£5,000 Rural Start-Up Fund awarded to Wiltshire Vineyard

The Prince’s Countryside Fund and Forest Holidays have awarded Sophie Willingale of Bow in the Cloud Vineyard £5,000 as the first winner of their Rural Start-Up Fund.

Sophie took over the running of Bow in the Cloud, a family start-up in rural Malmesbury, Wiltshire, following the death of her father in 2018 who planted the vines during his retirement. The vineyard is 4.4 acres, planted with Bacchus, Schonburger and Seyval Blanc grapes and produces up to 5000 bottles a year. Sophie has been learning how to manage the vineyard and has decided to develop it as a business since taking it over last year – with a lot of support from local people. Alongside the cash prize, Sophie will receive mentoring from Forest Holidays for a year to help her develop her business.

Upon hearing that she had won the £5,000 award, Sophie said: “I’m thrilled to have won the funding from the Rural Start-Up Fund.  At times over the last year things have been a struggle so having some external support and the opportunity for mentoring from Forest Holidays is something I really value as well as the financial help. 

“I’ve fallen in love with the vineyard and have been learning how to manage it and develop the business – with a lot of support from local people.  It’s been a great joy to bring back community harvest days, provide opportunities for others to learn like myself, and see the vineyard being used by the community. 2020 is also the year that I’m officially taking over the vineyard business and buying the family land so the future feels is a lot more secure. The future as a whole feels exciting and I can’t wait to see what will be achieved over the next few years.”

2020 celebrates the first year of the Rural Start-Up Fund, an initiative developed in partnership by Forest Holidays and The Prince’s Countryside Fund to support new rural businesses. Both organisations recognise the difficulties of embarking on a new business venture in a remote area, so this support aims to give a lucky beneficiary the boost they need to kick start their business. The winning applicant receives £5,000 funding and mentoring support from Forest Holidays for 12 months. The application process comprises an application form and short video. The initiative will be opening for applications for its second year in Spring 2021.

Jamie Bending, another finalist, also caught the attention of the judges and has been offered mentoring support from the Forest Holidays team to ensure his business gets off the ground. Ergrownomics is a home growing solution made up of raised garden planters and beds, enabling people to grow vegetable crops at home, even in compact spaces.

Jamie said: “I’m thrilled to be offered mentoring support from Forest Holidays; it was incredibly gracious of them, and I’m excited to see what next year holds in store! In the short time since meeting my mentor, Sam, she’s already proven hugely committed to helping out, seeming really engaged with Ergrownomics and it’s message, as well as being extremely knowledgable about the food and retail sectors (and the difficulties of running a small start-up!). Thank you Forest Holidays and The Prince’s Countryside Fund!”

Keith Halstead, Executive Director of The Prince’s Countryside Fund said: “The Prince’s Countryside Fund is delighted to be able to offer Sophie this opportunity to build her business through our partnership with Forest Holidays. We look forward to helping Sophie develop her entrepreneurial skills and seeing the wider benefits Bow in the Cloud vineyard will bring to her local community.”

Samantha Rowley, Head of Retail and F&B at Forest Holidays said: “We are delighted with all of the entries we received in our first 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 both Bow in the Cloud Vineyard and Ergrownomics and we look forward to providing a helping hand to grow their businesses locally.”

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