The path to the becoming National Butchers Champion has been a long process. Across the country and seven different categories, there were over 17,000 nominations this year. Once we were selected as regional finalists, we then waited nervously for the judges visit. This part is judged by previous winners which makes it even more special because it is other people in our industry, who understand our work, making the decision. We couldn’t have been more blessed in Stephen Hill and his team at Perrys of Eccleshall. Stephen is still teasing us about watching us for an hour from across the road as we nervously dashed about polishing up and trying to decide whether the outside fridge should stay in position. We moved it in and out of the shop front about six times! He understands about the importance of supporting each other within the industry and has already invited us to visit his shop in Staffordshire to show us what he does and to share his expertise. It is that sense of camaraderie and support which characterise these awards and make them so special for all the finalists. We were absolutely over the moon when we received the news that we had won the Midlands category and were invited to the House of Lords for the Winners Reception where the national champions would be announced.
So we headed to the capital on June 19th excited and proud but with no expectations of further victory. Standing on the balcony at the House of Lords overlooking the Thames and the London Eye, enjoying delicious canapes and chatting with all the other people who contribute to and care about their local area in the same way we do was an unforgettable experience. The national champions are selected by a small group including the Right Hon Michael Gove MP, Philip Johnston from the Daily Telegraph and food critic and author William Sitwell. The idea that these people had been discussing Brackley Butchers over a judges lunch was unbelievable to say the least! It was almost as surreal as the moment when we were announced as the National Champions. Our shop manager Stephen Smith rose to challenge to make an impromptu acceptance speech as the rest of us were speechless. Amid the whirlwind, the Right Hon Andrea Leadsom, our local MP, who has championed us throughout the process, came over to offer her congratulations. All too soon it was time for us to leave and so, clutching our winner’s plaque tightly, we made our farewells having made some lovely new friends. We detoured to the giftshop to buy some House of Lords chocolates for those staff who had to keep the show on the road back at the shop and were soon heading back to Brackley to celebrate with the whole team at the Green Room. Our butchers work so hard with smiles on their faces, despite their early starts, and we are so proud of them.
The Countryside Alliance Awards are all about the rural community and local food which is right at the heart of our business. Quite simply, we could not do what we do without our relationships within our local area. From Newbottle Estate and Purston Lamb to Jilly who makes our cheese biscuits, we are very appreciative of our farmers, producers and other businesses who work tirelessly all year round to enable us to showcase the very best in local produce. We are also thankful to the many pubs and restaurants we work with who have made the choice to champion locally produced food. As we prepare for the next phase of our business with the opening of our new shop in Buckingham, we are looking forward to widening these relationships and are already meeting a wide array of new businesses who, sharing our ethos and passion, want to be involved.
And finally, we want to thank you, our customers, who nominated us in the first place. We work hard to ensure we deliver a business that you can be proud of. In turn, we are proud of our customers who make the decision to shop locally and, in doing so, are supporting the wider rural community. This award belongs to all of us and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Photos Courtesy of Anderson Photography