Second success story for the Barn

A CASTLE Morpeth business is celebrating success in a regional competition for the second year running.

The Country Barn, in Widdrington Village was awarded the North East Best Enterprise Diversification prize by the Countryside Alliance and it will now take part in the national final later this year.

The farm shop was opened in 2006 by Hugh Annett, 47, and partner Sarah Oakey, 37. They added a coffee and gift section a year later and that was followed by victory in the competition category of Best North East Rural Retailer.

Members of the public initially vote for their favourite, then a shortlist of three is drawn up and judges visit each location. This year, The Country Barn scooped the award ahead of a brewery and physiotherapists.

Ms Oakey said: "It was completely out of the blue to get a Countryside Alliance award for the second year running and amongst the gloom of the credit crunch and the continuing effects of the foot and mouth outbreak in this area at the start of the decade, it's great to have something positive to celebrate again.

"We are grateful to our loyal bank of customers for getting us into the shortlist again. Local residents come two or three times a week, while people from across the region come here for one big shop.

"This has shown that it was right for us to diversify and we are amazed at this success as neither myself or Hugh had any experience of shops before we opened."

The shop site is in converted disused buildings on the couple's 1,000 acre Widdrington Farm, which has been in the Annett family since 1515. All the beef and lamb for the shop comes from the farm.

There are 35 staff, aged between 14 and 74, and Ms Oakey hopes the store will not be badly affected by the difficult economic situation.

"At the end of the day, people still have to buy food so that is in our favour," she said.

"We are doing about as well as we were doing at this time last year, but now that the Christmas period has ended, the next two months will be key to see if we have been affected by the economic downturn.

"We are looking at the possibility of an online shopping service so people can shop at home and we are constantly examining our prices to make them as competitive as possible."

The couple will travel to the House of Lords in London for the national final on March 18.