The entries have been sent in, the judges have made their decisions – and the first ever Rural Business Awards was an unqualified triumph, with the very best enterprises based in the Great British countryside pronounced well-deserved winners.
The Rural Business Awards are the first dedicated set of business awards for the rural community and are backed by two Government Ministers, and the CLA.
At the awards ceremony, held at Leicestershire’s Stapleford Park on October 1, there were tears from the owners of overall “champion of champions” Lily Warne Wool – a mother-and-son start-up from Devon which makes beautiful yarns spun from their own flock of Greyface Dartmore sheep.
Judges were blown away by the drive and commitment of Lily Warne owners Lewis and Paula Steer, who also won Best Rural Start-Up.
Awards co-founder and judge Anna Price said: “Wow! When Jemma Clifford and I set up the Rural Business Awards this year, we wanted to showcase the vast range of entrepreneurial talent in the Great British countryside, which we felt was all-too-often overlooked by urban-based business.
“We wanted to see some great entries, and we certainly weren’t disappointed. The sheer range of enterprises that are thriving in rural areas is so inspiring.
“Each and every story was a great one, and we hope it will encourage other businesses to consider starting up in countryside locations.”
Here is a summary of the winners and runners-up from the first ever Rural Business Awards (includes where the winner/runner-up is based).
Outstanding Rural Manufacturing Business
WINNER Zettlex, Newton, Cambridgeshire
RUNNER-UP Border Oak, Herefordshire
Winner: Zettlex produces compact, accurate sensors measuring position or speed in harsh environments, used in defence, medical, motorsport, aerospace and energy production industries. Zettlex founders invented its technology which uses a printing technique and 3D computer engineering to design, build and test its products. The company started out as two engineers working in a garden shed and now has a global reputation, a forward workload stretching into 2017 and contracts for jet engines, space rockets and safety critical equipment.
Runner-up: Border Oak, based in rural Herefordshire, has revitalised the lost medieval craft of oak framing for the building market. Original techniques are used to hand-manufacture oak frames but the company has also invested in state-of-the-art computer-aided design for construction and structural engineering and is now at the forefront of sustainable design solutions.
Best Rural Apparel Product or Brand
WINNER British Alpaca Fashion Company Ltd, Somerset
RUNNER-UP The Wool Room, Rutland
Winner: British Alpaca Fashion is the only alpaca textiles producer in Britain. Co-owner Anila Preston learned how to spin, weave, knit and felt the alpaca fibres herself and the company’s high-end product is now created in British heritage mills for export to the fashion industry, counting Richard Anderson from Savile Row as one of its clients.
Runner up: The Wool Room in Rutland has cornered the market in allergy-free bedding. Fed up with getting low prices for their wool, the owners aimed was to produce quality woollen goods for the homeware market. The Wool Room is the only natural bedding provider to hold the Allergy UK seal of approval and the first to prove that there is a non-chemical solution to dust mites.
Best Rural Food & Drink Product or Brand
WINNER The Pembrokeshire Beach Food Company, Pembrokeshire
RUNNER-UP Warner Edwards Distillery, Northamptonshire
Winner: The Pembrokeshire Beach Food Company was set up in 2011 by Jonathan Williams, who wanted to set up a mobile catering business which celebrated the seaside heritage of the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast, particularly the tradition of eating laver. The business is now well known for the mobile Café Môr on Freshwater West beach – which is run entirely from solar and wind energy – as well as producing its own range of coastal-inspired produce selling in high-end delicatessens.
Runner-up: Warner Edwards gin distillery was set up in rural Northamptonshire by Sion Edwards and Tom Warner in 2010. It makes craft gins in a converted barn using a copper ‘still’ named Curiosity, the property’s own spring water, home-grown grain and elderflower, plus ten secret botanicals. Warner Edwards was awarded double gold at the recent San Francisco World Spirits Collection.
Best Renewable Energy Project
WINNER The River Dart Country Park, Devon
RUNNER UP Hallidays Hydropower, Oxfordshire
Winner: The River Dart Country Park was the first in Britain to install a “Hydro Dynamic Screw” – more commonly known as an Archimedes Screw – which enables it to be self-sufficient for two thirds of the year, saving 160 tons of carbon. Other installations include a biomass boiler, district-heating scheme, solar panels and a weir on the river Dart with a specially built pass to help fish migrate.
Runner up: Hallidays Hydropwer started after its founders saw a gap in the market for complete hydro-electric solutions. The company finds sites to develop as hydro-power investments, as well as helping other companies and individuals with their own hydro-electric projects.
Best Rural Professional Services Business
WINNER Churchgates accountants, Cambridgeshire
RUNNER UP Lowe Maintenance Training, North Yorkshire
Winner: Churchgates has 525 agricultural clients based across 120,000 acres of countryside. It offers a comprehensive grassroots accountancy and tax planning service and employs a strong technical team to keep abreast of the latest legislation affecting rural agricultural communities.
Runner up: Lowe Maintenance Training provides forestry and land-based training courses to groups and individuals with courses including dry stone wall making, using chainsaws, gardening workshops, pest control, tree climbing and rescue and the safe use of pesticides.
Best Field Sports, Equestrian or Rural Recreation Business
WINNER Honesberie Shooting School, Warwickshire
RUNNER UP The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club, Herefordshire
Winner: Founded by professional shooter Nick Hollick, the Honesberie Shooting School offers the chance to people of all ages to have a go at clay shooting. It has 70 clay traps across 400 acres of countryside and holds simulated game days.
Runner up: The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club is a ladies-only shooting club founded by Victoria Knowles-Lacks, who has given more than 8,000 women the opportunity to shoot by holding event days across Britain.
Most Outstanding Rural Diversification Project
WINNER Hexgreave Estate, Nottinghamshire
RUNNER UP Eco Track & Access, Leicestershire
Winner: With its mid-18th century hall and extensive grounds, The Hexgreave Estate has been comprehensively refurbished to create office space and live/work homes combining the traditional with the contemporary, including a £2million conversion of the hall. Environmental considerations have been fully addressed with a biomass boiler and a highly efficient willow coppicing system providing heating as well as a natural filtration system.
Runner up: Eco Track & Access Ltd (ETA) is one of the UK’s most innovative manufacturers of eco-friendly trackway, pedestrian walkways and portable flooring. Its patented trackway systems have been designed and developed by the ETA team and have strong eco-credentials with their use of recycled materials both in the manufacturing process and at the end of their use.
Best Rural Construction Project
WINNER The Allerton Research Project, Leicestershire
RUNNER UP The Holkham Estate, Norfolk
Winner: The Allerton Project involved the transformation of a redundant brick built cattle shed with an asbestos roof into a thriving, carbon neutral visitor and training community centre. Many environmental techniques were used including 500 straw bales and sheep’s wool for insulation, fencing made from the estate’s own recycled agricultural plastics, a rainwater harvesting system for the toilets, photovoltaic cells on the roof for power, and a fully automated biomass heating system using thinnings from the farm’s hedgerows. The end result was a building that helped boost visitor numbers from 400 a year to 3,300, and is used by local groups such as the WI and a local traditional spinning school.
Runner up: The Holkham Estate in Norfolk, famous for being the home of the Earls of Leicester and the setting for films such as Shakespeare in Love and The Duchess, has undergone range of different construction projects including the redevelopment of a 50,000 square foot listed building and a 100 acre solar park.
Best Rural Start-up
WINNER Lily Warne Wool, Devon
RUNNER UP Squirrel Stores, Leicestershire
Winner: Lily Warne Wool was set up by mother and son Paula and Lewis Steer as a response to receiving low rates for their wool. Inspired to start up by Paula’s love of knitting, which has passed through the generations, Lily Warne Wools are spun from their own flock of Greyface Dartmoor sheep. The yarns are already selling in John Lewis as well as overseas, with an appearance on BBC’s Countryfile to boot. Lily Warne Wool has a strong eco vibe with its “Farm to Yarn” slogan and has a strong community commitment with educational farm visits and an advisory capacity on the Dartmoor Hill Farm Project.
Runner up: Squirrel Stores is a village store in rural Leicestershire which has been going for less than a year but has already become a lifeline for many. The owner set it up in a former newsagents – despite the initial price being beyond her budget – and having asked local people what she should stock, sells local meat, eggs, cakes and milk, as well as providing other services such as phone top-up and dry-cleaning.
CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS:
Lily Warne Wool
Leicestershire businesswomen Jemma and Anna set up the Rural Business Awards this year to recognise business talent that is flourishing in rural areas.
The first year of the awards has been an overwhelming success with public support from two Government ministers: Environment Minister Rory Stewart MP and Education Secretary Nicky Morgan MP.
The independent judging panel included Helen Woolley, director general of the Country Land & Business Association, Dairy Crest chief executive Mark Allen, Ed Bracher, chief executive of the Riding for the Disabled Association, Prescient Power managing director Carl Benfield, Business Matters Magazine online editor Rebecca Jones, Transition Plus managing director and IoD North West director Steve Bennett and Dr Alistair Leake, Director of Policy at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.