Meet the rural entrepreneurs proving you can start up anywhere
The Bridge Lodge: A wild idea
Angus Birditt and Lilly Hedley launched their own small, seasonal food company whilst studying at Oxford Brookes University. The pair came up with the idea after paying a visit to Lilly’s family in Erbistock, near Wrexham, where they spent an afternoon foraging for wild garlic in the woods. When they returned to Lilly’s family home, they began making pesto out of their pickings and after realising how delicious it was, they thought ‘why don’t we make this to sell?’
As they were both studying at the time, Angus (History of Art) and Lilly (History), they spent hours outside of their study time researching how to go about launching a food business.
Lilly recalls: “We wanted to learn more about food production, food hygiene, and setting up a business of our own, so we took part in many courses to get qualified before setting up the business.”
Setting up the company just over a year ago, the pair decided to name the business ‘The Bridge Lodge,’ paying homage to the old lodge house nestled in the woodland where they would source their ingredients. As the company specialises in creating products using fresh and wild ingredients foraged from the surrounding woodland on the family estate – setting up the business anywhere else was always out of the question. However, the pair were soon to discover that setting up a business in rural North Wales would have its challenges.
Lilly adds: “We set up the business in North Wales as that is where I’m originally from, and all of the wild ingredients we use can be picked right on our door step, so for us the business wouldn’t really work as anywhere else!
“However, being such a rural business, we are very far away from cities and large towns, which can be difficult as a lot of our potential clients and customers are based in urban areas. This also makes it quite hard to distribute to places further field, we really are located in the middle of nowhere!”
Despite this, the pair were able to overcome these challenges thanks to the strong entrepreneurial ecosystem surrounding them – and Lilly is quick to point out that there are just as many benefits as there are challenges that come with setting up a rural business.
“There are a lot of benefits to being a rural business!” She added. “Being in Wales we are very fortunate to have lots of support from the Welsh Government’s ‘Food & Drink Sector’.
“They have been so helpful with many things, including introducing us to brilliant contacts, setting up networking classes, and inviting us to take part in showcasing our products with Food and Drink Wales at various trade shows and events.
“Also, being a rural business is a huge part of our brand. Our customers in general really love the backstory of our products. The fact that it is all handpicked and handmade in small batches, situated in the beautiful valleys of North Wales they seem to really engage with.”
Lakes and Lambs: Practical fashion for the countryside
Another entrepreneur proving you can set up a business anywhere is Jannike Taylor, founder of the aptly named Lakes and Lambs.
Taylor launched the business from her home in Cumbria just over a year ago in a bid to design and sell her own unique outdoor boilersuits for children. The overalls are designed for children playing outside all year round and are inspired by the countryside and lifestyle around her.
She told BQ: “I live on a small sheep farm in rural Cumbria along with my husband who has an agricultural contracting business.
“As a mother of three young children I always encourage them to be outside and play freely, but the washing was endless!
“Even in dry weather they would still have dusty mucky knees, but waterproofs weren’t suitable for the time of year.
“I wanted to get them boilersuits, like my husband wears on the farm, but I struggled to find any that were small enough or had the desired design features.
“So, I set about designing my own from scratch, with children, and indeed parents, in mind.”
Setting up the business in Cumbria was a no-brainer, given it was where she lived, however it did have it had its challenges. As she recalls: “One of the biggest challenges has been making connections with other people and businesses.
“Our location, and indeed having young children and livestock, makes it difficult to travel and meet with our partners and network with other businesses.
“We are forced to do more via email and phone and it sometimes takes longer to research and meet the right people.
“In particular it took us a long time to find the right manufacturers.”
But, being based in the bucolic Cumbrian countryside also has its advantages. Taylor adds: “There is so much inspiration all around you; the landscape and the wonderful people and businesses within it. Travelling to work through beautiful countryside is refreshing and aids creativity.
“We also make sure our brand reflects our farming lifestyle and the countryside we live in, it’s what we know and so needs to be part of our company’s identity. There are also some incredible rural businesses in Cumbria who inspire us every day.
“The company has grown well over our first year. We have developed a wide customer base and have been recognised in a number of national awards for our products; something we are immensely proud of.
“The company is still in its infancy and going forward we will be working on increasing our brand awareness as well as developing a new product line.”
Craine Communications: Connecting rural businesses across Scotland
Scottish entrepreneur Stuart Craine isn’t only showing how to set up a successful rural business but is also helping others do the same. He launched his eponymous telecoms engineering company Craine Communications last year in a bid to provide a solution to the lack of independent telecoms companies in the general Argyll area.
Stuart said: “My family was the main reason I started the business. Just two weeks after my youngest child was born, I had been working away from home every day during the working week.
“Five years later I knew I had to find another way of earning and being closer to home. Starting this allowed me to be involved with the daily routine of my wife and kids which is really important to me.
“The second reason was seeing the number of households and businesses seriously struggling to get a decent internet connection in my area.
“Working on the Broadband Delivery UK contract, on behalf of BT, sent me all over Scotland and the UK and I felt I had built up enough of a skill set to allow me the confidence to go it alone.
“Working on a part time basis for various community owned wireless internet networks based in Fort William and Skye, I found a new method of broadband delivery.
“After a slow start and a few setbacks, I created my own wireless network called Back of Beyond Broadband, which now has nearly 60 users with more added weekly.”
For Stuart, it was quite challenging promoting the business at the start as after working away for so long, he had lost touch with a lot of the local community. He recalls: “Initially the difficulty I faced with the business and network was the geography along with the local land owners.
“Not being a known face in the area meant I lacked the necessary word of mouth to get regular business and a foot in the door with the ideal land locations.
“After around six months of cost price work though things started to improve and word of my plans started to get out amongst the wider population.
“Once BoB Broadband went live (after a 10 month wait for BT Openreach Fibre connection) things quickly snowballed for the better, with land owners approaching me to get connected.”
The gamble of launching BoB is now really starting to pay off for Stuart and he has ambitious plans for the future. Craine’s services are now used by internet providers Skyenet and Locheilnet and have already connected over 100 new connections for Locheilnet with a 100% customer satisfaction rate.
The company is now hoping to develop a skilled workforce, drive rural digital development and empower small communities and existing businesses well into the future.
He concluded: “Going forward I will be looking to take on at least two new employees in order to cope with the demand.
“I also have two new fibre connections about to be connected in areas in Argyll which are in desperate need of good, affordable internet.
“This will be the start of the many other project areas I have planned for the near future, all without public funding.
“The rural areas will be concentrated on first with a view to have a presence in the Scottish cities too eventually.”