Thank you to all who read our posts in 2014

The WordPress.com stats monkeys have kindly prepared another annual report for this blog. It shows we had 4,500 views in 2014, more than double our views in 2013. Thank you to everyone who took the time to read, share and, in some cases, comment.

Please click here to see the complete 2014 report.

Please click here to see the 2013 report.

Although we focused on local food and drink in 2014, we also wrote about East Anglia’s thriving digital technology, engineering and bio-science communities. We look forward to bringing you more stories like this in 2015. If you are organising any special events for these sectors, please let me know.

We’re blogging for charity

We are using our blogs to raise awareness of an excellent local charity called Nelson’s Journey. If you enjoyed this post, please donate £1 (or more if you can spare it) to Nelson’s Journey today. Thank you.

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Thank you for reading

I hope you will join the conversation by adding your views below or contacting me on twitter or Google+. Meanwhile, we wish you a happy and prosperous New Year.

Kind regards

Huw 

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

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Huw Sayer's blogs in 2014
Happy New Year

#NFDF2014 visit to @WoodfordesAle – famed for its #WherryBest beer.

Following my visit in July to Crisp Malting, which malts the finest barley in the world, a trip to Woodforde’s brewery was the obvious way to follow the local links from the grain to the glass.

Woodforde’s, like the village of Woodbastwick it calls home, is quintessentially Norfolk. From its trademark Wherry logo and its location in the heart of the Broads, to the local water and premium malt in its award-winning beer, it epitomises the best the county has to offer in food and drink. Similarly, Woodbastwick has a fine church, a cluster of cottages set round a small green and, like many Norfolk villages, a decent pub.

Copyright Woodforde's - with permission

It’s the beer, the whole beer and nothing but the beer

The Fur & Feather is thatched and red brick like the surrounding properties, with locally sourced food every day and, best of all, its own brewery next door. This is Woodforde’s only pub – the firm doesn’t have a large property portfolio or a diversified business. Consequently, as Managing Director Rupert Farquarson makes clear, “the company lives or dies by maintaining the excellent quality of its beer year in year out.”

That quality has been evident since two members of Norwich’s home brewing community turned their passionate hobby into a thriving business in 1981. After the dark days of the 60s and 70s when it seemed the only beers were Watney’s Red Barrel or Double Diamond, the craft beer pioneers were almost guaranteed a hero’s welcome from thirsty drinkers. Wherry certainly hit the mark and, after a couple of years on an industrial estate in Drayton, had to move to larger premises in Erpingham, next to the Spread Eagle pub (now the Erpingham Arms), to cope with rising demand.

A fire almost destroyed the brewery a month later, but the business rose from the ashes – and launched a special IPA called Phoenix to mark its survival. Since then it has grown steadily, building a loyal following not just in Norfolk but also across the UK, as its popular online ordering service proves. It moved to Woodbastwick in 1989 and in September 2014 it resurrected Phoenix as a guest ale to mark just over 30 years since the fire.

Copyright Woodforde's - with permission.

The secret to great beer – great ingredients – and master brewers

Just 15 years after its launch, Wherry won the title CAMRA Supreme Champion Beer of Britain and the company has gone on to win numerous accolades since, including two at this year’s Norwich beer festival. However, the crowning glory came when The Good Pub Guide 2015 named it UK Brewery of the Year. This is great news for Woodforde’s and for Norfolk, which boasts more than 20 pubs in the guide, including The Rose & Crown in Snettisham, which won the Pub of the Year award.

The three main ingredients in all Woodforde’s beers are local water (from its own borehole), malt and the hops. The brewery team works closely with local maltsters (Crisp Malting and Simpsons) to ensure they get the finest brewing malt made exclusively from Norfolk barley, mainly the world famous Maris Otter. “We always buy the best,” says Brewery Manager Bruce Ash, who is one of only 71 Beer Sommeliers in the world. “Our reputation depends on it.”

Woodforde’s tends to use English hops for their bitter flavour and Slovenian hops for their aromatic qualities. “Many brewers use processed hop oil or dried pellets because they are cheap,” explains Bruce, “but we only use whole hop flowers because we want to ensure a full flavour.” Fittingly, it used purely English Golding and Challenger hops for its Royal Norfolk Ale, which it brewed to commemorate the sacrifice of the local regiment in WW1 and to raise funds for its benevolent fund.

Supporting the local community

“The term ‘ethical’ is perhaps a bit overused in business these days,” admits MD Rupert, “but we do strive to put something back into our community. After all, most of our employees are Norfolk born and bred – we even have three members of the same family on the team – and they stick with us because they like our attitude, as much as our beer. In fact, three people have been with us for over 25 years, including Bruce who worked his way up from being an apprentice.”

Woodforde’s commitment to the local economy is also evident in its brewery shop (run by Juliet Jones) where it stocks food and drink from 16 other Norfolk producers. It is like a permanent indoor farmers market and well worth a visit – particularly in the run up to Christmas if you are looking for a special present for the gourmet in your life. Feast your eyes on the current selection:

Jubberwacky

Booja Booja

Yare Valley Oils

Norfolk Sloe Company

Essence jams and chutneys

Algy’s popcorn

Chillis Galore

Norfolk cider

Broadland Wineries

Saffire Handmade Chocolate

Orchid Apiaries

The Little Fudge Stall

Norfolk Cordial

Gnaw

Channell’s Norfolk Preserves

Lady Jay’s Preserves

Peachey’s Chutneys

For a delicious, festive family day out, you should pop along to the brewery’s Christmas Open Weekend (6-7 December). Along with beer and wine tastings, there will be a hog roast, a local food marquee, carol singers and free brewery tours. As further proof of the brewery’s support for local producers, it doesn’t charge pitch-fees for the marquee – which is a particularly generous gesture in these tricky economic times.Copyright Woodforde's - with permission.

Woodforde’s also supported the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014; sponsoring the Aylsham Slow Food Festival and Ormiston Families’ Walk with a Fork, as well as running a food & ale matching evening. In 2015, as in previous years, it will continue its involvement in Norwich City Of Ale Festival in May and the Norwich Beer Festival in October. It will also brew a special ale for the Maris Otter 50 celebrations in September, to mark the revival of the malting barley that is a favourite of craft brewers the world over.

Supporting pubs across the region

If that was not enough, Woodforde’s is again organising the East Anglian Ale Trail. Now in its 15th year it has become one of the biggest in the country. The trail features around 700 pubs – including some 330 in Norfolk. That is enough for a dedicated beer drinker to enjoy two stops a day, every day of the year – and there will be prizes for those who complete different sections of the trail. This is a great way to support local pubs and craft beer makers, not just Woodforde’s (although it obviously does help).

Declaration

This is not a sponsored blog (none of mine are) but Woodforde’s kindly gave me a bottle of Norfolk NIP and a bottle of Tinsel Toes to taste. However, I’m saving them for the festive season – when I can try them with a slice of delicious Christmas cake from Dozen – so will report back on them later. Rupert also donated a box of six assorted bottles of Woodforde’s beers for the Nelson’s Journey Christmas quiz. Thank you to all the team at Woodforde’s for your hospitality and generosity, especially Rachael Shakespeare for arranging my visit and showing me round the brewery.

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We’re blogging for charity

We are using our blogs to raise awareness of an excellent local charity called Nelson’s Journey. If you enjoyed this post, please donate £1 (or more if you can spare it) to Nelson’s Journey today. Thank you.

JustGiving - Please sponsor us

About this post

This is one in a series of #NFDF2014 tagged posts about the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014 and related stories – I hope you enjoy them (if you do, please give them a star or five).

If you have any questions or comments, or ideas for future posts, please post them under this blog or tweet them to me. I will do my best to reply.

Thank you for reading – best wishes – Huw.

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

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East Anglia’s digital businesses need to get on @TechCityUK’s #TechNation map to give our tech community a national voice.

Tech City UK is a government-funded body tasked with promoting the UK’s digital and technology capabilities to the world. Its mission includes understanding the support tech clusters in the UK need to thrive. It is currently researching the digital sector for its #TechNation report and is encouraging all digital businesses to complete a short survey to ensure their community is represented.

This survey (which is supported by Duedil, MTM London and AngelList) is only open to digital businesses, so no biotech, clean tech or aerospace companies. However, one of the early questions explains the criteria clearly. Simply answer the questions accurately to see if you qualify – but do it today because the survey closes on 28 September 2014.

Why does this survey matter?

This is a nationwide survey and policy makers are likely to use the resulting #TechNation report to shape future strategy. It is vital that East Anglia is properly represented if we are going to secure the government investment we need to grow our digital economy. It is also a great way of highlighting the digital expertise that already exists here to potential private investors and employers.

Individual clusters (such as Norwich, Bury St Edmunds or Ipswich) will only have a separate profile in the final report if enough companies complete the survey. Tech City UK currently estimates that at least 30 companies from a cluster would need to complete the survey for that to happen. That’s why it is so important we get as many local digital companies as possible to complete the survey.

What’s in it for me?

If you complete the survey by 28 September, Tech City UK will enter your name in a draw for the chance to win:

  1. One of 10 iPad mini 3s,
  2. Tickets to the NOAH Conference on 13/14 November 2014
  3. Most importantly, an individual profile of your company in the final #TechNation report.

You can take the survey here: http://bit.ly/technationsurvey. Please share the link today with your digital business contacts in East Anglia, to ensure the #TechNation report reflects the scale of our local digital communities. If you have any difficulties or questions please email technationsurvey@techcityuk.com.

UPDATE 20 November 2014

Since writing this blog we’ve had the pleasure of meeting with various members of the local tech community to discuss how we could collectively help build the region’s tech and digital reputation. This blog (on our Business Writers Limited site) explains what happened next: Supporting East Anglia’s #tech community. Please read and share.

We’re blogging for charity

We are using our blogs to raise awareness of an excellent local charity called Nelson’s Journey. If you enjoyed this post, please help a grieving child by donating £1 (or more if you can spare it) to Nelson’s Journey today. Thank you.

JustGiving - Please sponsor us

Thank you for reading

This is one in an occasional series of posts about business, social media and communications. If you find them interesting or useful, please give them a star or five and share with others. 

Please join the conversation by adding your views below or contacting me on twitter or Google+

Kind regards

Huw 

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

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“But what do I say?” – How your business can use social media to engage audiences.

Thank you to all who have listened to my Social Media talk at various events over the last year. That includes The Mill Breakfast Club on 4 September 2014 and various BOLD Group Business Network breakfasts and workshops around Norfolk. It was a pleasure to meet you and I hope you found the discussions interesting and useful.

This post is based on those talks. However, I have expanded it to look at how effective engagement can help you communicate your corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy. Please join the conversation by commenting below.

How to use social media to support your community and build your brand

The following idea, on how you can use social media to build your reputation as a good corporate citizen, applies to every business no matter what its size (here corporate doesn’t just mean big). At the same time, it will give you something interesting and useful to say on social media – rather than saying nothing (or worse yet, saying something boring). This idea encapsulates my belief that engaging conversations build strong communities by uniting people around shared values and interests.

Huw Sayer - social media advisor.

Norfolk Magazine – January 2013 @HuwSayer – “A great Norfolk online ambassador.”

Social media is a huge subject but I want to focus on what to say and how to engage your audiences, which is what really matters. However, before I start, I am going to make three assumptions about you and your business:

  1. You use social media for business to find and engage with your audiences
  2. You want to be seen to be socially responsible (not irresponsible or indifferent)
  3. You understand you have a brand (even as a sole trader) and that building its credibility (familiarity and favourability) with your audiences takes time and care.

A quick aside:

Your social responsibility might be your next big opportunity

With those assumptions in mind, I just want to say a brief word about what I mean by good CSR. Being socially responsible doesn’t simply mean complying with laws governing the social aspects of businesses, such as working conditions, health and safety, or waste disposal. A good CSR strategy goes beyond compliance and looks for ways to turn each socially desirable action into a competitive advantage – one that creates marketing or, better still, real business opportunities.

For instance (purely hypothetical), you have a legal responsibility to comply with the WEEE Directive on the disposal of electronic goods. A marketing opportunity might involve reconditioning old computers and donating them to local schools. A business opportunity might involve developing a low margin, high volume line of cheap recycled computers for sale to individuals and communities.

Listening is the key to understanding

To know what those marketing and business opportunities might be, it pays to know your audiences both internal and external extremely well. Social media platforms not only can help you engage but also can help you listen to those audiences. Good listening is the key to productive conversations.
End of aside.

What do you say after you say hello?

There are plenty of good resources explaining the why and how of setting up and managing social media accounts for business. However, they tend to deal with the mechanics: what to say in your profile, how to analyse your RTs, when’s the best time to post, how best to use lists. Few really get down to the essential ‘What’ of social media, which is to engage and influence by listening, responding, reciprocating and sharing.

The three most important things to remember about social media:

  1. The clue to using social media is in the name – it is social (and sociable) not broadcast – and good social discourse (particularly in the public domain) thrives on engaging conversations
  2. People value authenticity and relevance both in others and in their conversations – they want a mix of interesting, useful, entertaining and shareable information – and they prefer to get it from people who share their values
  3. Constantly selling yourself (or your service) is boring – some might even say it is arrogant or vain – either way, it is a one-sided conversation that turns people off and undermines your brand’s credibility.

So how do you turn these three guiding principles into good conversations? My advice is to remember the 80/20 rule of social media:

  • Avoid the mistake of point 3 by making sure no more than 20% of what you say is directly sales related (and even then it needs to be subtle – we might deal with that in a later post).
  • Use the remaining 80% of your posts to build brand familiarity and favourability by giving your audiences what they value (see point 2) – authentic conversations.

Even if you don’t buy into this idea of using social media for CSR activity, the 80/20 rule can still help you create an effective social media strategy. However, since you are spending time on social media, you may as well use it wisely to do some good and build brand favourability in the process.  If you can’t be a financial philanthropist, you can at least be a time philanthropist by dedicating much of your 80% activity to supporting your local community or promoting socially responsible activities.

What socially responsible activities might resonate with your audience?

I’d suggest the same things that resonate with most people: things that benefit them, their families, their friends, their businesses and their communities. And to understand what those things are, you have to think local – by which I mean local to your audiences (and to understand what your audience thinks of as ‘local’ or ‘community’ you will need to listen to them – see my earlier point).

Using your 80% wisely

Here are four suggestions for what you might talk about or even champion for 80% of your social media time – think of these as themes and look for specifics within your own business.

  1. Things your team does to make your audience’s community better, safer, cleaner, happier, friendlier or more prosperous. Particularly if it involves working collaboratively with the community – since people tend to like team players. For instance, organising a mass litter pick, learning first aid (life skills that save lives), or fund raising for a local school or charity.
  2. Social or cultural events going on in the community – charity runs, free events at public libraries, new exhibitions at local public galleries and museums, village fêtes, county-wide public consultations.
  3. Things you have done in your business or personal life to become environmentally friendly – such as reducing waste, increasing recycling, planting wild flowers, planting trees to offset carbon emissions, or supporting a cycle to work scheme.
  4. Social causes that matter to both you and your audience (remember, this has to be authentic – so choose carefully don’t just leap on a bandwagon and hope it makes you look good). These could range from committing to buy local and fair trade products and services, to taking on apprentices, offering flexible working, paying a living wage rather than just the minimum wage, or supporting diversity and opportunity for all in business and society.

As I’ve said before, communities are stronger when they work together. Look around you – identify your audiences and your shared communities of geography or interest. Then work out how you can use your social media time to support and improve those communities – it’s not just good business sense, you’ll find it personally rewarding too.

If you want to discuss these ideas further, please contact me today.

We’re blogging for charity

We are using our blogs to raise awareness of an excellent local charity called Nelson’s Journey. If you enjoyed this post, please help a grieving child by donating £1 (or more if you can spare it) to Nelson’s Journey today. Thank you.

JustGiving - Please sponsor us

Thank you for reading

This is one in an occasional series of posts about social media and business communications. If you find them interesting or useful, please give them a star or five and share with others. I hope you will join the conversation by adding your views below or contacting me on twitter or Google+

Kind regards

Huw 

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

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#NFDF2014 Days out in Norfolk – Part 2: celebrating our food & drink heritage

Naturally, you have all read part 1 of this series on days out in Norfolk (haven’t you), so you’ll know that the following visits weren’t directly food and drink related. However, we didn’t go hungry and in one instance we tried a new (to us) local delicacy – which illustrates the role of food and drink in Norfolk’s tourism offer (as Pete Waters at VisitNorfolk often points out, it accounts for nearly 30% of visitor spending). More importantly, most of the attractions have strong links with or celebrate our farming community both past and present and remind visitors of its importance to the local economy.

WARNING:
This is quite a long post – so grab a coffee (or beer or wine), get comfortable and stay awhile.

Tuesday 5 August – The Great Hospital, Norwich

The Great Hospital (a #Norwich12 heritage building) is an amazing institution that has been at the heart of community life in the city for over 700 years and still provides sheltered accommodation for local people. Although it opens The Lodge each Friday between April and September, the church, cloisters and medieval refectory are normally closed to visitors to protect the privacy of the elderly residents. However, as well as hosting special functions (such as weddings and conferences), the Great Hospital holds occasional open days and we took the opportunity of going along to one during the recent Norfolk Open Churches week.

Aside from seeing this historic building with its beautifully carved dragons in the brackets on the roof beams (much like those in the equally splendid Dragon Hall, another one of the #Norwich12), I was there to see fellow Norfolk Food & Drink Champion Charlie Hodson, who had recently been appointed Executive Chef at the Great Hospital. Over excellent tea and cake (made by Charlie’s talented team) we chatted about how he was introducing more locally produced food to the menus both for residents’ meals and for the grand occasions. If you ever get invited to one, leap at the opportunity because the food will be delicious and you will know that Charlie has paid particular attention to its provenance.

http://www.camrovision-landscapephotography.co.uk/

Blickling Hall by Paul Macro

Saturday 16 August – Blickling Hall

I’ve walked round the park at Blicking plenty of times – it is beautiful in all seasons – and sat in the courtyard to watch an open-air performance of Pride & Prejudice (which was great fun) but oddly I had never been inside the house. So it was a pleasure to finally walk past the grand heraldic bulls that stand either side of the main entrance and step through the ancient oak door into a hall that has greeted royalty, politicians and members of high society for hundreds of years. Now a National Trust property, it has been preserved to look like the family house it once was, with a minimum of ‘museum’ type signs.

It’s a fascinating place, with beautiful furnishings. Although I quickly tired of all the portraits of long dead nobles in their finery (one ruffed earl is much like another), I did enjoy reading about life below stairs and listening to the archive recordings of interviews with some of the last people to serve as butlers and cooks when it was still a private residence. The painted arts & crafts style decorations on the ceiling in the ‘brown room’ had a wonderfully irreverent feel , which perhaps explains why the last lord to live there had them covered up. And the gardens were beautiful, particularly the parterre with its formal structure of yew topiary inter-laced with wide herbaceous borders in hot and cool colours.

However the real surprise, and in many ways my favourite part of the visit, was the little RAF museum, commemorating the women and men who had served at RAF Moulton during WW2. It’s packed with personal belongings from the airmen, photographs, maps, and period memorabilia, including facsimile newspapers you can read and anecdotes from those who risked (and in many cases gave) their lives in defence of our liberty. It really is a poignant place and worth the price of admission alone.

After quickly dropping into the Hobart Gallery to see an excellent exhibition of landscape photos by Paul Macro and Stephen Mole (who have kindly supplied pictures for this post), we headed over to the Muddy Boots café. I’m not normally a big fan of National Trust cafés – there is something of the school canteen about many of them and the hot food never looks that appetising. However, on this occasion I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy a large mug of very good coffee and an excellent scone (that tasted ‘home made’ rather than mass-produced) with clotted cream and jam. I was also pleased to see that, in a nod to buying local, they stocked Parravani’s icecream.

It’s worth remembering that the National Trust doesn’t just preserve fine buildings but is also an active landowner. As well as the woods and parkland, Blicking has around 3,500 acres of farmland, which generate an income to support the estate. This farming heritage is celebrated every year when the park plays host to the Aylsham Agricultural Show – if you missed it this year, make a note to visit in 2015.

<<Grab a refill!>>

Sunday 17 August – Bircham Windmill

I admire bold industrial architecture – and in many ways prefer it to the grand houses of the aristocracy. It tends to be eminently practical and, like all good engineering, wastes little on unnecessary frills and adornments. I have a particular affection for Norfolk windmills – the old type used for grinding corn (or, in some cases, as wind-pumps for draining fields) – in part because they remind me of my family roots.

My great-grandmother, Charlotte Varina Johnson, was the daughter of a Norfolk miller, James Johnson. From about 1850 to 1890 the Johnson family owned two mills (one wind-powered and one water-powered) on Scarrow Beck, which borders the Blickling Estate. Charlotte went on to marry Hubert Burgess, a local farrier, who died in World War 1 having been gassed while tending to horses in the trenches and whose name is on the roll of honour in Erpingham churchyard.

Digression over: Bircham Windmill (which is in working order, although it no longer grinds flour) is not just a fascinating industrial heritage attraction. It is also home to a number of rural enterprises, including an excellent bakery, a craft shop, a campsite and a self-catering cottage. You can either buy delicious breads, cakes and sticky buns to take away – or you can enjoy them as part of a meal in the tea room (which also sells pork pies made by a local butcher – naturally I had to try one and it was delicious).

As well as being able to climb up inside the windmill – making sure you keep well away from the machinery – you can actually walk out onto the little balcony that runs round the tower half way up and even step out onto the platform right at the top by the ‘fantail’ (not for the faint hearted – especially when the wind is gusting Force 5-6 as it was when we visited).  There are various exhibits inside the windmill explaining its history, how it works and how it was restored. It really is quite fascinating and makes you realise just how hard a miller’s life was and how integral is was to the community.

Outside there are various animals for children to pet and feed, including sheep, goats, rabbits and guinea pigs, and there is a pony they can ride. You can also watch the sheep being milked everyday – which is a great way for children to learn that milk doesn’t just come out of a bottle – and you can buy the wool for spinning and knitting. Sometimes you can watch someone demonstrating how they make cheese from the milk. Unfortunately they weren’t there when we visited – but we did buy two of the four cheeses they make: Norfolk Charm, and ‘feta style’ Miller’s Fancy.

Both cheeses were delicious and well worth trying if you can get your hands on some. The Charm had the texture of Wensleydale but with a richer flavour – it worked well crumbled onto hot pasta. While the Fancy had a fresh flavour (I preferred it to traditional Feta because it was less salty but still had that lovely creamy texture) and worked well in a salad with olives. I am not sure if you can buy these cheeses in any other shops – best call the windmill if you are interested – or visit (when it’s not too windy).

http://www.camrovision-landscapephotography.co.uk/

River Bure by Paul Macro

Sunday 24 August – Canoeing on the River Bure

Now I’m probably not the most adventurous chap you’ll ever meet but every so often I do like to get out into the countryside and explore ‘the path less travelled.’ And what better path to explore than a stretch of one of our county’s beautiful rivers? Not the river path mind but the river itself – in a canoe – with some bush-craft and archery lessons thrown in for extra fun. That’s just what is on offer from the Canoe Man with his Swallows & Amazons adventure day.

The Bure Valley is a beautiful part of Norfolk – with gently rolling hills, winding lanes, broad fields and lush water meadows. The upper reaches of the Bure are particularly tranquil because no motorboats are allowed beyond Coltishall and there are no big roads nearby. Aside from the occasional mournful hoot from the little steam engine running on the Bure Valley railway, all you can hear are the birds, the grazing cattle and the wind in the willows.

We joined a group of seven other people (one family up from Cambridge on a day trip and another from London camping at the Top Farm near Marsham) and were led by an extremely knowledgeable young man called ‘Monkey’. Having met at Wroxham (which was pleasantly bustling even at 10:00 on a Sunday morning) one of Monkey’s colleagues drove us to Buxton Mill where we picked up our canoes. From there we paddled downstream for about an hour and a half (at a leisurely pace) to a secret campsite in a small wood near Hautbois (pronounced Hobbis).

After a packed lunch (we all brought our own – so we enjoyed sourdough bread and chocolate brownie from Dozen, as well as home-cooked lemon chicken made with excellent local free-range chicken from Harvey’s) we had fun making campfires and learning about various survival techniques for starting fires – some of which were quite spectacular. We then spent about an hour pretending to be Robin Hood – there is something particularly satisfying about the sound of an arrow thudding into its target.

The canoe back took longer because we were paddling against the (albeit gentle) current and a pretty stiff wind that every so often would sweep the unwary into a bank of reeds – resulting in much muttering and back paddling. It was exhausting but in that satisfying way you get with hard physical work, like chopping logs or digging the garden. The final treat was a small tub of Ronaldo’s ice-cream from the tourist information centre when we got back to Wroxham – a perfect end to a perfect summer’s day – thank you to all the Canoe Man team.

River Bure in winter by Stephen Mole

River Bure in winter by Stephen Mole

Monday 25 August – Gressenhall

We certainly had the best of the weekend weather on our canoe trip – and the worst of it on our visit to Gressenhall. We chose this attraction over the Aylsham Show because our daughter particularly wanted to see the special ‘Village at War’ exhibitions commemorating both world wars.

Despite drizzle in the morning, turning to torrential downpour later, we had a marvellous time and the various groups of reenactors put on a brilliant show in period British and US uniforms and civilian costumes. I was particularly moved to see the ‘farrier’ with his portable furnace – looking much as my great-grandfather might have looked on a rain drenched field in northern France a hundred years ago.

WW1 Farrier at Gressenhall (photo used with permission).

WW1 Farrier at Gressenhall (photo used with permission).

Even without the military themed events, Gressenhall is a fascinating place – if you haven’t been and you have even a remote interest in the history of rural life, you must make a day of it. As well as an immense amount of moving detail about the place itself, which was once a workhouse, there are numerous displays telling the story of Norfolk’s farming heritage both in the main building and down on the farm. One of my favourite rooms in the house looks at the archaeological evidence of early hunter gatherers and the development of agriculture in Norfolk, with an amazing collection of flint tools.

The farm not only demonstrates traditional (pre-heavy machinery) farming techniques but also plays an important role in the conservation of some our native rare breeds – including the magnificent Suffolk Punch, the (to my mind) lovely large black pig, fine Red Poll cattle and Norfolk horn sheep. We were lucky enough to see two of the Suffolk Punch in action pulling an early harrow over the stubble field – it was a beautiful sight and felt as if we had travelled back in time.

Inside the farm buildings there are more displays telling you about the animals, the wildlife on the nature trail, and the people who lived on, worked and shaped this land over the centuries. This is the heritage the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival celebrates each year – so it seems fitting to have visited just days before the launch of the 10th and biggest festival. We hope you enjoy this year’s festival as much we have enjoyed championing it – and we applaud all those who have volunteered to make it such a success by organising so many varied events.

We’re blogging for charity

We are using our blogs to raise awareness of an excellent local charity called Nelson’s Journey. If you enjoyed this post, please donate £1 (or more if you can spare it) to Nelson’s Journey today. Thank you.

JustGiving - Please sponsor us

About this post

This is one in a series of #NFDF2014 tagged posts about the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014 and related stories – I hope you enjoy them (if you do, please give them a star or five).

If you have any questions or comments, or ideas for future posts, please post them under this blog or tweet them to me. I will do my best to reply.

Thank you for reading – best wishes – Huw.

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

NFDF coloured logos

#NFDF2014 days out in Norfolk – Part 1: pork pies, popcorn and potatoes

One of the many lovely things about being a Norfolk Food & Drink Festival Champion is it gives me a great excuse to get out and see a bit more of our wonderful county (not that excuses are really needed). The following is a quick review of just some of the trips I have enjoyed recently. Perhaps they will inspire you to seek out some of the delicious food and drink made by local producers – do let me know by posting a comment at the end.

Sunday 6 July – Samphire open day

Regular readers will already know that I am partial to good pork pies and sausages. Some of the finest I’ve tasted are made by Karen and Jeff Nethercott from free range pigs reared on their smallholding in Pristow Green Lane. This is just 20 minutes from us in South Norfolk (15 minutes if the pies are hot out of the oven) – so when we heard they were having an open day we hurried along.

The day started cold and damp but thankfully the drizzle stopped shortly after we arrived and by midday the sun was almost out. About a dozen local artisan producers had braved the weather to set up food, drink and craft stalls in the garden – and all were more than happy to chat about their work (although having tried the potter’s wheel, I think I will stick to writing for a living). We treated ourselves to some pies and sausages, naturally, as well as a jar of excellent Jubberwacky Chutney, a couple of bottles of Humpty Dumpty Ale and a slice of chocolate brownie (to share).

We couldn’t stay for the music in the afternoon (Monday copy deadlines were looming) but before leaving we enjoyed a tour of the smallholding with Karen as our knowledgeable guide. As well as rare breed pigs and sheep, Karen has a beautifully tended vegetable garden, a small orchard with various heritage variety fruit trees and a scattering of chickens and ducks. This might sound like the good life but I am sure it also takes a lot of extremely hard work to maintain.

The pigs and sheep produce exceptionally tasty meat: partly because they are free range and partly because they are so well looked after, as evidenced by the RSPCA naming Samphire as a finalist in its Good Business Awards 2012. If you want to try some of Karen’s delicious food, you can buy online or from their stall at one of the half-dozen markets they go to. You will also find the pies served in local pubs and farm shops – just ask Karen on twitter for your nearest supplier.

Thank you Karen and Jeff.

Thank you Karen and Jeff.

Monday 7 July – A missed opportunity and fresh discoveries

You may remember how in early July I visited Crisp Malting, in the pretty village of Great Ryburgh. On leaving I noticed a sign for the village shop and post office saying it was ‘owned by the community’. Intrigued, I popped in and asked for more info. There were three people working in the shop and they all turned out to be both residents and ‘shareholders’ in what is a Community Interest Company.

The company was set up in 2008/9 after the pub, school, shop and post office had all closed in the space of a few months. It is now a successful social enterprise and – I am pleased to report – a keen supporter of local food and drink producers. From what I could gather, the villagers are justifiably proud of their achievement, which just goes to show what a community can do when it pulls together.

I didn’t buy anything, other than a bottle of water, because it was a hot day and I had no way of keeping food fresh until I got home. This was a shame because I found out later that the shop stocks David and Julie Smith’s famed Perfick Pork sausages, which are made in the village. I also passed the Perfick Pork shop as I drove out of the village but (being a Monday) it was closed – so I may have to order some treats online.

Monday 7 July – Popcorn time

Driving back down the A1067 to Norwich I was reminded of another local foodie success story when I saw Algy’s Farm Shop. It’s worth reading Algy Garrod’s story on the website to understand his passion for making Norfolk Popcorn and supporting local producers – do pop into the shop, if you are passing Bintree, it really is lovely. Charlie Hodson, who is now Executive Chef at The Great Hospital in Norwich and a fellow Food & Drink Festival Champion, calls Algy one of his ‘food heroes’ and I can see why.

Monday 7 July – Perfect Potatoes

That same Monday, I had to drive over to Lammas (errands and all that), so I took the opportunity to say hello to Tim Briscoe who runs the Buxton Potato Company. Tim’s family farm is only a few hundred acres but he has big ambitions. A few years ago he realised that simply selling his potatoes to wholesalers and processors meant he was missing out on the opportunity to add value to his product.

He decided to start supplying local stores direct and to offer temperature controlled potato storage to other growers in the area. This all required some pretty substantial investment in high-tech bits of equipment (including solar panels to reduce his carbon footprint) as well as branding for his packaging – but it’s paying off. He now stores around 5,000 tonnes; washing, grading and packing up to 1000 tonnes for local supermarkets and shops and selling the rest to national chains via the Greenvale Co-op.

Earlier this year the East of England Co-op named the Buxton Potato Company as one of the three finalists for its East of England producer of the year award (out of 130 entrants) and winner of the Norfolk heat. Look out for the Buxton Potato bags if you are shopping in North-East Norfolk.

Happy Samphire pigs.

Happy Samphire pigs.

Other local delights

On Tuesday 8 July I had the pleasure of meeting Nick Stone (known to many of you as TypeJunky) who, aside from being a talented designer, is an ace photographer and walking encyclopaedia of local history. If you haven’t read Nick’s Invisible Works blog – take a look now, it’s fascinating. We took the opportunity to try out the new Little Red Roaster on St Andrew’s Hill and, as expected, the coffee and flapjack were delicious.

That Saturday (13 July) we drove out to Foxley Wood for a fun and fascinating morning studying ‘Mighty Mini- Beasts’ with Norfolk Wildlife Trust. It’s a beautiful setting and only lacks one essential – a decent place to stop for coffee (do tell me if you know of one nearby). However, that gave us a good excuse to stop in at the wonderful Dozen Artisan Bakery on the way for fresh croissants to enjoy mid-morning – and excellent sourdough bread for sandwiches when we got home mid-afternoon.

Dozen Bakery

Dozen Bakery

There you have it – a roundup of just some of the places we’ve visited recently and some of the excellent local food and drink we’ve enjoyed. Part 2 of this blog will look at some Norfolk visitor attractions which, while not being food focused, did not entirely disappoint on the refreshments front. Hope you enjoy both parts – do feel free to leave a comment below, it would be great to hear from you.

We’re blogging for charity

We are using our blogs to raise awareness of an excellent local charity called Nelson’s Journey. If you enjoyed this post, please help a grieving child by donating £1 (or more if you can spare it) to Nelson’s Journey today. Thank you.

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About this post

This is one in a series of #NFDF2014 tagged posts about the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014 and related stories – I hope you enjoy them (if you do, please give them a star or five).

If you have any questions or comments, or ideas for future posts, please post them under this blog or tweet them to me. I will do my best to reply.

Thank you for reading – best wishes – Huw.

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

Three great reasons to #VisitNorfolk 6-23 September for @BrecksFoodFest – another exciting part of #NFDF2014

This is probably my shortest post ever – just three four links (a new one added 31 Aug) to exciting news of events running during the Brecks Food Festival AND Norwich Restaurant Week – part of the county-wide Norfolk Food and Drink Festival – take a look and plan a delicious family day out, full of tasty treats.

  1. Brecks Food Festival Programme 2014
  2. Brecks food A4 poster 2014 3a (1)
  3. Brecks Quiz A4 poster 2014
  4. NEW NRWFlyerFinalForWebsite

About this post

This is one in a series of #NFDF2014 tagged posts about the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014 and related stories – I hope you enjoy them (if you do, please give them a star or two).

If you have any questions or comments, or ideas for future posts, please post them under this blog or tweet them to me. I will do my best to reply.

Thank you for reading – best wishes – Huw.

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

#NFDF2014 trip to Crisp Malting: talking about Norfolk barley, best malt, fine whisky and craft beer.

NFDF coloured logosDriving out from Norwich on a beautiful July day, I turned off the A1067 just before Pensthorpe Park and found myself looking down on a quintessentially English scene. Rolling away below me were the woods, fields and hedgerows surrounding the pretty village of Great Ryburgh, which lies by the upper reaches of River Wensum (and just over four miles from its source between Colkirk and Whissonsett). This landscape hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years (although the mill has gone) – and the crop is essentially the same: mainly wheat and barley.

Barley – specifically malting barley – was the reason I’d made the journey; however I wasn’t there to find out how malt is made. Instead, I wanted to find out what role Crisp Malting Group Ltd plays in the food and drink sector, which is such an important part of our economy. As well as being the UK’s largest manufacturing sector (accounting for some 7% of the UK economy, including £18.9bn in exports), food and drink makes up some 15% of Norfolk and Suffolk’s economy and employs 13% of the workforce, many of them in highly skilled jobs demanding good STEM qualifications.

Crisp Malting Distribution Map

From Great Ryburgh to the world of fine whisky and craft beer – with love.

Norfolk firm supplying customers around the world

If you are a malt whisky or craft beer connoisseur you might have heard of Crisp Malting, the largest independently owned maltster in the country. It makes high quality malt and supplies whole grain and crushed cereals for the food and drink industry. Customers range from the finest distillers and largest brewers in the world to numerous craft breweries across the UK, including around 30 in Norfolk (such as Woodfordes, Panther, Fat Cat, Humpty Dumpty Norfolk Brewhouse, and Redwell Brewery).

The firm has five production sites: two in Scotland and three in East Anglia, including its largest in Great Ryburgh (which is also home to its head office and main research laboratory). “East Anglia is arguably the best farming region in the world for malting barley,” says Crisp’s Managing Director Euan Macpherson. “Light soils, low rainfall, and plenty of sunshine provide ideal growing conditions, while the fog that rolls in off the North Sea subtly enhances the quality of the grain.”

Working with growers, merchants and buyers

The interesting aspect of Crisp’s business from an industry supply chain point of view is the way it works with suppliers and buyers. This includes advising farmers on the different varieties of barley to grow based on the needs of its specialist customers, as well as the costs involved and any quality issues. “A few years ago we set up the ABC Growers Group with two local grain merchants – Adams & Howling and H Banhams (which owns 50% of the famous Maris Otter brand),” explains Bob King, Crisp’s Commercial Director. “ABC works with over 220 growers in Norfolk and Suffolk to develop long term supplies of specific malting barley strains. We now have rolling three-year contracts for around 100,000 tonnes – and some have been in place for the best part of 15 years.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/markescapes/

Iconic Norfolk lighthouse – and almost as iconic Norfolk barley – photo by Mark Spurgeon

“This approach is good for growers because it gives them greater certainty about the demand for their crop, as well as potential yields and returns on investment. The grain merchants, who are experts in constructing and pricing such contracts, benefit because it keeps them involved in the process and helps them develop their specialist market knowledge. Meanwhile we ensure we can source a high quality crop that meets our customers’ changing needs for different styles of malt.”

For example, Crisp produces a unique variety of malt called Clear Choice. “This comes from a low yield variety of barley,” explains Steve Le Poidevin, Sales Director, “which no one would have grown without a secure contract. However, we know it is ideal for producing malt that makes a great tasting, haze free beer, with a long shelf life. Because our customers appreciate these real benefits, we have the confidence to place long term orders with our growers.”

Crisp runs tours of its malting facilities and its customers’ breweries to give the ABC farmers a better understanding of the maltster’s and brewer’s needs. “Traditionally this never happened,” says Steve, “but about two-thirds of the ABC farmers have now visited one of our sites. This gives our technical director David Griggs an opportunity to discuss the various malting methods, including traditional ‘floor malting’, and how particular types of barley and malt suit specific styles of beer or whisky.”

#Agritech – Research and development

As well as a team of highly skilled crop and food scientists, Crisp has extensive technical capabilities in its Great Ryburgh laboratory. These include a micro-malting facility for testing small batches of new grain varieties and the ability to analyse up to 30 product attributes. It also works with various industry specialists to improve existing varieties of barley and to develop new ones.

Partners in this process include growers and The Morley Agricultural Foundation, which specialises in conducting field trials of arable crops for seed specialists, including researchers at the John Innes Institute (JIC). “Both Crisp and JIC have recently worked together on a conservation variety of barley called Chevalier, which was the first identified malting barley,” says Euan. “JIC is interested in it because it has certain characteristics that could be useful in breeding modern varieties; while we are interested because we have identified a market for small quantities of ‘heritage’ malts.”

This attention to detail and specialist knowledge helps explain why Crisp is the leading supplier of malt to the craft beer sector in the UK. The firm also supplies malt to about 70% of the micro-breweries in Japan (where there has been a surge of interest in craft beers). In addition, Crisp provides its customers with complete product traceability, which is particularly important for brewers and distillers who value provenance as well as quality.

Thank you Euan, Bob and Steve for your time and for a fascinating conversation.

GrowAndCook-logo

Interesting link with Heygate Farms

In an earlier blog I talked about Heygate Farms’ Grow & Cook Awards. Heygate Farms are probably best known for growing the Norfolk Peer and Norfolk Keeper brands of potato. However, the group is also a major supplier of spring barley and rye to Crisp, who malt both. Some of the malted rye is sent on to Crisp’s sister company EDME in Essex, who process it before sending some of it back to Heygates for use in its flour.

We’re blogging for charity

We are using our blogs to raise awareness of an excellent local charity called Nelson’s Journey. If you enjoyed this post, please help a grieving child by donating £1 (or more if you can spare it) to Nelson’s Journey today. Thank you.

JustGiving - Please sponsor us

 About this post

This is one in a series of #NFDF2014 tagged posts about the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014 and related stories – I hope you enjoy them (if you do, please give them a star or two).

If you have any questions or comments, or ideas for future posts, please post them under this blog or tweet them to me. I will do my best to reply.

Thank you for reading,

Huw.

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

Join @NorfolkFDN – the Norfolk network for buyers and suppliers of local food and drink.

Local people with a passion for Norfolk’s food and drink have launched a new networking group for buyers and suppliers: the Norfolk Food & Drink Network (@NorfolkFDN on twitter). Now we want you – producers, processors, chefs, restaurateurs, wholesalers and retailers – to get involved.

This network brings together professionals from across the industry to share knowledge and ideas in a relaxed and friendly environment. There are no membership fees – just a small charge for some excellent canapés and a drink at each event – and there is no pressure to sell yourself or make introductions.

Instead, each quarterly event will feature guest speakers who will talk about lessons they have learnt – and mistakes they have made along the way to success.There will also be plenty of time for members to share their own stories, discuss industry issues and make valuable business contacts. The events will normally be at The Library Bar and Grill on Guildhall Hill in Norwich – but we are looking at other venues for special events.

A professional network – organised by professionals

The network has been set up by Emma Arthurton from Larking Gowen, Nicola Butterworth from Howes Percival, Jayne Raffles from Raffles Restaurants and representatives from the Norfolk Food & Drink Festival (Anna Stevenson, the festival’s co-ordinator, and me, in my role as one of this year’s festival champions). We have since been joined by my fellow #NFDF2014 champion Charlie Hodson and by Charlotte Cousens from Contract Personnel. If you want to get involved – please get in touch.

NFDN

We’re stronger together

The Food and Drink sector is a vital part of our local economy. Across the New Anglia LEP (NALEP) region, the Agri-food industry (‘plough to packet’) is worth around £4bn and employs some 15% of the workforce, many in highly skilled jobs requiring good STEM qualifications. Food and drink is also an important part of Norfolk’s tourism offer, accounting for 29% of tourist spending in the NALEP region (more than shopping at 27%). So anything we can do to strengthen local businesses is good for our community too.

BOOK to avoid disappointment

We have now held two events (in July and October) and both were a big success with great feedback on our member surveys – including 87% rating the events as very good or excellent. The next event will be on Monday 26 January 2015 at The Library Bar and Grill from 17:30-19:30. Follow @NorfolkFDN on twitter and look out for the booking info – be sure to invite a business contact too.

To keep up to date future events, please follow NFDN on facebook – and help spread the word by liking their page and sharing with your social media network.

Thank you

NFDF coloured logos

Charity Fundraising

Here at Business Writers Limited we’re using our blogs to raise money for @NelsonsJourneyhere’s why.

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About this post

This is one in a series of #NFDF2014 tagged posts about the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014 and related stories – I hope you enjoy them.

If you have any questions or comments, or ideas for future posts, please post them under this blog or tweet them to me. I will do my best to reply.

Thank you for reading,

Huw.

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

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Fabulous #food #science research with @IFRScience in Norwich – finding out more for #NFDF2014.

If you read my earlier #NFDF2014 post about the Norwich Research Park, you will know Norfolk is home to an internationally respected cluster of bioscience institutes. One of these is the Institute of Food Research (IFR), which specialises in exploring the relationship between food and health. This includes researching the importance of gut bacteria to good health, preventing food related illnesses and developing healthier, more sustainable foods (including ways to reduce and reuse food waste).

IFR on Norwich Research Park

IFR on Norwich Research Park

In early June, I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Tim Brocklehurst to find out a bit more about IFR’s research, including its work with commercial businesses. Tim started by explaining the basic difference between the John Innes Centre (JIC) and the IFR. “JIC’s focus in on how to grow more crops (pre-farm gate products). Whereas the IFR is looking at how we convert primary production into safe, nutritious, food (post-farm gate products) for the consumer.”

“So while JIC is concerned with, say, increasing wheat yields, we want to know if it is the right wheat for people’s health needs and how we can improve it. This might mean looking at how to change the level of long-chain sugar molecules (amylopectin and amylose) in wheat, which can influence diabetes, or exploring the way gut bacteria breaks down wheat starch and the effect this has on a person’s calorie intake. We are also interested in the way gut bacteria signals to the brain that we are full – the ‘satiety’ response.”

You are what you eat – possibly

The role of gut bacteria (or gut flora, if you prefer) in human health is pretty amazing – as are the number of different bacteria in our stomach. As some scientists like to point out, from the bacteria’s point of view we are just a giant bacteria hotel. There are more bacteria cells in our body (some 10 to the power of 13) than there are mammalian cells – and there are over 3,000 different species of bacteria in our gut. These micro-organisms control how we process food, absorb calories and vitamins, and even how we feel.

Image of gut bacteria - somewhat enlarged - courtesy of IFR.

Image of gut bacteria – somewhat enlarged – courtesy of IFR.

“There is increasing evidence of a link between the state of our gut flora and health problems such as inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis),” says Tim, “as well as our mood swings. And there is some evidence that re-balancing the flora (using faecal transplants) might help reduce the symptoms of some of these ailments. However, this is a hugely complex area – we have to be careful about how we interpret the evidence and related claims, which is why we need to conduct more research to gather sufficient data.”

Growing capabilities

That is one of the many reasons why a proposed new Centre for Food and Health (CFH) will be so important not just for the Norwich Research Park but for food science in this country.

“The CFH will effectively be an ‘IFR Plus’,” explains Tim, “integrating our expertise with the skills of colleagues at JIC, The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), and the University Hospital. The presence of TGAC is particularly important because its high-speed gene sequencing capabilities enable us to conduct meta-genomic analysis on a scale we could only have dreamt of 10 years ago. We can now ask very detailed questions about what happens at the genetic level and the way diet might affect the genetic expression of proteins.”

Such genetic analysis may in time lead to the development of personalised nutrition, as well as personalised treatment for a range of diet related ailments. This is very exciting for the scientists but also creates significant business opportunities, which is why IFR is heading up a bid for European Union funding to set up a Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC) specialising in food innovation. “The idea is to start with the scientific research and then partner with the business community to create new products, new jobs and economic growth to fund further research.”

From Farmer to Pharma

According to a recent independent report, every £1 invested the IFR already returns over £8 to the UK economy through the commercialisation of its research and its support for businesses. It does this through a number of routes, including the Food and Health Network, which Tim heads up. “The Network is our knowledge exchange for colleagues in the food, drink and health related industries.”

The IFR has also set up IFR Extra to work with companies on new product development, product enhancement and product safety. IFR Extra is also looking at ways to lower manufacturing costs by saving energy and water and reducing food waste, including working with partners on The Biorefinery Centre (also located on the Research Park) to convert waste into fuel.

Talented IFR scientists doing ground breaking research.

Talented IFR scientists doing ground breaking research.

“This is a very exciting time to be a food scientist,” says Tim. “Not only is food the UK’s largest manufacturing sector but also globally we face huge challenges in producing enough safe and healthy food to feed a rapidly growing population, and doing so sustainably. This means there are numerous opportunities in both research and business to make a real difference to public health.

“Whether you want to do primary research to inform public policy (on say the level of sugar in food), work on improving foods or develop new medical treatments, this is the field to be in. The Norwich Research Park is already one of Europe’s largest single-site concentrations of research in Food, Health and Environmental Sciences – and it is set to grow rapidly over the next few years. So if you are a keen student or graduate, you should definitely look at the opportunities to work here.”

Thank you for your time Tim and a fascinating morning’s discussion.

Dates for your diary

If you want to find out more about the work of the IFR or the other bioscience institutes at the Norwich Research Park, please follow the links in this blog. Also, if you work in the food industry or the agri-food chain, you should take a look at the Total Food 2014 event, which takes place 11-13 November in the John Innes Conference Centre.

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About this post

This is one in a series of #NFDF2014 tagged posts about the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014 and related stories – I hope you enjoy them. If you have any questions or comments, or ideas for future posts, please post them under this blog or tweet them to me. I will do my best to reply.

Thank you for reading – best wishes – Huw.

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write