21 February 2007, 16:49 PM
  • Ed Haigh at Bigbarn muses about the importance of awards in the speciality food industry and how they can boost business

At this time of year our television screens are filled with 100s of teary-eyed actors and bleary-eyed musicians scooping awards and thanking everyone, from their agent to their Mum. So it’s good to see that the speciality food scene is getting in on the act.

Last Tuesday saw the official presentation ceremony for the Best Rural Retailer of the Year 2006 awards at the House of Lords. OK, so it might have been missed by the BBC prime time schedulers and the dresses were a bit more Marks and Sparks than Dolce and Gabbana, but judging by the faces of the winners, these awards meant as much as any Bafta or Oscar.

Amongst the winners was a Yorkshire buffalo farmer, a marathon-running village shopkeeper from Northumberland, an Oxfordshire farmer-cum-teacher and a Greater Manchester gents’ outfitters. All of them, it seemed, had a real story to tell.

None more so than David Carr, of the Corner Shop in Longframlington, Northumberland, who won a commendation in the Best Local Food Retailer category. David gets up at 2.30am every morning to collect fresh vegetables for sale. He has been burgled 14 times and saw a 25% drop in business during the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak but nothing, it seems, will deter him from offering the best service to his customers. Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, which organises the competition, said, in presenting the award to Mr Carr, that “small shops and local communities have a future due to people like David.”

The Best Rural Retailer competition is only in its second year but it’s already gaining a lot of momentum and recognition. The ceremony was hosted by Kate Hoey MP, chairman of the Countryside Alliance and was attended by a host of other MPs, suggesting that the cause is one that has as much resonance in Westminster as it does in the villages these shops serve. More than anything, at a time of year when awards are being handed out left, right and centre to multi-millionaire celebrities, the competition provides a stage for the unsung heroes of local communities. Its continuing success will hopefully increase theirs.

From a BigBarn perspective it was really good to have the chance to meet up with some of our members at the event, and to congratulate them in person. Although we like to think we can do a lot to help them promote their businesses and increase their custom, it’s perfectly clear that it’s their sheer hard work and insistence on quality in the face of the most incredible pressures that makes them what they are. We salute them all.

Ed Haigh runs BigBarn, the UK’s no.1 virtual farmer’s market. It has a database of more than 6,500 local producers. To find out about becoming a member, visit BigBarn at www.bigbarn.co.uk, call 01234 8761005 or email info@bigbarn.co.uk.

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