Collaboration on the menu in Lancashire as food safaris business hails county business support

An entrepreneur with a passion for artisan food and Lancashire’s countryside has praised the wide range of support available through Lancashire County Council's Rural Recovery Fund.

By Tim Gavell
Tuesday, 21st June 2022, 12:30 pm

The Rural Recovery Fund has been developed by the county council based on the needs of micro rural businesses and the farming community.

Katie Wilson runs Bowland and Bay Artisan Foodie Adventures, based near Garstang, which whisks travellers to a select group of artisans in Lancashire and Cumbria.

After a chance encounter with Karen Lawrenson, senior project officer for the Rural Recovery Fund, Katie was introduced to the Tourism Peer-to-Peer programme, which was specifically developed for rural tourism micro businesses.

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Katie Wilson of Bowland and Bay with Chris Bury, head chef at the Cartford Inn

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She said: "I had no idea this type of support existed until I met Karen at an event. As a new business I can honestly say the support has been invaluable.

"The Peer-to-Peer programme was fantastic, I learnt so much and it was great to share ideas with other like-minded businesses."

Katie took part in a nine-week programme, which included two hours of group support with other tourism businesses, as well as 1-2-1 support.

Bowland and Bay offers artisan food and drink safaris around Lancashire

Katie identified that she needed to improve her digital skills and social media presence, so she also benefitted from a Digital Skills programme, which then led to participation in the Advanced Digital Skills workshop.

Bowland and Bay focuses on sustainability, collaboration and all of the food adventures take place in Lancashire and South Cumbria promoting the county’s extensive array of local food and drink.

As such, Bowland and Bay is also a key partner in the Eco Escapes AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) project, a new project aimed at promoting sustainable travel across the Forest of Bowland and Silverdale.

Katie, who previously worked for the likes of Nat West and Blackpool Pleasure Beach, found herself with time on her hands when she was furloughed from her then job during the pandemic lockdown.

Bowland And Bay's visit to Goosnargh Gin - with guests from across Lancashire, Midlands and Wales

She used the downtime to focus on what she really wanted to do with her working life, and having always wanted to have her own business, she decided it was time to follow her dream with food safaris of between four and seven hours with a whole series of stops in the countryside.

She said: “I thought carefully about what I loved about my jobs. I had been a purchasing manager and had worked in the food and drink sector and so wanted to pull that together.

"I started mapping it out in the September and then launched my business in July 2021, when the rule of six changed and we could go inside to eat. I start year two in July and I am between 70 and 80 pert cent booked up this autumn.

"Lancashire has got incredible ice cream, incredible cheeses, bakers, brewers, gin makers, the wonderful fish platters at the Cartford Inn near the River Wyre, and the list goes on. I have been in touch with 150 businesses to see how they run their businesses, see their enthusiasm and passion for what they do and I just asked if I could bring people along.

Byrne & Co - wine merchants with Therese and Mark Patten are part of the Bowland and Bay tour

"It’s all about taking people on a food safari – eight people at a time to meet and connect with these wonderful producers we have in Lancashire."

She said she was also interested in sustainable business and the environment, primarily by supporting local producers and by travelling in the landscape that we have.

“I have had so much pleasure taking people from Garstang on the tours and opening their eyes so many did not realise you could visit these place or even that some of them existed. They had no idea there was a brewery off Cockerham Sands or that many places had cheese shops and tea rooms.”

But it is not just local people who are taking the tours, Katie is getting visitors from Italy, France and even Texas.

She said: “An Italian food tourism student came last week to see what the tour was about. he was amazed by the collaboration that is happening between the businesses here in Lancashire as it doesn’t tend to happen in Italy.”

All of these opportunities have been made available through the Lancashire County Council's Rural Recovery Fund and the flexible courses on offer.

National Chef of The Year winners and sponsors Lockhart Catering Equipment sampling Wallings Ice Cream at a Northcote Obsession season event

Katie said: "As a result of the digital skills course I went on, I now have a presence on different social media channels and feel much more comfortable putting myself out there. Karen signposted me to Embrace Digital and I participated in a number of their workshops, which were brilliant.

"Karen also put me forward for an EVA award, which I was absolutely delighted about. Just being nominated was a real boost for me.

"I'm now really excited to be playing such a crucial role in the Eco Escapes AONB project."

Katie has recently developed a partnership with Northcote Manor offering afternoon Foodie Adventures, as part of a Gourmet food package. The initial offer was a sell-out, so Katie is now working closely with Ribble Valley-based Northcote to develop further adventures, showcasing the wonderful produce on offer in Lancashire, such as Mrs Kirkhams cheese and Wildfox Gin Distillery.

Lancashire County Council is now looking for more businesses to support through the Rural Recovery Fund.

Karen Lawrenson, senior project officer for the Rural Recovery Fund, said: "We have been able to offer a bespoke programme, which has made a real difference to our rural businesses.

"I have participated in all of the programmes to gain a deeper understanding of the needs of our rural businesses, which has meant I have gotten to know the individual businesses who often pick up the phone to ask for advice and guidance.

"I have put forward a number of the businesses for the EVA awards, encouraged joint working, signposted to other support or just been available for a chat."

If you are a micro rural Lancashire business looking for support, please email: [email protected]