What an absolute pleasure it was to celebrate such remarkable people from our countryside communities at The Yorkshire Post’s inaugural Rural Awards, sponsored by Bishop Burton College this week.
Guests and nominees in black tie dress filled the Pavilions of Harrogate for the awards ceremony which was hosted with distinction by BBC journalist Harry Gration.
After a delicious three-course meal it was down to business and time to reveal the winners in each of our awards categories.
Rural Yorkshire has so much to celebrate, from its hard-working farmers and community volunteers who dedicate countless hours to help others, to the innovative businesses and first class professionals who make such a big contribution to the region’s economy.
This article tells the stories of our richly-deserved award winners, but a hearty congratulations must go to all those who were shortlisted in the different categories – each one impressed our judges with their entries, making the task of picking the winners so tricky.
The Yorkshire Post will continue to champion the cause of our rural communities, celebrate their achievements and ask questions to deliver the best coverage of rural affairs in Yorkshire to our readers.
A huge thank you to everyone who entered the 2017 awards, who joined us on the night and who contributed to the evening, including Halifax-based singer Julie Diamond.
FARMER OF THE YEAR - J & S R THOMPSON
The Thompson family of Norton, Sheffield, have a fantastic reputation for producing pork from the Duroc breed.
This award was for a farming family that goes beyond the call of their working life to educate people about food production, and the Thompsons do just that.
Stephen Thompson has acted as a media spokesman for both the NFU and the National Pig Association, while Karen Thompson has given talks to a local pig discussion group on moving to three-week batch farrowing and the great improvements this has brought. She has even spread the word on food production as a singer with Stand By Your Ham.
The family takes part in Sheffield Food Festival and represents ADHB Pigs at a ‘skills for chefs’ school. They also host over 30 veterinary students a year to help towards their studies.
YOUNG FARMER OF THE YEAR - JOSH LAWN
Josh Lawn is 18 and farms across 180 acres on land near Hewenden Reservoir in Cullingworth, West Yorkshire.
He works with his father at East Manyfields Farm which is a dairy cattle and sheep concern – and where Josh majors on the sheep. He has 80 breeding ewes; Suffolks, Charollais, Mules and Charollais X Beltex.
He is earning a fine reputation in the agricultural show rings with his Suffolk sheep and has won many titles with his tup lambs, before last year and this.
Josh is also a prolific sheep shearer and has sheared more than 2,000 sheep this year. He is a member of the Aire Valley Young Farmers’ Club and finds time to play rugby for his local outfit, Bradford and Bingley Bees.
Josh has also represented Yorkshire at the sport.
RURAL TOURIST ATTRACTION OF THE YEAR - CANNON HALL FARM
Cannon Hall Farm was a small family enterprise that was struggling against a mountain of debt when Roger Nicholson came up with the idea of opening it to the public as a tourist attraction.
Despite his bank advising that he sold up instead, he would go on to establish the farm as a hugely popular attraction, turning over £7.68m in 2016 and employing more than 250 people.
Over the years a new farmyard has been added, comprising of seven new farm buildings, restaurants, a gift shop, indoor and outdoor play areas, a bakery and a farm shop.
A meerkat enclosure has been added and a recently opened reptile and mini-beast house has snakes, lizards, frogs, crabs and insects. Cannon Hall also hosts a food festival over four days each August, attracting tens of thousands of visitors.
LARGE FARM SHOP OF THE YEAR - KEELHAM FARM SHOP
Keelham Farm Shop has produced and sold fresh food for over 40 years and in 2015, opened a second shop in Skipton to add to its original premises just outside Bradford.
From small family farm origins, Keelham has become a substantial business that supports the region’s economy, farmers and producers by championing affordable, local, great-tasting fresh food.
Since Victoria Robertshaw and her brother James took over in 2006, following their father’s death, annual sales have grown from £2m to £21m and, across two shops, Keelham now serves more than one million customers a year and employs 341 staff.
Some 85 per cent of the fresh food it sells is from either Keelham’s own farm and production facilities or its network of over 400 farmers, independent producers and suppliers.
SMALL FARM SHOP OF THE YEAR - BEADLAM GRANGE
Beadlam Grange is a working farm that breeds and rears Limousin beef cattle, and with the help of two skilled butchers their meat is served up at the counter in the on-site farm shop.
The cattle are managed so that they are slowly grown for tenderness and flavour and they enjoy two summers out at grass.
The farm shop, located at Pockley, York, is run according to three principles: use their own produce, use locally produced food and, third, it must be from Yorkshire.
Its lamb comes from Glaves of Brompton, pork from Listers, Boroughbridge and bacon, ham and gammon from Rookes at Elvington. Its free range chickens come from just a mile away at Loose Birds, Harome.
Cakes and scones are freshly baked each day for its tea room and the shop sells home cooked meats, pates, pies and salads.
STUDENT/APPRENTICE OF THE YEAR - MARTINA ROBINSON
Martina Robinson has been a student at Bishop Burton College for the last seven years.
She does not come from a farming background but it soon became apparent to all at the college that she was a natural when it came to looking after animals and taking on tasks in the great outdoors. Martina stormed through her studies achieving a string of distinctions, while all the time mucking in on the college farm, from overnight lambing duties to volunteering to help on Open Farm Sunday.
This would all have been a wonderful achievement for anyone, but an even greater achievement for Martina who has fought against severe debilitating illness – cerebral palsy and functional dystonia which causes her mobility problems and fatigue – to get to where she is today.
DIVERSIFICATION AWARD - WOLD TOP BREWERY
The Mellor family founded Wold Top Brewery in 2003 and they have become so successful for what they produce that they have even learnt Italian to capitalise on interest from abroad.
Its multiple award-winning range of beers are brewed using chalk filtered water from the farm’s borehole.
Fourteen years ago it was brewing 300 gallons a week with no paid staff, now Wold Top at Hunmanby Grange is up to 5,600 gallons with a team of 14.
In 2015, a new brew plant was installed which increased the brewery’s size by 150 per cent to cope with demand. It now fills two million bottles annually.
The farm has further diversified with the addition of Muddy Souls Events, hosting weddings and the annual Moonbeams music festival.
PROFESSIONAL SERVICES TO THE COMMUNITY - ALISON CLAYTON
Alison Clayton is an agronomist based near Boroughbridge who absorbs a huge amount of pressure that would otherwise pile up for many farm businesses.
Her award testimonial told of a highly capable agronomist with a quiet, professional approach that through plenty of hard work tackles those huge mountains of paperwork that can all too easily pile up for farm businesses.
She is described as someone who completely understands the industry and as a qualified agronomist brings practical application as well as administrative ability to any business.
Alison is said to be highly respected and treasured as both a friend and as a professional, and the judges deemed her glowing nomination to be worthy of the award in this category.
SHOW VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR - MARGARET CHAPMAN & BILLY PLATTS
Our judges could not choose between them, so strong were their claims for this award.
Margaret Chapman is the chief cattle steward at the Great Yorkshire Show, having taken on the role in 2008. But her association with Yorkshire’s premier agricultural show dates back to first volunteering as a steward in the 1970s, when she believes she may have been the first female to do so.
Her input has also included her introduction of a Pairs competition – the Blythewood Trophy for the best dairy pair.
Billy Platts, aged 82, set up Woolley Horse Show on his own farm, Beacon Hill at Woolley Edge, from scratch around 40 years ago.
Initially he organised the show by himself, with help later on from his daughter, Cheryl, and it has grown to become such a success over the decades that a committee is now in place to support him.
COMMUNITY GROUP OF THE YEAR - WALTER HEAD & THE LITTLE WHITE BUS
Our winner is a group of mostly voluntary drivers who provide a vital community-run bus service to isolated communities in the Yorkshire Dales.
Walter Head and his team are described in warm tones in their nomination, which tells of their “good grace and ability at all times” in providing a bus service which is vital, particularly in the small villages of the Dales, and enables some people to remain in the homes that they love without moving to towns. For example, it allows people in Hudswell to travel into Richmond and do their shopping before being driven home.
Walter and his team based in the office in Hawes drew particular praise for taking in their stride all the other drains on volunteers’ time that could otherwise impact on their ability to provide a well-run, reliable service for the rural community.
BEST RURAL HIGH STREET OR RURAL RETAILER - CAMPBELL’S OF LEYBURN
Campbell’s of Leyburn is a business that started out as a tiny grocery shop in Commercial Square, first established in 1868 and now stocks everything, from the everyday to the exotic.
It offers customers fresh fruit and vegetables, a huge array of olives, a wide variety of cheeses, fresh bread and cakes.
It also has a wine department, which was described in its nomination as surely being the best in the North of England, a delicatessen and a butchers’ department selling fresh meat produced by Wensleydale farmers.
Its award testimonial read: “Campbell’s support all our local food producers and provide an excellent service to the community while astonishing visitors to the area. This business in its own quiet way exemplifies rural excellence and resilience.”
VET OF THE YEAR - ED PETTIFER
Ed Pettifer, of Wicstun Vet Group, Market Weighton was nominated by one of his peers, which just goes to show the esteem with which both he and his work is held.
His nomination said that this was a vet who has great energy and enthusiasm for his work and who develops a fantastic bond with the animals in his care.
His work involves providing treatment for both pets and farm animals, and despite his busy occupation, he has somehow found the time to study for extra qualifications which have given him the skills to save many animals whose owners would have struggled to otherwise afford referral practice fees.
His award nomination told of a vet who is good to work with and has a positive attitude. He is also credited with being a sensible business person who understands the importance of customer service.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS - JOHN RICHARDSON, ROGER NICHOLSON & DAVE CLARK
It being our inaugural awards, we took the opportunity to honour three fantastic contributions to our rural community.
John Richardson has played a pivotal role in the horticultural industry, having taken over Johnsons of Whixley Ltd in 1964 which now involves four generations of his family and is one of the longest established and largest commercial nursery businesses in Europe with an annual turnover of £12m.
Roger Nicholson is the head of the Nicholson family who run so successfully Cannon Hall Farm near Barnsley – our Rural Attraction of the Year award winner.
Dave Clark has been a Yorkshire Wolds-based agronomist for 40 years. He has pioneered new techniques and in the 1970s was the first to advise on the use of fungicides for wheat using novel products to both control disease and improve grain quality.