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Rural businesses go from strength to strength

7 January

Article in Western Morning News – 21st Dec 2019

Advice from Liz Abell of the Diverse Regeneration Company on how local funding and expert support can help many Westcountry food and drink producers go from strength to strength.

Turning a passion, a hobby or just an inspirational idea into a viable business is certainly not always an easy process. Yet hundreds of artisan food producers across the Westcountry provide us, the consumer, with a vast array of exceptional fine food and drink to choose from. Famous apple orchards in Somerset are producing some fantastic cider to truly make us merry, and our farmers across the region produce some of the finest turkeys, vegetables and cheese to happily grace any Christmas table.

However, knowing where to find the funds and support to start a food business, or funds to help buy new equipment and therefore expand, can often be a tricky business in itself. Yet, despite the current political climate there are perhaps surprisingly many sources of funding still available for local rural businesses to tap in to.

Currently there are various funds available to rural businesses from The Rural Start-Up Fund (offering entrepreneurs up to £5000 for a new start-up), The RDPE Growth Fund (offering grants from £20K to £175K for business development, food processing and rural tourism) and Local Action Groups across many parts of the region who are helping to invest in economic, environmental and community based projects.

Marc Whiteside and his partner moved their young family from Brighton to the Taw Valley, wanting to escape City jobs and urban life for a rural change of scene. Aiming to start a business from his long term hobby of home brewing Marc and his family bought a Grade II listed Tudor thatched property with outbuildings, which Marc knew would be the perfect setting for his brewing business – ‘Taw Valley Brewery’.

Marc explains: “I knew that to make this a viable option I would need a lot of new and expensive equipment and so I really needed some funding help. While some items can be purchased cheaply, others need to be high quality, top of the range products; items such as the fermenters, which are the key to the taste and quality of the beer produced and strong, durable, easily washable casks are key for successful storage and retail purposes. Finding funding for these items was critical to my being able to start the business. The first thing I did was look on the Internet to see what help might be available and I came across the Greater Dartmoor Local Enterprise Action Fund (GD LEAF) and it seemed a perfect fit.”

Sophie Price, Project Advisor at The Diverse Regeneration Company, (DR Company) who manage GD LEAF says: “We were really impressed by Marc’s business plan and his project proposal so with our help he successfully applied for just under £10,000 of funding. This was matched with around £13,000 of his own money enabling Marc to purchase 130 stainless steel casks, a generator and two high quality fermenters.”

Since securing the funding Marc has turned a hobby, once conducted in a VW campervan, into a growing business and what Marc believes to be England’s only fully thatched brewery.

Programmes such as GD LEAF aim to support job creation and help grow the rural economy in the areas of farming, forestry, enterprise, tourism, rural services and cultural heritage activity. Sophie Price explains: “We at The DR Company are a not-for-profit Community Interest Company, with a team of experts supporting local businesses. We help not only in sourcing the appropriate funding but can also help with the whole application process too, which is often a daunting, complicated and time-consuming business! My job as a member of the DR team is incredibly satisfying as we continually get to meet some amazing local people, across many different industries, who are working really hard to build and grow their businesses which in turn supports this fantastic region.”

“I’ve recently been working with local Tavistock based company Flapjackery who from their humble home-kitchen beginnings in 2015, successfully applied for funding to expand their business. They have now doubled their workshop space, have grown to 12 employees and have also opened a new shop in Tavistock.”

Carol Myott, owner and founder of Flapjackery – makers of luxury Devon made Flapjacks explains: “Having never applied for funding before, it was a real help to have a friendly and knowledgeable team to help us source funding and guide us in our application. The funding we received has helped us improve our kitchen equipment and employ further staff from the local area. We are anticipating that this will boost the business enormously and we are very proud to be flying the flag for local, Dartmoor businesses.”

The advice to any rural business thinking of starting out in 2020 or looking for funding or investment to grow, is not to be put off by the uncertainty of Brexit. There are many funding programmes still available covering all sectors from food, farming, forestry and tourism – with plenty more funding programmes in the pipeline. So let’s raise a glass, eat, drink and be merry this Christmas with thanks to our amazing local food and drink producers, who are helping to keep this region a great place to live and work!

Liz Abell
Director, The Diverse Regeneration Company
www.drcompany.co.uk

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