people together for a chat. The main draw is that for many village residents in this remote community, this store and Post Office are a lifeline. Michelle, with her partner Ben, don’t stop work when the shop closes, caring for villagers if they are unwell and taking the phrase “above and beyond the call of duty” as something of a job description.” Read more about the shop in the Daily Telegraph here.
Highly Commended: Napton Village Shop, Warwickshire
Champion in the Tourism Enterprise category: Bluebell Dairy, Derby
Tim Bonner said: “Our Champions have embraced tourism to great effect to keep their dairy farm alive. Having been running the farm for almost 28 years, our champions realised that continuing poor milk prices & children wanting to come back to the farm meant diversification was vital to survival. They considered various options before deciding to add value to their milk by making, retailing & wholesaling ice cream. Key to the decision was the location of the farm – between Derby & Nottingham, close to a good national network of roads, with a population of two million. Bluebell Dairy started trading in December 2008. It began with a small ice cream production area, a small tea room with just 24 seats & a tiny play area. They now have a 100-seater tearoom, a wholesale ice cream business, they are just about to launch their own milk vending machines and the farm also includes activities for the whole family to enjoy. Around 1500 schoolchildren visited in 2016, including many inner-city children who met farm animals for the first time in their lives. In all over 125,000 visited Bluebell Dairy in 2016, a phenomenal figure. This family never stands still and a dairy visitor centre is in the works. The old cow shed will be replaced with a new high tech unit & a viewing area will enable visitors to watch the process. A ‘cow to cone’ film will be shown in the café providing an invaluable learning process for adults & children. The Browns have achieved what they set out to do – they are still milking their cows, and their modernising plans will ensure the business is sustainable for the years ahead.”
Highly Commended: Beverley Food Festival: (Contact Helen Watson at the Council on 01482 874096)
Champion in the Farm Enterprise category: Hayley Hanson Hide, Brecon
Tm Bonner said: “This category is dominated by feisty farming women, and our Champion is an energetic one-woman enterprise. The strand of the business for which this mother of three is being rewarded today began in 2011 when Hayley got married and couldn’t find someone in the UK to tan the hide of the heifer killed for their wedding breakfast. She has since developed a network of people who can help her do parts of the process with the hide coming back to her micro-tannery on-farm. Products made on site include hide rugs, footstools, handbags, bound notebooks and a recent contract with a pewter company to make bound hipflasks. Smaller pieces and hairs are also marketed and snapped up by fly fishermen for tying. Hayley recently won a contract in New York for goods to complement a range of luxury bathroom items. Hayley Hanson Hide markets her services direct to farmers, particularly those who have excelled in the show ring and at fat stock sales, and being able to produce a hair-on-hide of their favourite beast. Hayley uses local people, skills and resources, including a local engraver for hip flasks, Ludlow Bookbinders for diaries and notebooks etc. Hayley is community minded and keen to support organisations and groups, offering a percentage off goods for the local hunt and Young Farmers.”
Highly Commended: Brinkworth Dairy, Chippenham, Wiltshire
Champion in the Butcher category : Pete the Meat, Evesham Road, Astwood Bank, Redditch, Worcestershire, 01527 892654
Our Champion is a force of nature who has been a butcher for 40 years. His team includes two thirty somethings who came to him as apprentices and never left. There is an apprentice on the team now and our Champion feels very strongly – as we all do – that butchers have a duty to support the upcoming generation of butchers so these skills are not lost. After 40 years in the same shop our Champion has great relationships with all suppliers, including the local small abattoir, which will always source rare breed pigs when he has none of his own available. Basing his trade around local, high welfare produce sees him visit all suppliers & farmers regularly. His commitment to his customers is also impressive: he sleeps in the shop in the lead up to Christmas. Having been burgled twice he wants to ensure all turkeys reach the right Christmas table. The team breaks down carcasses on-site and makes, bakes & produces almost everything in the small shop. Our judges still speak enthusiastically about the pork pies with cider chutney and Colston Bassett cheese, which they described as “supernatural”. In 1999, having been diagnosed with a rare form of brain tumour, the surgeons said Pete Lawton would need between three and six months off work. Three weeks after the 11-hour surgery he was back at work, securing the freehold to the shop from the Co-op. The range of community activities undertaken can be anything from the team spraying their hair pink for a breast cancer fundraiser to Pete giving a talk and advice at a seminar for local farmers about the effects of vaccinations and slaughter methods on meat quality. In short, it’s a marriage of taste, welfare and community.
Highly Commended: Lavenham Butcher, Lavenham, Suffolk
In addition, two Rural Heroes, both village shop owners, were rewarded for their inspiring community contributions. Daphne Eddington of Braithwaite in Cumbria, has been flooded five times but keeps getting back up for the sake of her community. In addition she has created a Braithwaite brand to help market the produce and the area to locals and tourists alike. Rob Ruck of Wellington, Herefordshire, was also declared a Rural Hero for going above and beyond the call of duty for his tight-knit community, running the Post Office and shop, acting as a hub for deliveries (and gossip) and ensuring young and old are included in village life.
Finally, the Clarissa Dickson Wright legacy award was presented to Briddlesford Lodge Farm on the Isle of Wight for its work to keep its Guernsey Herd going, to promote food and farming, to educate the next generation and to ensure farming’s future- read the article about Briddlesford here.
Notes to editors:
- Our regions are: South West, South East, East, Midlands, North, Wales.
- The national judging panel which chose the Champions from amongst the pool of regional champions is: Philip Johnston, Assistant Editor of the Daily Telegraph, Emma Penny of Farmers Guardian, Peter Gott of Sillfield Farm (and founder of Borough Market), Clarissa Dickson Wright’s friend Sally Merison and Tim Bonner, CEO of the Countryside Alliance.
- The Parliamentary reception was held at the House of Lords on Wednesday 22nd March 2017.
- More information on our Rural Heroes and the Clarissa Dickson Wright Award winners are available.