21 June 2002

CUSTOMERSFAVOURITE

In the latest of our series

celebrating key figures in

rural communities,

Tim Relf visits

a West Sussex butcher

IT looks like being another long day for Shaun Hutchings. On the day Farmlife visits, hes set off before 1am to buy meat at Smithfield market and now, mid-morning, is back in the shop at Partridge Green.

"I usually keep going – although I might nod off for 10 minutes," he laughs. "Its a long week – its not for the faint-hearted. Youve got to like this job to do it."

But the meat business is, Shaun reckons, "in his blood". His father is a farmer; his grandfather was a butcher-cum-farmer. Look on the wall behind one of the counters and there, proudly displayed, are two photos of his grandfather outside his shop in Lewisham in 1929.

Shaun took over at Partridge Green 13 years ago, after working for other people – including a spell abroad. Running his own business certainly was an eye-opener, he reckons. "You take on a lot more responsibility. It sharpens you up.

"Youve got to keep changing things – youve got to keep looking for new ideas and seeing what the public want."

Hes obviously doing something right. The public flock to SK Hutchings, Family Butchers, coming from as far away as Brighton and Eastbourne. The firm expects to shift up to two bodies of beef, 15 lambs and up to a dozen pigs a week.

Customer tastes have changed greatly in those 13 years, says Shaun. Stir-fry meats and marinades, for example, are popular now, unlike then. Sausages used to be "just a cheap meat"; now people are looking for different types, all of a high quality.

"Youve got to aim for quality throughout," says Shaun. "To be successful, village butchers have to do something different – something that the customer cant get in the supermarket.

"Butchers shops were disappearing, but now customers are coming back. Its going round in a circle.

"There are opportunities in this business, if youve got the heart but youve really got to want to do it.

"Weve pulled through all the recent crises like BSE," says Shaun. "Theyve never really, touch wood, affected us."

Partly, this is because village butchers "actually talk to their customers". Traceability is also important. "We tell them exactly which farm the meat has come from."

As for the spread of vegetarianism? "I dont lose sleep over that."

As well as butchery, farming is obviously in Shauns blood – because the father-of-threes got a 30ha (70-acre) farm at nearby Herstmonceux. "I juggle the two. I love farming – if I had to have a second job thats what Id do."

Not, he adds, that hes got time for a second job. And when you remember he was up before one oclock this morning, you can understand why.

Shaun behind the counter and, above, his grandfather

outside his shop in 1929.