Local Business Week is on 13th–19th May!

Small and medium-sized businesses, otherwise known as “SMEs” (small-to-medium enterprises), have a combined turnover of over £300 billion in the UK, making them critical to the health of our country’s economy. In the Lake District, this is especially so. The rate of self-employment in the Lake District is nearly double that of the national average, whilst unemployment is lower at only 1%. Cumbria is a County full of small and innovative businesses.

Small, independent, and local businesses ensure:

  • A flexible economy, with revenue streams coming from a variety of sectors, protecting against large-scale industry collapse and corporate monopolies;
  • An innovative economy, promoting new ideas, methods, and skills, all of which help increase local employment and develop specialised skills;
  • The servicing of rural communities, who are often forgotten by large national/international companies;
  • Diverse employment, by providing employment opportunities to people who may not be employable by larger corporations, stimulating local economies.

As a small business ourselves, based in the Lake District, we love hearing about and working with other businesses and innovators in the area and wider Cumbria. But first, here’s how we got started.

Herdy history

Herdy was founded in Kendal, September 2007, by designers and married couple Spencer and Diane Hannah. The pair recognised a gap in the Lake District market for responsibly produced, high quality, design-led giftware. Further inspired by a holiday in Helsinki, Finland, and seeing the quality and design of local gifts being sold to tourists, they were keen to find something that embodied the essence of the Lake District.

Whilst ruminating on this idea during a hike in Little Langdale, Spencer and Diane came across a Herdwick ewe grazing on the fellside. It popped its head up to stare at the incomers and almost seemed to be smiling. Spencer quickly snapped a photo of the smiling sheep, and thus the inspiration of the brand was created. Subsequently discovering that this cute breed of sheep is responsible for creating the Lakeland landscape, by grazing the high fells, they knew they had found the face of the brand.

From the outset Spencer and Diane recognised the importance of the Herdwick sheep in maintaining the Lakeland landscape and therefore made supporting the Herdwick and upland fell farming central to the company’s mission. They wanted to develop a responsible company, one that delivered benefits to the local economy, not only through its commercial operation but also by donating a percentage of the company profits to support rural communities, upland fell farming, and the Herdwick sheep. Thus, the idea for the Herdyfund was born.

After many months developing the brand Spencer and Diane launched Herdy in September 2007 at the Westmorland County Show with only a handful of products: mugs, pin badges, and keyrings.

The show organisers located the Herdy stand in a field next to the Herdwick sheep pens but unfortunately, the night before the show, DEFRA announced an immediate ban on livestock movements due to a new outbreak of Foot & Mouth Disease. As a result, Spencer and Diane launched the brand in a marquee surrounded by empty sheep pens.

This didn’t faze the plucky couple and they forged ahead, encouraged by the reception they received from visitors at the show. Since then, The Herdy Company has:

  • Grown from zero employees to 20+;
  • Opened four Herdy shops in Cumbria plus a successful ecommerce website;
  • Turned the Herdyfund into a fully-fledged charitable fund;
  • Donated thousands of pounds to support local rural communities, upland fell farmers, and the Herdwick Sheep;
  • Developed an online following of over 75,000+ Herdy fans;
  • Won numerous awards including Small Company Of The Year awarded by the Business In The Community organisation, the president of which is HRH Prince of Wales;
  • Stocked retail outlets up and down the UK, mainland Europe, Japan, the USA, Canada, and Australia;
  • Developed a range which now exceeds 400 products;
  • Became the Lead Commercial Partner and “face” of the LDNPA’s successful bid for World Heritage status.

Herdy, the Herdwick, and the farmer

Herdy has always been conscious about Lake District fell farmers and the daily struggle they endure to make ends meet. For centuries the fleece they gathered from Herdwick sheep was a key cash crop, but recent decades have seen this coarse and thick wool fall out of favour.

Farmers recently were getting as little as a penny for every kilo of fleece.

To give you some perspective, clipping (shearing) the sheep isn’t the only cost involved. There are further costs in bundling and distributing the fleece for weighing, sorting, carding, and grading. Once all these costs add up, the Herdwick fell farmer actually ends up losing money.

For other Lake District farmers, it makes more sense to burn the fleece.

Despite losing money in the process, the sheep still need to be clipped for their own welfare. Clipping occurs in mid-to-late Summer, both to keep the sheep cool, and keep parasites and flies at bay.

Although we’ve been working with Lake District fell farmers and Herdwick fleece for many years now, we wanted to see if there was a use for Herdwick wool on a commercial scale that gave a sustainable income to Lake District Herdwick farmers and their local rural economies.

This was how Herdysleep was born: a traditionally hand-tufted, pocket sprung, English-made mattress with a whole Lake District Herdwick fleece in each one.

To help make this sustainable, Herdy set up a co-operative of Herdwick farmers in the Lake District, working with them and their communities directly. Herdy pays more for the Herdwick fleece and pays the farmers directly in a single upfront payment, making an immediate and positive difference to their pocket and the local rural economy.

The wool clip is then collected directly from the farm, removing additional costs they usually incur.

Herdy recommends

1. Yew Tree Farm, Coniston

Originally built in 1690, Yew Tree Farm rose to prominence as one of the properties belonging to the much beloved children’s author Beatrix Potter (better known locally as “Mrs. Heelis”). She purchased the farm and estate in 1930 to protect it from being destroyed and redeveloped. She left the farm and its land to the National Trust after her death, on the condition that pure Herdwicks continue to be bred on the farm.

Despite harsh modern economic conditions, Jon Watson at Yew Tree Farm has successfully diversified the business. Alongside the day-to-day business of running the farm (rearing Herdwick sheep as well as Belted Galloway cows), the farm now offers a variety of services:

  • Luxury self-catering accommodation at the farm, with many of the original furnishings in place from Beatrix Potter’s time;
  • Herdwick Experiences, where people can book sessions on the farm, be introduced to a flock of Herdwick sheep, learn about the year and rearing them, and lots more;
  • Heritage Meats, which specialises in small scale, ethically reared, fully free-range and organic local meat specialities, such as Herdwick Hogget and Belted Galloway Beef. Packages are bundled in hampers that are insulated using local wool and include advice on how best to prepare and cook the meat. Potential customers are encouraged to eat less meat, but better quality.

2. Old Stamp House, Ambleside

Opened in 2014, this new restaurant in Ambleside quickly made an impression in the Lake District’s gastronomy scene. Rather than being just another “quaint” country restaurant in the Lakes, Chef Patron Ryan Blackburn wanted to do something more innovative with his restaurant that reflected the incredible bounty of ingredients and food culture of the Lake District.

Apart from sourcing meat from the local Herdwick sheep of the area, Ryan utilises spices and alcohol that were once brought into the country via Western Cumbria’s ports, sources fish and shellfish from the small fishing fleets at Barrow and Whitehaven, and makes use of his extensive local knowledge to forage for wild herbs, mushrooms, and game from the surrounding woodlands, forests, mountains and coastline.

All ingredients for the Old Stamp House’s dishes are seasonal, local where possible, and designed to reflect the Cumbrian landscape, people, and heritage.

3. Tebay Services, Westmorland Family

In the early 1970s the M6 motorway was nearing completion. The Lancaster-Penrith link was completed in 1970 as well as the section further north leading to Carlisle. By 1971 the full route of the M6 was finished, but not without its challenges. The Dunning family, who operated a Cumbrian hill farm near Tebay, saw the M6 bisect their farm in 1972.

Rather than see the M6 as the death of their farm the Dunnings instead chose to innovate, setting up Tebay Services in the same year: a small 30-seat café serving home cooked, locally sourced food, often from their own farm. It became the first family-run, farm-based Motorway Services in the UK.

Four years later they opened the Tebay Services Hotel, still serving locally produced food where guests could enjoy fabulous views of the nearby fells. A Caravan Park and a Truckstop also joined the fold. These days Tebay Services has expanded beyond its original scope, opening the 90,000 sqft. Rheged Centre near Penrith in 2000, adding two Farmshops in 2004, and opening a new Gloucester Services in 2014, still operating under the same philosophy of serving and selling locally-produced food and ingredients that benefits the local economy.

4. Langdale Leisure, Great Langdale

Langdale Leisure offers a 4–star hotel, spa, restaurant, pub, and extensive leisure facilities, all located in the Langdale Estate in the epic Great Langdale valley.

The Estate started life in the 17th-century as a small woollen mill, making use of the fast-flowing water of the Great Langdale Beck, and by the 19th-century the Langdale Estate was operating as a gunpowder works site. This ended in 1930 and the Estate was bought by a local landowner, who transformed the site into a holiday resort. When the entire site was put up for sale in the 1990s, many of the timeshare owners on the Estate banded together and became shareholders in their own company, purchasing the resort and preserving its future.

Langdale Leisure blend their high-end offerings with sustainability and responsibility agendas, seeking to minimise the environmental impact the Estate has as well working with and promoting local communities and projects. Langdale Leisure adds an optional donation of £2.00 to guests’ bills, which goes to local environment and conservation projects, such as Fix The Fells. To date the Langdale Estate and its customers have raised over £221,279 to regenerate footpaths in the Langdale Valley. Langdale Leisure also participates in native tree planting, has an active carbon footprint management plan in place, raises funds for Langdale and Ambleside Mountain Rescue, and was the first hotel in the Lake District to install electric charging points for electric vehicles.