The awards are designed to recognise the achievements of some of the Island’s very best independently owned rural businesses, from food and drink producers to tourism businesses. There are also two categories recognising individual achievement and contributions.
The prestigious awards were first launched in 2018 to honour those who go the extra mile to support their customers and the local rural economy. They are all rural heroes – whose quiet contribution to Island life often goes almost unnoticed and certainly unsung. These awards, organised and funded by the Royal Isle of Wight Agricultural Society and the Countryside Land Association are designed to put that right.
The panel of judges included people who love and support the countryside included representatives from the CLA, the Royal Isle of Wight Agricultural Society and an independent chairman. They assessed all the applications and met and interviewed the shortlisted finalists.
The overall winner, Nettlecombe Farm Holiday Cottages and Fishing Lakes was selected from the winners of the business categories. Despite being a working farm they offer nine dog-friendly self-catering cottages with fishing, farm feeding experiences, yoga and pilates.
The Lord Lieutenant said that as she runs holiday accommodation herself she knows what hard work it is and Nettlecome set standards for all to aspire to.
The Island’s Lord Lieutenant Mrs Suzie Sheldon was able to present a number of the awards and spoke about how important they were to motivate and encourage companies in the rural economy. She added: These awards are terrific because the Island has so many good business and great people that work in them and they contribute so much to Island life. This is a great opportunity to recognise and celebrate them.”
At one point it was considered that the Covid-19 crisis may make it too difficult to run the IW Rural Awards this year, but it was eventually decided that it was more important than ever that they go ahead despite the obvious difficulties. However, there had to be a number of changes to the format, not least making alternative arrangements to present the awards which are usually handed out at the County Show.
Graham Biss, of the Royal Isle of Wight Agricultural Society, who takes on the mammoth task of organisation each year is in no doubt that they reached the right decision. “The strongest field we’ve ever had” he declared, “It’s exhilarating to see the level and quality of expertise at such a difficult time, it shows what a wonderful place the Isle of Wight is.”
The judges were united that selecting the winners from the nominations for this year’s awards was a challenging task. Cindy Betly, Isle of Wight advisor from the Countryside Landowners Association said it was difficult to judge because the standards were so high and it was obvious that Island businesses give each other huge levels of support. “It’s an amazing place”.
Judge Robert Lovegrove who farms 700 acres at Carpenters Farm in St Helen’s said it was small, independent businesses who are committed to the Island, not national companies. He pointed out that Café Isola in Newport, runner up in the Rural Tourism Business category was popular with Islanders and doing well, while a few doors away Starbucks had closed down, adding that there were many other examples.