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More Cheese Please! How Rural LEADER Funding Helped Cheesemakers of Canterbury Grow

How Rural LEADER Funding Helped Cheesemakers of Canterbury Grow Their Business

Cheesemakers of Canterbury is home to the award-winning Ashmore Farmhouse and Kelly’s Canterbury Goat cheese, and a wide selection of other delicious unpasteurised and pasteurised cheeses. Their glorious array of cheeses is much loved by the local community, visitors and tourists alike.

The Need for Cheese

Before she started Cheesemakers of Canterbury in 2007, owner and founder, Jane Bowyer, already had over 20 years’ experience in the dairy business and a vast wealth of knowledge of both the industry and the local market. Jane was aware that Kent was producing excellent quality milk, cream and butter, but no cheesemakers were fully capitalising on this wonderful produce to create truly local, naturally-rinded, unpasteurised cheeses. Spotting this gap in the market, and armed with the equipment, Ashmore cheese recipe and goodwill she purchased from a Wiltshire cheesemaking business, Jane created Cheesemakers of Canterbury. Six months later they were selling their first produce.

Funding for Growth

In 2010 Jane was presented with an opportunity to grow her business when the lease of a local farm’s soft cheese room became available with all the necessary equipment, cheese vats and client list included in the deal. Jane was keen to learn new skills in soft cheesemaking and open up a whole new product line for Cheesemakers of Canterbury. She decided to apply to the Rural LEADER funding Program for the £18,000 she needed to develop the soft cheese product line.

The Extra Mile

Part of Jane’s plan was to partner with Debbie Vernon from Ellie’s Dairy, who was keen to supply the goat’s cheese to make the soft cheese, and the pair decided to work together to complete the LEADER funding application.  The most daunting part of the process for Jane and Debbie, as for so many people when applying for funding, was not the hard work associated with growing her business but the prospect of the unfamiliar task of completing all the funding application paperwork. Fortunately, the LEADER Program Manager, Huw Jarvis, was on hand to advise them on how to fill out the paperwork properly and, when disaster struck, he really went the extra mile to make sure Jane’s application was filed on time.  

“In the weeks leading up to the deadline we had been working so hard on the application, often late at night, after a long day of cheesemaking,” Jane told us. “It was Christmas time and it was snowing on the day of the deadline. We were so happy to be at the end of the process and looking forward to handing in the forms. All of a sudden, my partner was taken seriously ill with a heart attack and of course that took precedence over everything else. Not wanting us to fall at the final hurdle, our LEADER Program Manager Huw Jarvis, came all the way down to our farm in the snow and picked up the application for us by hand, so it was within the time limit.”

The Good Shed

Jane, her team of cheesemakers and her partners were delighted when they found out that their funding application was successful. In addition to benefiting her business hugely she was pleased that she would now be able to partner up with Ellie’s Dairy. Jane grew her team by using some of the grant money to employ one full them and one part-time member of staff. She describes the first year after funding as “wonderful but chaotic”, as everyone was learning on the job how to make the soft cheese and initially they were making small batches by hand, while they discovered other better ways using modern equipment.

Just 6 months later in the summer of 2011, Jane was invited to join The Goods Shed Farmers Market, Food Hall and Restaurant in Canterbury, as their cheese concession. Jane has been selling both their original hard cheese and the new soft cheese they are making as a result of the LEADER funding, at The Good Shed, ever since.

Strong-Minded and Passionate

Successfully applying for the funding was such as positive experience that Jane and her team are applying again in this round of funding for a new project to grow the business. Her advice to anyone wishing to apply for funding under the Rural LEADER Program is, “be strong minded, committed and passionate and stick with it. Be sure to ask for help from your Program Manager. You will know if it’s the right path as soon as you start the process. You can’t go at it half-heartedly.  Be determined and listen to your gut and you could be on your way to growing your rural business!”

You can find out more about Cheesemakers of Canterbury on their website here: http://www.cheesemakersofcanterbury.co.uk/

Or on Social Media here: Twitter @cheesesofkent Facebook @cheesesmakersofcanterbury

To find out if you are eligible for funding under the Rural LEADER Program click here.

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