In this blog, Anna Price, co-founder of the Rural Business Awards, describes some of the highlights from the 2018 Regional Rural Business Awards, and recognises the essential support of all of our wonderful sponsors.
If there’s one thing that binds us all together here at Rural Business Awards HQ, it’s that we all Really. Love. The Countryside.
As co-founders, Jemma and I were born and brought up in the rural way of life, and we are desperate to see it preserved for future generations.
That’s why we set up our Rural Business Awards, because it is the businesses operating in the countryside that are doing so much to help it thrive. Government grants and lottery preservation schemes are all welcome, but it is successful rural firms that have the best chance of helping the countryside flourish, and they are doing this in myriad ways: upskilling the local workforce, offering young people a chance to work near their families, providing vital services where there are few, revitalising traditional farms, and bringing in tourism.
From successful wedding venues converted from disused barns to foodie businesses using ingredients foraged from hedgerows and component manufacturers and professional services, the diversity of businesses we have seen enter our awards has been staggering. We are so proud to have been able to shine a spotlight on just some of the thousands of firms across the country which are proving you can be based in the countryside and achieve financial growth.
But we couldn’t have done any of this without our sponsors. These are the hero businesses which have believed in our Rural Business Awards and supported us as we pursue our goal of championing rural firms.
And the truth is, we simply could not have achieved the success of our awards without our main sponsor: Amazon. As our headline sponsor, Amazon’s incredible support has enabled us to roll out our awards regionally for the first time this year, shining a light on the hundreds of businesses that were shortlisted in our awards. From farms to distilleries, shepherds to accountants, the rural firms we showcased have one thing in common: a love of the Great British countryside and a desire to see it kept beautiful, vibrant and prosperous.
So what are the enterprising businesses that we have seen?
Let’s take food, for instance. Food businesses are some of the most exiting we have come across. Often started by farming families keen to find other revenue streams in difficult financial times for agriculture, these are some of the most successful – and mouth-watering – we have seen. And it’s thanks to the sponsorship of Idealogy that we have been able to continue to find out about these fabulous foodie firms in our 2018 awards. In our northern regional awards, we saw a great example of a business just like this: Country Puddings, winner of Best Rural Food Business in that region, which makes traditional favourite British puddings and custard sauces. The firm was started by farmer’s wife and mum Lynne Mallinson; starting from humble farmhouse beginnings, it expanded into a purpose built 3,000 square foot industrial kitchen. Country Puddings uses milk from the farm and boasts a staggering 16 Great Taste Awards.
The success of Country Puddings tells us another recipe for success (see what we did there?) in British rural business: diversification. That’s why our Outstanding Rural Diversification Category is so important – and with it, the generous sponsorship of Fisher German which backs this category. Yes, food businesses are often a successful diversification strategy for many traditional farms, but we have seen through the years that with a little imagination there are many different ways of finding that all-important second revenue stream.
A great example is Bluestone Brewing, from Wales, which was the winner for diversification in our 2018 Welsh awards. This is a company which set up a brewhouse in the traditional old farm buildings in Tyriet farm, and has proved that with a little exciting branding, attention to great taste and the ability to host bustling live events, success can be achieved. Plus, Bluestone do it all with attention to the environment. Hats off to them.
For many of us operating in the countryside, the environment is one of our major concerns. We see close at hand the effects of global warming, changes to the weather patterns, plus other issues such as the amount of thrown-away plastic. That’s why you’ll often find that rural businesses are the ones which are pioneering cutting-edge environmental techniques so as not to cause any further harm to the countryside they know and love. In our South-West regional awards we also saw a fantastic winner for Outstanding Rural Diversification: Frogmary Green Farm. An award-winning arable and poultry farm, Frogmary grows grass, cereals and maize which feed an onsite anaerobic digester producing biogas, which is then supplied back to both the national grid and Frogmary itself, as gas and electricity. Now that’s a virtuous circle. And it’s thanks to our fabulous sponsor Gigaclear, which backed both our South-West and our South-East regional awards, that the achievements of Frogmary – one of 50 prize-winning rural businesses across the two regions – were able to be highlighted, hopefully to inspire other farms to investigate similar techniques.
But there’s something else that’s really great about the countryside: it’s fun! Thanks to our beautiful landscapes, the countryside is a great place to go to relax, whether it’s going for a simple walk – often possible thanks to countless volunteer projects preserving ancient pathways – or doing something a little more adrenalin-fuelled. One of our biggest regional sponsors this year was Openreach which backed our Northern, Midlands, Eastern, Welsh and Northern Ireland regional events. Our Best Rural Recreational our Outdoor Pursuits Business category has seen some fabulous entries over the years, with businesses offering people the opportunity to have a go at something new – whether it’s clay pigeon shooting or surfing a wave or two. You wouldn’t think that central Wales had much to offer in the latter regard, but Surf Snowdonia, winner in our outdoor pursuits category for Wales, turns all that on its head: here is a business that proudly boasts to be a world-first inland surf lagoon and the only guaranteed surf break in the UK! With technology-boosted wave profiles, it’s a worthy winner in this category.
Openreach also sponsors another key category in our awards, Best Rural Start-Up. This is an area we are very keen to promote – it’s brave enough starting up a business in a big city with all the benefits of superfast broadband, great transport and amenities, but to do it in the countryside takes courage and ingenuity. And with that, we say well done to our great start-ups, such as the wonderful Westmorland Homecare, winner for Best Rural Start-Up in our Northern awards. Founded by doctors Josh Macauley and Chris Moss, this business strives to provide homecare for people who would prefer not to be forced into care homes and nursing homes when their health worsens. A truly worthy winner. Another fabulous start-up was Yagro, winner in this category in the Eastern region – which took place thanks to the sponsorship of Avantigas, who also sponsored our Midlands awards – Yagro is a technology-enabled purchasing and analytics platform for UK farmers, offering an online marketplace for a range of categories such as fuel, agrochemicals, fertiliser, seed, machinery parts and more and reaching nearly 1,000 farm businesses across the country.
As well as Avantigas, our Midlands awards also benefited from the sponsorship of HSBC and Janine Edwards Wealth Management. Janine Edwards has supported the Rural Business Awards since their inception, and her valuable backing, along with HSBC and Avantigas for our Midlands regional awards, enabled us to showcase such great rural firms as The Little Soap Company, makers of pure, natural soap and winners of the Best Rural Retail Business for the Midlands, and Rural Concierge, a fantastic concept showcasing the beauty of Herefordshire and winners of Best Rural Tourism Business.
So, there you have it. There were 150 firms and individual employees who were prize-winners in this year’s regional awards, and their stories could not be told without the generosity of our sponsors. We sincerely thank each and every one of them. And now, we look forward to the glittering final in February 2019! Who will win? One thing’s for sure, it’ll be a business that’s helping preserve the economic giant that is rural Britain.
And we can all drink to that.
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