Stables converted into wedding venue at Great Dunmow scoops BALE Champion of Champions Award at Suffolk Agricultural Association event

AN East Anglian wedding venue created as a farm diversification initiative has today been named by Suffolk Agricultural Association and Ashton KCJ Solicitors as the 2011 BALE Award Champion of Champions.

The Reid Rooms, at Marks Hall, in Great Dunmow, Essex, has been transformed by farm owners Martin Ritchie and his late wife Jane, to create a stunning setting from former horse stables.

Winner of the BALE Award, back in 2001, it has continued to expand and improve, catering for around 200 weddings a year and many other functions and celebrations.

Also in receipt of an award at this year’s official presentation lunch at Trinity Park was Suffolk’s Valley Farm Equestrian Leisure Centre. The business, which won the BALE Award in 2005 and was originally a 200 acre arable and pig enterprise, has taken the accolade of Best Green Enterprise.

Run by the Suffolk Agricultural Association in partnership with Ashton KCJ, the BALE Award annually seeks to find the region’s best farming diversification business from across Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire.

This year’s contest has seen a significant change to mark its 20th Anniversary. Rather than an open competition, the Champion of Champions concept was created to find the shining star among all the winners of the last decade. The Ritchie family has now been announced as winner of that accolade.

Over two intense days in November last year, the Rt Hon. Lord Deben, Jonathan Long, Agricultural Partner, Ashton KCJ and Margaret Holland, the first winner of the BALE competition, visited farm diversification businesses throughout the four counties.

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“This year’s Champion of Champions concept made life even tougher than usual for our team of judges, with such deserving winners to be visited and assessed,” said Christopher Bushby, executive director of Suffolk Agricultural Association.

“The BALE award has always attracted an exceptionally high calibre of agricultural enterprises and it was clearly a rewarding exercise for the Association to be able to go back to past winners and see how they have continued to progress their business concepts.

“Both The Reid Rooms and Valley Farm are highly deserving, not only for their original diversification undertaking, but for the way in which they have continued to evolve over recent years and to strategically plan their future around changes in the economy and in consumer demand.”

Jonathan Long, of Ashton KCJ, said: “Ashton KCJ is delighted to be partnering with the SAA on this very special occasion of the award’s 20th anniversary. What is special about these two very deserving winners is that through tough economic times, their businesses have gone from strength to strength and are continuing to expand. They have made a huge impact on their local communities, by employing local people and bringing in large visitor numbers to the area. On behalf of the whole firm, I would like to congratulate The Reid Rooms and Valley Farm”

As winner of the Champions accolade, The Reid Rooms has taken the Ashton KCJ Challenge Cup, Tankard and �1000 to be spent on their business. Sarah Robertson, at Valley Farm, meanwhile, has received �100 for winning the Best Green Practice award.

Those in the final shortlist included Castle Farm of Norfolk, the Suffolk Food Hall, Park Farm Business Centre in Bury St Edmunds, Hollow Trees Farm Shop in Ipswich, Manor House Estate in Bawdsey, Resting Pets Cemetery in Ongar and Bruisyard Hall in Dennington.