Countryside award for East Devon company
PUBLISHED: 09:41 26 June 2019 | UPDATED: 07:44 25 July 2019
An enterprising East Devon company has won a prestigious South West rural area Countryside Alliance Award.
Competing in the rural enterprise category, Fortis, which manufactures sporting endurance clothing from its premises at Hartgrove Hill Farm, near Axminster, is believed to be the first business unconnected with farming to win the title.
Owner Oliver Birch and manager Annabel Parkhouse received official recognition of the achievement during a special reception in the House of Lords, having been nominated by a customer.
Annabel told the Herald: "It was an amazing experience. The hospitality flowed freely and we were made to feel very special indeed."
Fortis employs a team of to full-time staff, as well as a team of outworkers. It offers apprenticeships, trades at shows all over the United Kingdom.
Hartgrove Hill Farm covers 90 acres and includes land over which the former Axminster to Lyme Regis branch railway ran.
The late Hugh Massey Birch ran a sheep farm on the land for around eight years before it became unsustainable and he decided to diversify in 2001.
He achieved early success, manufacturing various products, including tyre covers, before extending his interest to special forces clothing, endurance gear and the production of other sporting associated equipment, including gun cases etc.
Success came early but Hugh died suddenly three years ago when son Oliver stepped in to run the enterprise.
"Oliver has done very well indeed," said his grandfather John Duncan, formerly of Lyme Regis, who has retired to the farm.
"He has shown great dedication and entrepreneurial skills and has a very loyal and supportive staff. They all thoroughly deserve what they have achieved. I am sure they have what it takes to continue to build on their success.
"I know Oliver's father would have been proud of them all."