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Stackyard News Jan 06

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'Green' Farmer Brews Up New Attraction For Northumberland

Farmer and brewery founder Steven Urwin and his wife Sally are hoping to make their mark on the Hadrian's Wall tourist trail with the help of Defra's Rural Enterprise Scheme (RES).
Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall

A fourth generation farmer, Steven's family has been farming in Northumberland since 1891 and in the late 1960s they moved to Matfen High House where they run a mixed farm of beef cattle and sheep alongside arable crops of wheat and barley.

In 2002, Steven launched the High House Farm Brewery with the support of funding from RES, delivered by the Rural Development Service, and his three beers have already won several awards including the CAMRA Regional Awards and SIBA Regional and National Awards.

Now Steven and Sally plan to expand the business as a tourist attraction, with a new visitor centre, shop, cafe, bar and function room with further support from RES and have also signed up to Defra's Entry Level Stewardship scheme to help enhance and preserve the farmland and wildlife habitats which surround the site.

Steven explained:

"The farm is managed in a traditional, non-intensive manner and we want to do all we can to preserve the wonderful environment in which we work.

"We're unique in the area as we use the farm to provide ingredients for our beers and we help the environment by returning all brewery waste products and water to our land.

"The brewery business is going very well and the beers are proving very popular. We already welcome small groups for tours and as we're so close to Hadrian's Wall - just half a mile with a direct footpath for walkers - we thought we could offer something different for the tourists."

Sally added:

"We've always been committed to looking after our land and livestock and we signed up to ELS to help sustain the fantastic scenery on the farm and protect the wildlife habitats.

"We regularly see owls, foxes, bats, badgers, heron, hawks, partridge and a host of other species on the farm and we're hoping to sign a Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement to create new footpaths for those who come to the visitor centre to walk around our working farm, enjoy the countryside and wildlife, learn more about the business and how the farming year fits in with the brewery.

"We're hoping the new attraction will bring more visitors to the area and appeal to walkers. We'll be offering the chance to sample our beers in the new bar, alongside other guest ales, while the cafe will serve home-cooked local food and the shop will stock beer-related items and gifts from local artists and craftspeople.

"The new function room will also allow us to welcome larger groups for brewery tours and host beer festivals, parties and other events. It's a big project for us but the RES funding and support from the Rural Development Service has really helped."

Michael Patterson, an adviser for the Rural Development Service in the North East, said:

"The Urwin's have already proved diversification has its rewards and have successfully combined business success with preserving and enhancing the countryside in which they work with - activities which are at the heart of Defra's sustainable food and farming strategy.

"The new tourism venture will not only add a new dimension to their business but provide an added attraction for visitors to the area."

The new visitor centre is set to open in July this year but for those who can't wait to try the Urwin's ales, they can be purchased at The Angel in Corbridge, which regularly stocks the brewery 's ales.

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Food and Rural Affairs

High House Farm Brewery