Haughley Post Office, John Hutton Butcher from Earl Soham and Ben’s restaurant in Bury St Edmunds among Countryside Alliance Awards finalists

Heather Cooper outside Haughley Post Office.

Heather Cooper outside Haughley Post Office. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Three Suffolk businesses have been named among the finalists in the 2015 Countryside Alliance Awards, described by their organisers as the “Rural Oscars”.

But Haughley Post Office, John Hutton Butcher from Earl Soham and restaurant Ben’s in Bury St Edmunds will have to wait to find out whether they have won until next spring, when the results are due to be announced in a ceremony at the House of Lords.

The awards, based initially on nominations from the public, followed by an expert judging process, are now in their 11th year and aim to celebrate rural produce, skills, enterprise and heritage. This year’s categories include Local Food, Village Shop/Post Office, Butcher and Rural Tourism awards.

Heather Cooper of Haughley Post Office is decribed in one of her nominations for the Village Shop/Post Office award as being viewed as “one in a million” by local residents.

“Her encyclopaedic knowledge of the postal system, fundraising for local charities and willingness to go the extra mile for her customers has endeared her to the whole village,” it says.

“With her army of volunteers they have turned the village shop and post office into a village heart, with a coffee shop, art gallery and centre for community groups.”

In the Butcher category, John Hutton is singled out for the loyalty of his customers, with many having been using the shop throughout his 30 years of trading.

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“John’s outstanding quality of stock, superb customer service and big smile have won him a very loyal following,” says one of the nominations.

“As well as meat – Hutton’s is best known for its sausages – the shop sells other goods and is the place to buy food in Earl Soham. The shop also has a coffee shop area, making it a real hub for the village.”

Ben’s, which is located in Churchgate Street, Bury, and is nominated in the Local Food category, was launched a year ago by Ben Hutton, who rears the pigs and lambs, and grows many of the vegetables, he serves, with chef Jim Sloman running the kitchen.

“As a smallholder Ben tries to produce as much as possible of the food for his restaurant but what he cannot grow is sourced from local producers,” one of his nominations reads. “Ben’s is an oasis of independence in a chain-swamped town”, adds another.

Countryside Alliance Awards director Jill Grieve said: “The finalists are all exceptional. We have been overwhelmed by nominations this year, so for Haughley Post Office, Ben’s Restaurant and John Hutton’s to get this far is a huge achievement for them.

“The secret to the Rural Oscars’ popularity is that they honour the people involved in these businesses and not just their produce or services. They exist to sing the praises of those who work hard to keep our communities and rural economy ticking, but don’t seek the spotlight.

“The staff of these Suffolk firms are good examples of all that’s best about local businesses and treasured by their communities. We are delighted to offer this platform to enable people to say ‘thank you’ to them for all they contribute.”

She added: “We look forward to seeing them at Parliament in April and wish them and all of these businesses well as judging gets underway; there are going to be some hard decisions ahead.”

Suffolk is no stranger to success in the Countryside Alliance Awards. The Suffolk Food Hall, at Wherstead, near Ipswich, won the Local Food title in the 2011 awards and went on to pick up a special Local Food Champion of Champions honour when the awards marked their 10th anniversary earlier this year.

And in between these two successes, Orford General Store was named Village Shop and Post Office of the Year in the 2012 awards.