Siblings win young enterprise award

Shropshire siblings Ben and Charlotte Hollins have been crowned the UK's Young Rural Entrepreneurs 2007.

The pair run Fordhall Community Land Initiative and Farm near Market Drayton, which was founded when they faced eviction from their family farm in 2004.

The landlord offered to sell them the farm and they managed to raise £1.4m from interest free loans and sales of shares of the farm, some for as little as £50. There are now over 8,000 shareholders in the business, including 350 from overseas.

Since establishing this unique community ownership scheme, Ben and Charlotte have diversified the livestock farm to benefit the local community and economy.

They host regular community days for investors and volunteers to restore the farm, planting trees and helping with building, and last year welcomed 7,000 visitors onto the farm.

The farm has rising numbers of livestock and having been farmed organically since World War II, should receive organic certification next year. The pair have also added a new visitor picnic area and launched an online shop and book.

In the future, they plan to convert some of the disused farm buildings into educational facilities to be built using environmentally sustainable methods for use by schools, investors and the wider community.

The siblings will receive £10,000 for winning the Young Entrepreneur Award, which was launched in May by farm insurance broker Lycetts in partnership with The Field magazine.

Ben Hollins said: "The other finalists were all very impressive and we were speechless when we heard that we had won.

"The last few years have been a tremendous journey for both of us working long hours and with many ups and downs along the way but we love it here.

"The farm now has 200 sheep, 75 cattle and 60 pigs, and this prize money will go along way to helping with our plans to continue to build livestock with the addition of an Aberdeen Angus bull and new farm shed."

Jonathon Young, editor of the Field, added: "The competition has ignited interest and generated entries from a broad range of rural entrepreneurs.

"These entrepreneurs do, however, all have one thing in common - they are all committed to making a sustainable contribution to the economy and communities of the UK's countryside."