Rural Start-Up Fund awarded to Lancashire tour outfitter and Nottinghamshire brewery

December 22, 2021

The Prince’s Countryside Fund and Forest Holidays have selected NaturesGems (Kendal, Cumbria) and Dolomite Brewery (Bolsover, Derbyshire) as the recipients of the Rural Start-Up Fund.

A total of £6,500 has been awarded between the two ventures, with NaturesGems receiving £4,500 and Dolomite Brewery receiving £2,000. Forest Holidays will also be offering mentoring support to these winners and additionally to West End Barns, a Hertfordshire-based café founded by Vicky Smith in 2020.

A joint initiative established by Forest Holidays and The Prince’s Countryside Fund, the Rural Start-Up Fund. offers both financial support and mentoring services to aid rural entrepreneurs in developing their businesses and overcoming unique challenges they face. Funding is provided by Forest Holidays through proceeds from the sale of hot drinks at their 11 locations across the UK.

Gemma Wren launched NaturesGems Tours in April 2021 with the aim of sharing the beauty and biodiversity of the Morecambe Bay area with others. In the spring and summer of 2021, she led tours across the region, showcasing both the wildlife and farmland of the area to over 120 visitors. With the award from the Rural Start-Up Fund, Gemma plans to purchase equipment, organise creative sessions with local artists and cross-promote NaturesGems with other local businesses.

Gemma said: “The Rural Start-Up Fund will really help me to connect with other local businesses, land managers and organisations to develop a quality sustainable nature tourism offer in the area. I would love to see NaturesGems grow and provide employment for local young people as well as provide a reason for visitors to stay and come back to the area.”

Dolomite Brewery was founded by four friends during the first Covid-19 lockdown. The team produces small batch, modern craft beer using traditional methods and hopes to create a community hub where guests can sample their craft, attend workshops and host events.

“The proposed mentoring with Forest Holidays is an invaluable opportunity that we are all incredibly excited about,” said co-founder Nathan Longden.

Keith Halstead, Executive Director of The Prince’s Countryside Fund said: “The Prince’s Countryside Fund is so pleased to be able to offer NaturesGems and Dolomite Brewery this opportunity to build their businesses through our partnership with Forest Holidays. We look forward to helping them develop their entrepreneurial skills and seeing the wider benefits they will bring to their local communities.”

Samantha Rowley, Head of Retail and F&B Operations at Forest Holidays said: “We are delighted with all of the entries we received in our second year of the Rural Start-Up Fund and have thoroughly enjoyed hearing from such a wide range of entrepreneurs and start-ups. Playing an active part in the life of the villages and towns surrounding our locations has always been extremely important to us and our aim of the fund is to extend our support to young rural businesses and help them to build a sustainable future. We are excited to see what the future holds for Dolomite Brewery, NaturesGems Tours and West End Barns, and we look forward to providing a helping hand to grow their businesses locally.”

Meet the winners:

NaturesGems Tours – Gemma Wren, Founder

Gemma set up NaturesGems Tours in April 2021 after taking voluntary redundancy from National Trust in 2020 to get back outdoors and share the hidden natural wonders of Morecambe Bay area, one of the most biodiverse spots in England. With her two decades of conservation experience, she also runs her own consultancy outside of the main tours season, putting her professional skills to work supporting landscape scale conservation and partnership projects.

Dolomite Brewery – Nathan Longden, Director

Beginning as a project between school friends Amy Longden and Kate Huxley and their respective partners Nathan Longden and Huw Trevor, Dolomite Brewery brings small-batch, modern-craft beer and tap-room culture to rural Derbyshire. Combining skills from their backgrounds in finance, education, brewing and construction, they aim to give the local community a new social experience while collaborating with other artisan companies in the area.

West End Barns — Vicky Smith, Founder

A native of Harpenden, Hertfordshire, Vicky Smith established West End Barns in March 2021 to meet the demand of increased pedestrian traffic near her farm during the previous year’s lockdown. Initially opening as a takeaway coffee shop, this has now developed into selling hot and cold drinks, homemade cakes, ice cream and local produce, including oils, honey, candles and sauces. The barn employs local people, and strives to educate people on food and farming, as well as having minimal impact on the environment.