Raising the barn – transforming rural business
Think of Cheshire and you will probably conjure up images of black and white Tudor buildings, tranquil countryside, gently rolling hills and the Cheshire Plain. A hotbed of thriving businesses and innovation probably won’t be uppermost in your mind.
However for many rural businesses, this is the reality. Faced with challenging prices for their produce or livestock, many have sought to diversify and expand into new markets or additional products or services. Coupled with urban businesses seeking the lifestyle benefits of rural premises and less time commuting, Cheshire’s rural businesses are coming out of the barn and claiming their place as key economic drivers of growth and employment.
Pioneering rural business support
Since establishing The Skills & Growth Company in 2016, we have offered growing businesses a bespoke support package across all sectors and markets, helping to create over 2,800 new jobs, and secured more than £119m investment into the Cheshire East economy. However we have also taken the bold step of establishing a dedicated Rural Enterprise service to ensure we can provide the same level of support and expertise but designed around the needs of rural businesses, for whom 9 to 5, MBAs and a quiet office space are far from common.
Diversification and tourism
Tourism has long been a key part of the Cheshire economy; we have helped many businesses expand and identify new income streams. We have worked with OverWater Marina for some time – an award-winning marina with 230 berths, a boat workshop, shop and café – close to the popular canal village of Audlem.
In 2016 they noted an increasing demand for the number of caravan pitches and holiday lets, and further research identified a lack of high quality tourism accommodation in the area. With our support, OverWater seized the opportunity to expand, navigated through the planning system and accessed rural grant funding through the Cheshire Leader Programme to bring forward a new touring caravan site and bespoke holiday lodges for sale. As a result, OverWater created a sustainable source of new income and demonstrated how identifying a gap in the market can compliment your core offer.
Innovating traditional sectors
Cheshire cheese is another instant claim to fame, and Cheshire is home to many cheesemakers large and small with the International Cheese Awards held in Nantwich since 1897. When J S Bailey, a relative newcomer to the sector – specialising in cheeses for the food service industry – wanted to expand, we helped secure a £400,000 investment towards a new £1.5m 11,500sq. ft. purpose-built packing and storage facility. This will enable the business to innovate further and produce a greater volume of cheese for the home and international market, including the Far East and Caribbean.
In cases such as these our support covers not just securing the grant support but developing a strong business case for investment, navigating local planning approvals and helping to source suitably skilled labour and upskill the current workforce.
Rural relocation and exporting
So from cheese to Forest Gin, winners of an unprecedented two separate double-gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirit Awards – the highest accolade within the spirits industry – and the only gin with this accolade.
The business was set up in 2015 by husband and wife, Karl and Lindsay Bond at home, but with a dream to expand and relocate into the nearby Macclesfield Forest, the source of their key foraged ingredients. With our support, this dream turned to reality with the relocation to their new Forest Distillery in the beautiful Cheshire Peak District.
Forest Gin is now available in a range of premium retail outlets such as Harvey Nichols stores throughout the country and The Conran Shop in London, as well being the gin of choice in many of the UK’s best Michelin-starred restaurants.
We have also supported the business with their growth and referred them to the Department for International Trade’s Exporting is GREAT programme. As a result, they are now selling Forest Gin into France, Germany, Switzerland and recently secured a further export deal to over 100 outlets across Japan following a UK trade mission to strengthen ties with Tokyo. Not one to stand still, Karl has turned his skills to another challenge and Forest Whisky is now being produced alongside their gin.
Nurture and empower
So next time you take a stroll, drive or ride through Cheshire’s lanes, stop to consider what might be going on over the hedgerows, it might surprise you. For any business, whatever your location or objective, whether it’s a new product innovation, premises expansion or upskilling your team, we can help make it happen – our ambition is to help you fulfil yours. For more information on our support see www.skillsandgrowth.co.uk
This article was first published by North West Business Insider.
Photo: Karl Bond, founder of Forest Gin