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Gifts made in Kent

PUBLISHED: 14:08 28 November 2015 | UPDATED: 14:08 28 November 2015

Gill Ford and Louise Newland of Wild Spirits of Kent, Maidstone

Gill Ford and Louise Newland of Wild Spirits of Kent, Maidstone

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Christmas may be something we look forward to but it can also be a tad stressful. Spare a thought for these Kent companies who combine family preparations with producing products we buy as presents.

The Oak & Rope Company, Bridge

Jeanette Nieman

“Royal bottoms are sitting on our benches, our height charts have gone as far as Alaska and a couple of years ago one famous actress made sure anybody who was anybody in Hollywood had one of our cheeseboards under their tree”

Jeanette Nieman is the founder of The Oak & Rope Company, which produces a range of personalised quality oak gifts. She is based in Canterbury and has a 12-year- old daughter and an eight-year-old son.

“The first Christmas we traded was seven years ago and back then I carved every single gift item myself, often bringing half-finished products into the kitchen to work while the children ate tea and starting again after they’d gone to bed.

Now we are a team of 14 people all year around, with a few extras joining us for the three month lead up to Christmas. The workload can get a bit overwhelming, for instance when a large number of products need hand sanding at once, but a lot of thought goes into giving someone a present from The Oak and Rope Company and every single hand-carved piece needs to be perfect.

The whole team works particularly hard through November and December, assisted by plentiful supplies of soup and Red Bull!

We’ve been based in three Kent locations to date – initially at a farm in Elham where it all began, then in one of the last hop farms in Kent, Lenhall Farm in Bishopsbourne. Sadly, 18 months ago we had a horrendous fire and the workshop burnt to the ground. Our new location is in Highland Court Farm just outside Bridge near Canterbury and we have a showroom in some beautiful brick barns built in the 1920s by the person who inspired the story behind Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Next to us is a group of artists and poets, a small jam-making kitchen and the coolest new party venue in Kent, The Night Yard. You can’t help feeling inspired in surroundings like these.

From Kent our products are shipped worldwide. Royal bottoms are sitting on our benches, our height charts have gone as far as Alaska and a couple of years ago one famous actress made sure anybody who was anybody in Hollywood had one of our cheeseboards under their tree.

We are super discreet but there have been occasions where we realised the same person would receive two garden swings as gifts and discreetly made rearrangements without spoiling any surprises.

It is really difficult to juggle family life with the Christmas rush and I worry my children will always associate it with helping fold boxes in the workshop rather than the traditions I would have hoped for!

However, I always take them to London for a theatre visit and my sister-in-law has helped me host Christmas every year since the company started. In terms of my own presents, I tend to give people a new design from the company – this year friends and family will get one of our personalised cereal jars - sorry to spoil their surprise!”

www.oakandrope.co.uk

Wild Spirits of Kent, Maidstone

Gill Ford and Louise Newland

“Last Christmas we sold all the 150 bottles we took to our first Farmers’ Market at Penshurst Place within hours and weren’t prepared for the demand. This year we’ve made four times as much”

Gill Ford and Louise Newland are the founders of Wild Spirits of Kent, a Maidstone- based company producing fruit-infused vodka and gin. They both have two teenage children and set up the company in 2014 after being friends for more than a decade.

“This is only our second Christmas of trading but our whole business is inspired partly by this time of year and its association with sloe gin.

I met Louise through our children’s school and after dropping them off we would go dog walking and admire the sloes and damsons growing near our homes in the North Downs.

It seemed such a shame they were going to waste so we started picking them and experimenting at home. Our sloe gin went down a treat with friends and family but we were using supermarket gin and wouldn’t have considered selling it.

That changed when we went to visit Kent gin producers, the Anno Distillery based in Marden. We realised that with them as a supplier we could make a unique product with local gin and locally grown fruit; something to be proud of. The idea of turning our hobby into a business was born.

Christmas 2014 was a steep learning curve! We sold all the 150 bottles we took to our first Farmers’ Market at Penshurst Place within hours and weren’t prepared for the demand. This year we’ve made four times as much.

Even so we still ran out of damson gin this spring and had to wait until August to get more – such is the situation when you’re working with local, seasonal produce.

Louise and I both work part time aside from Wild Spirits and aren’t at the stage of employing anyone else but our families pitch in, which is handy at Christmas; we have four teenagers between us who have (albeit reluctantly) helped out with picking fruit and manning stands and our husbands are supportive too.

We are currently negotiating to get our products stocked in farm shops and recently began selling on the Produced in Kent online shop but Farmers’ Market are still a main focus and December means lots of frosty early morning set ups.

This Christmas we will have stands at more than six local markets including Bexley, West Malling and Penshurst again.

We tend to buy our own gifts at the same markets we sell at as there are few other shopping opportunities but despite the lack of personal time it is lovely meeting customers first hand. One approached us recently to say he’d bought a bottle previously and had a complaint.

Our hearts sank until he smiled and explained that after opening it somehow immediately evaporated so he’d come to buy another!”

www.wildspiritsofkent.co.uk

Adrian Ling

The Kent Dark Chocolate Company, Folkestone

“The usual comment is that I’m a real-life Willy Wonka and that I must love my job. Which is true – I’m passionate about it and provided chocolate is enjoyed as part of a healthy diet, I see it as part of everyday life, not just for Christmas!”

Adrian Ling is the founder of Folkestone-based The Kent Dark Chocolate Company which started trading in September 2014. He lives in Shepway and has three grown-up children.

“Ironically, although we are busy in the run up to Christmas we are actually working on Easter products by then so have the slightly odd situation of listening to festive music while making Easter Eggs.

Then when people are thinking about buying chocolate for Valentine’s Day we are already onto production for Christmas and continue with that all through the summer.

Not long after setting up the company we were at the Food and Wine Festival in Canterbury. It was September and warm enough for people to be walking around in flip flops, but we did a roaring trade with our dark chocolate advent calendar and may introduce chocolate snowmen next year.

We don’t take on extra staff in November and December as our 40-plus strong team are kept busy all year round - Christmas Day is the only time of year all production stops and staff enjoy a well-earned dinner party!

All my children have already been part of the workforce; my daughter has worked on our formalising ethical policies, my middle son helped set up our website (and recently won a related award) and the youngest helped database potential customers.

One of our aims in setting up the company was to promote the region worldwide and we wanting to start to export so people in other mainland European countries can enjoy quality chocolate entirely made in Kent in Christmas 2017. Ironically, industry contacts have resulted in our first international sales being in Australia!

People everywhere are becoming more aware about the impact of what they eat in general and I’d say that is particularly relevant in terms of the general spirit of Christmas.

Our products are organic and Fair Trade and I recently gave a presentation on ethics to the International World Chocolate Forum – there is no reason for a treat to come at the cost of the planet or child labour. We also support the three very worthy Kent-based charities listed on our website which is one way of giving back to the county.

Although I personally (and very handily) love chocolate I tend to avoid chocolate-related dessert options at Christmas because after 30 years in the industry I find myself transported back to work and analysing the cocoa beans and quality.

And I’ve never been given it as gift by anyone unaware of what I do, although it is a great talking point when I’m out socially and people find out.

The usual comment is that I’m a real-life Willy Wonka and that I must love my job. Which is true – I’m passionate about it and provided chocolate is enjoyed as part of a healthy diet, I see it as part of everyday life, not just for Christmas!”

www.kentdarkchocolate.co.uk.

Bombus, Faversham

Amelia Coward

“We invite you to choose a map location from anywhere in the world, which has special meaning and memories for the recipient of your gift”

Bombus, based near Faverhsam was created back in 2002. “Amelia Coward, our founder, started the business from her kitchen table,” explains marketing manager, Becky Smith.

“She had studied textiles and weave at The Royal College of Art and then spent several years working in the commercial textiles industry. However, she was keen for a more organic approach, something more hand made and personal and that’s were Bombus emerged.”

The eureka moment came when she stumbled across a box of old maps at a flea market and was drawn to the patterns, textures and colours, not dissimilar to fabric that she was more used to working with. Paper and specifically old maps and atlases, became her new passion and her new career.

“At Bombus we invite you to choose a map location from anywhere in the world, which has special meaning and memories for the recipient of your gift. We cut that location from an original vintage map; every gift is hand made to order, so the gift is as unique as the person it’s for.

“We offer a design collection of one-off and limited edition artworks, which really showcase Amelia’s artistic flair,” says Becky.

Although all ages and both genders are covered by Bombus, they have excellent range for that particular man in your life, with gifts including cufflinks, notebooks and collectible wall art.

“And also, to match the trend of a lower spend we offer small and token gifts that still retain the quality that is synonymous with the Bombus brand and the personalisation that customers require. Our message tokens, for example, have been one of our all-time best-selling ranges” says Becky.

At Christmas, businesses are understandably competing against a wide array of alternative choices for consumers. So what makes Bombus so special?

“I think personalisation and customisation is key” says Becky. “Customers are looking for gifts they can be part of to add to the significance of their presents. Our gifts are quirky, romantic, timeless and always original.”

www.bombus.co.uk

Black Rabbit, Westgate

Lindsay Marsden

“Our new Woolly Monkey knitted in three lambswool stripes has long arms so he can tie onto things and look happy”

“I started The Black Rabbit in 2006 as I was really keen to push my love of making products and gifts with knit in to a business. I have never looked back and over the years the business has developed in ways I could never have imagined when I started. I love using lambswool knit and colour when designing products and increasingly I have developed my illustrative work to use on greetings cards and textiles prints,” says Black Rabbit owner Lindsay Marsden.

The toys that Lindsay creates are perfect for little ones. “I make beautiful knitted striped toys which are ideal as new baby gifts. I think babies just love the feel of the natural lambswool and they often become that special favourite toy.”

The toys on offer include Woolly Monkey, Bare Bear, Little Lapin and Little Nel (the elephant). They come in a variety of different colours and are safe for all ages.

Along with these, The Black Rabbit also offer other handcrafted gifts that would appeal to people of all ages and which include purses, phone cosies and lavender hearts.

“I also stock an ever expanding rage of greetings cards that have lots of my drawings of animals on them. They have a naive quality that’s perfect for adults and children alike. The best-selling cards all have a little pin badge as part of the design, a card and a gift in one! “

Although you can buy mass-produced gifts and cards anywhere online, according to Lindsay, purchasing goods from a local producer gives you access to something special.

“The Black Rabbit sells products that are beautifully designed and made in our studio in Westgate, near Margate. It’s not mass manufactured and giving a Black Rabbit product means you are getting a really unique. All the materials are of the highest quality, the lambswool I use is from a UK spinner.

And as for Christmas, what would Lindsay recommend for customers?

“For the smallest members of the family, alongside the ever popular Loopy Lapin knitted rabbit is a fab new knitted ‘Woolly Monkey’ in three lambswool stripes. He has long arms so he can tie on to things and look happy!”

Holwood Farm Shop, Keston

Gary Mercer

Holwood Farm was originally the home farm for Holwood House and housed a stables, dairy and laundry, and remained a working Dairy Farm until 2006 when the herds moved to Cornwall.

“A few years ago myself and Sarah Clout bought the derelict farm buildings and started doing them up” says current owner Gary Mercer.

The old stables and old dairy were converted into houses and sold, a third building the old grain store was converted into a farm shop and coffee shop, which opened in October 2012.

“With the emphasis on local produce, the shop stocks more than 20 cheeses from Kent and neighbouring counties; British charcuterie, including chorizo, air-dried hams, cured bacon and salami; fruit and vegetables, artisan bread; free range meat and fresh cakes and savoury dishes. We go out of our way to support small, independent producers. The emphasis is on local – as much as we can find – and free range. Everything you’d expect from a really good deli but in a rural setting” says Gary.

When it comes to hampers, Holwood excels. They have over thirty pre-designed hampers that cover every family member, those with specific food requirements (Gluten Free, Diabetics) and those with specific food tastes (Chocoholics or cheese lovers!)

“However the most popular is the build your own hamper” says Gary. “We have a huge selection of boxes - starting from £5.75 and each comes with filler, a bow and a cellophane bag. You then wander round the shop and fill it up - making a truly personalised gift.”

And what about Christmas, is there anything specific for this time of year?

“Christmas is our busiest time of year, so as well as traditional Christmas dinner; Turkey, Hams, Veg Boxes, Christmas Puddings etc, we also stock a huge range of food based gifts from Chocolate Christmas Baubles, Stollen, Camembert bakers, Mugs, Italian Handmade Panetone, Glace Fruit and Turkish Delight - we turn into an Aladdin’s cave for food lovers.”

www.holwoodfarm.co.uk

Goody Ales, Herne

Karen Goody

“We can create great-tasting beers using Kent hops and we also place taste over strength, an approach that our growing number of customers seem to value”

A few years ago a dilapidated building in a beautiful village of Herne was transformed into one of the county’s most highly regarded smaller breweries. Karen Goody, one half of the duo behind the renovation, explains what happened.

“My partner Peter and I were looking for a new challenge. The building was either going to be knocked down or renovated, so, with both of us having a passion for beer, we thought ‘why not give this a go?’ So we set about turning the place into a small brewery and, luckily, seemed to get in on this just as the industry was starting to boom.”

Since they opened, Goody Ales has garnered a strong reputation for quality beers and collected a fair few awards. Their Genesis ale was the winner of Best Kentish Beer 2014 in the Taste of Kent Awards and another ale, Good Health, won the same award in 2015.

Unlike many other local ales, those produced by Goody Ales are not particularly strong and use English hops exclusively. “We find that we can create great-tasting beers using Kent hops and we also place taste over strength, an approach that our growing number of customers seem to value,” says Karen.

If you wanted to try out one of their many brews, then Goody Ales are served in pubs around the county. “Alternatively, you can come to our little bar at the brewery and have a taste of what we have to offer.”

And if you like that, then bottled ales can be bought direct from the brewery. And especially for Christmas, these also include a couple of seasonal ales.

“We have Good King Wenceslas and Good Tidings, two drinks that would be a perfect accompaniment to the festive celebrations,” adds Karen.

www.goodyales.co.uk

GIFTS FROM KENT

Lord and Lady Muck

The fabulous independent gift shop Gorgeous George in The Pavilion, Tonbridge, which has its own wine and spirits section, has launched the Lord and Lady Muck range of toffee vodka just in time for Christmas. Created using natural ingredients and made in small batches to ensure quality every time, it’s sure to warm the cockles, visit: www.gorgeousgeorge.uk.com.

© Brendan Waterman

Luxury hampers

Spicers of Hythe has specialised in creating luxury hampers since 1926 and handpicks the best suppliers it an find, with an extensive range that caters for every taste and budget; hampers start from £15.95. Contact the customer service team on 01303 235625 or enquiries@spicersofhythe.co.uk, or visit: www.spicersofhythe.co.uk.

Fill your stockings

Penshurst Place is offering 10 per cent off purchases in its festive gift shop on late-night shopping until 24 December. The shop is open daily until 4.30pm, and 8pm on late-night Wednesdays, with choices including gift hampers filled with locally-made artisan produce and original artworks to buy. A free hot drink will be on offer to all late-night shoppers on presentation of a valid till receipt, served in the adjoining Porcupine Pantry.

Unconquered

An ideal Christmas present for lovers of Kent and its unique history, Unconquered is the story of Kent and its Lieutenancy, from defending the county during the Armada crisis to its modern role helping to keep the Spirit of Kent alive.

The 276-page hardback book, fully illustrated in colour throughout, is published by the Allan Willett Foundation and any profits from its sale will go to mainly Kent-based and medical charities.

Unconquered is available from sales@headley.co.uk; Canterbury Cathedral Shop; The Penshurst Place Gift Shop; or from The Allan Willett Foundation, Cumberland Cottage, Chilham, Canterbury CT4 8BX (01227 738800 or Jan@allanwillett.org). It is priced at £25 (reduced from £35), including posting and packing.

Come fly with me

Kent residents looking for a unique gift this Christmas can now whisk that someone special off to ‘Paris by the sea’ in their own private aircraft. Thanks to World Executive Airways’ exclusive private charter packages, you can whisk them off to the chic resort of Le Touquet, the jewel of the Opal Coast and Northern France’s prime seaside destination.

Packages include return transfers from anywhere in London or the south east to London Ashford Airport at Lydd, Champagne on arrival, a private flight in your chosen aircraft to Le Touquet and transport to and from Le Touquet Airport to the resort’s town centre, from £1,995 for an Executive Piper Chieftain PA31 (seats up to nine passengers).

To book, call 01797 322207, email info@worldexecutiveairways.com or visit www.worldexecutiveairways.com. Scheduled information on LyddAir’s flights and services is also available at www.lyddair.com

Holwood Farm Shop, Keston,

Gary Mercer

Holwood Farm was originally the home farm for Holwood House and housed a stables, dairy and laundry. It remained a working Dairy Farm until 2006 when the herds moved to Cornwall.

“A few years ago myself and Sarah Clout bought the derelict farm buildings and started doing them up,” says current owner Gary Mercer.

The old stables and old dairy were converted into houses and sold, a third building the old grain store was converted into a farm shop and coffee shop, which opened in October 2012.

“With the emphasis on local produce, the shop stocks more than 20 cheeses from Kent and neighbouring counties; British charcuterie, including chorizo, air-dried hams, cured bacon and salami; fruit and vegetables, artisan bread; free range meat and fresh cakes and savoury dishes. We go out of our way to support small, independent producers. The emphasis is on local – as much as we can find – and free range. Everything you’d expect from a really good deli but in a rural setting,” says Gary.

When it comes to hampers, Holwood excels. They have more than 30 pre-designed hampers that cover those with specific food requirements (gluten-free, diabetics) and those with specific food tastes (chocoholics or cheese lovers!)

“The most popular is the build your own hamper,” says Gary. “We have a huge selection of boxes starting from £5.75 and each comes with filler, a bow and a cellophane bag. You then wander round the shop and fill it up.”

And what about Christmas, is there anything specific for this time of year?

“Christmas is our busiest time of year, so as well as traditional Christmas dinner items such as turkey, hams, veg boxes, Christmas puddings etc, we also stock a huge range of food-based gifts from chocolate Christmas baubles, stollen, Camembert bakers to mugs, Italian hand-made panetone, glace fruit and Turkish Delight. We turn into an Aladdin’s cave for food lovers.”

www.holwoodfarm.co.uk

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