Claire Saunders, Director, The Prince’s Countryside Fund, explains what’s impressed her about the entries to the Samworth Brothers Rural Action Award 2015.
Britain’s rural communities continue to face great challenges with an increasingly volatile dairy industry, growing pressures on our food supply and 60,000 new entrants needed to sustain the agricultural sector by 2020. The businesses operating in this environment are not only facing up to the difficulties it presents, but are also taking seriously their responsibility to help sustain the British countryside, ensuring it remains a viable place to live and work.
The aim of the Samworth Brothers Rural Action Award is to recognise the businesses who are supporting these communities to maintain a vibrant, sustainable and prosperous economy for the benefit of future generations. We were particularly pleased to see a wide variety of issues being tackled by this year’s shortlisted entrants including:
A lack of new entrants and skilled workers into the Agricultural sector
How to ensure sustainable farming processes and increasing efficiency within the sector.
Providing secure markets for small local producers
A lack of consumer awareness of how our food is produced
One of the most prevalent issues addressed by our shortlisted companies was declining farm income and a consequent lack of security for suppliers. This problem is being tackled head on by many retailers, a number of whom are working hard to ensure they treat their suppliers fairly. This enables them to run sustainable businesses whilst shortening the supply chain and in turn providing the best quality produce. There were some fantastic examples of farmers and suppliers being offered the support and investment they needed to increase efficiency and drive growth.
We were delighted to announce that Westmorland are the winners of this year’s Samworth Brothers Rural Action Award with their inspirational programmes at Tebay and Gloucester Services. Tebay Services was set up by the Westmorland family in 1972 when the M6 was built through their farm. Tebay has gone on to become a unique and iconic model for a service station business. Instead of a forecourt packed with chains, franchises and fast food, Tebay’s farm shop is stocked with locally produced food, employing 550 local people, and even offering a free mini bus service for workers to get in from the surrounding villages.
In 2014 Westmorland decided to extend this model and opened Gloucester Services on the M5. This was a remarkably large project for the size of the business but has nevertheless been an overwhelming success. The community ethos and sustainable practices of Tebay have been continued and strengthened by an ongoing partnership with local charity the Gloucester Gateway Trust. Through this partnership, Gloucester Services has run training academies for unemployed people - 30% of its current staff were previously long term unemployed. Westmorland are also working with the charity for workers to grow fresh produce to supply the kitchens and staff the services. Westmorland work with 130 local suppliers within 30 miles of the site.
The judges were highly impressed by the way that the ethos of supporting the local rural communities is embedded into the very core of this business. Mary-Ann Kilby, Director at Samworth Brothers described Gloucester and Tebay services as “..genuine rural champions. The scale and the scope of their project is transformational, and the level of investment relative to the size of the business is remarkable. The focus on working with the local rural communities around the sites of Tebay and Gloucester services is making a significant difference to both the company and the community and much of what they do could be replicated by other businesses across a range of sectors.”
Overall the judges were thrilled with the extraordinarily high calibre of finalists for The Samworth Brothers Rural Action Award this year. We would like to thank ASDA, Marks and Spencer, EH Booth and Westmorland for setting the standard so incredibly high for sustainable business practices in Rural Britain.