4 December 1998



HEATHER Gorringe is the NFU West Midlands Rural Business Woman of the Year.

Her prize is a three-night break for two in Paris over St Valentines weekend, plus the hamper of fine, festive food she received as winner of the Herefordshire county award.

NFU West Midlands chose World Rural Womens Day (Oct 15) to announce the winners of the five county rounds of its competition and Novembers BBC Good Food Show as the place to announce the overall winner. Celebrity chef Antony Worral-Thompson of TVs Ready, Steady Cook, Cant Cook, Wont Cook and Food and Drink made the presentations.

Heather runs her own company – Wiggly Wigglers – from the family farm at Lower Blakefield, near Hereford. She sells worms and composting kits which recycle household waste and her business has grown from a part-time venture to a full-time one employing three local women. The full product range is advertised on the internet and kits are also available by mail order.

"Heather has demonstrated how technology and communication can be a business benefit. Ordering is made easy by providing a free-phone number and a web-site which is accessible 24-hours a day," says NFU West Midlands regional director Bob Forster.

"The rural location is an advantage for local employees because they can get to work in a matter of minutes. The reduced travelling time helps to make childcare and family life compatible," he says.

&#42 Long distance

But the Wiggly Wigglers team have completed some remarkable long distance travelling recently, a 350km bike ride through Jordan to raise money for the National Deaf Childrens Society.

The county round winners that Heather topped for the title were Worcs winner Alice Bennett, Shropshire winner Joy Griffiths, Derbys winner Beryl Hosking, and Staffs winner Sue Prince.

Alice Bennett runs the Madresfield Early Years Centre from the family farm at Madresfield, near Malvern. Begun in 1994 with six staff and 16 children, the centre has grown rapidly so that now Alice and a staff of 38 cater for the needs of more than 400 children. They care for children from nursery to primary school age and also run after school clubs. The judges commended the venture for its good team work.

Joy Griffiths of Aston, near Oswestry, breeds pedigree Highland cattle and her Cim fold, begun in the early 1980s, is now 68 strong.

"Highland cattle are late maturing and do not have their first calf until they are four years old," says Mr Forster. "Joy has done very well to establish the Cim fold so quickly. She has showring success under her belt and has already received requests for breeding cows from as far afield as Canada and the US."

Involvement in community life was among the things the judges were looking for and they were impressed by Joys link with the local primary school. Pupils have adopted and named a calf and regularly follow its progress.

Beryl Hosking of Etwall, Derbys, was nominated by her husband, Roger, with whom she runs Highfield Happy Hens, a free range poultry unit which has grown from 36 to 20,000 hens over the past 10 years. Beryl runs the egg shed and is responsible for quality control and customers orders.

Her commitment to the community includes hosting parties of school children who visit the farm through the NFU National Association of Farms for Schools programme and fostering special needs teenagers.

"A remarkable woman," is how Mr Forster described Beryl. "There would be a lot of youngsters out there who would be experiencing a bleak future but for all her love and patience."

Sue Prince of Staffordshires Peak District runs two enterprises, Beechenhill Farm Holidays and Beechenhill Artworks and still finds time for her family, their dairy farm and the community.

Sue provides farmhouse b&b and has developed two self-catering holiday cottages to accommodate handicapped holidaymakers. She is also a book illustrator, painter and stained glass designer, whose commissions include windows for churches at Eccleshall and Uttoxeter.

&#42 Life line

Sue belongs to the local link of the Chernobyl Childrens Life Line which brings radiation affected children to Ashbourne to help build up their immune systems. She has also worked on a project which introduced other business women to new technology and helped them benefit from it in their own businesses.

"This is the first year of the competition," says sponsor Bill Burgess, "and we were overwhelmed by the extremely high standard of entries.