Family's new farm fresh venture

DIVERSIFYING their business in increasingly ambitious ways, is the future for many Suffolk farmers. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING reports on a farming family's new venture which is currently taking shape by the Orwell Bridge.

By Tracey Sparling

DIVERSIFYING their business in increasingly ambitious ways, is the future for many Suffolk farmers. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING reports on a farming family's new venture which is currently taking shape by the Orwell Bridge.

SOON the landmark bold lettering 'R&W Paul Ltd' at the top of the maltings tower, visible for miles around, will disappear as the Waterfront transformation surges on apace.

But the Paul family name, well known in Ipswich for over 100 years, is to live on in a landmark of a different guise.

As farmers continue to face many challenges following the blows of BSE, foot and mouth disease, bird flu and the reform of the European Agricultural Policy, many are looking at new ways to generate income, by diversifying outside their mainstream agricultural activities. The Paul family is one those, being behind a new enterprise currently being built at Wherstead Hall.

It will be called Suffolk Food Hall and at 10,000sq feet will be the size of a small supermarket. The plan is to bring together suppliers including a baker, butcher, greengrocer, delicatessen, dairy and fish, plus a restaurant and café, under one roof. Customers will be able to taste, see demonstrations, and ask producers about the origins of their food on offer.

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Bourne Garden Centre from Wherstead Road, Ipswich, is also relocating to the site, where there will be a car park plus an overflow parking field.

“It will be far more than a farm shop, it will be the next evolution of a farm shop” said Oliver Paul who is pioneering the business with his cousin Robert Paul who lives at the family's Broxtead Farm , Sutton.

Rather than trading on the Paul family name, the hall takes the county title and Oliver said: “I think Suffolk as a brand is very strong.”

He speaks modestly of his family history, and own experience in the culinary world, but lets it slip that he runs the food hall at the Royal Agricultural Show held near Coventry every year. It emerges that a sturdy network of contacts is enabling him to pull together specialist suppliers.

Oliver said: “We have people lined up who share the family ethos, and we are also particularly keen to promote any new and original ideas. There will be a high touch factor and expertise at Suffolk Food Hall, because we want to put the fun back into shopping.

“To use stereotypes, women love clothes shopping, men love test driving new cars, but food shopping is still seen as a chore - whereas if you go food shopping in France it's a morning out, a pastime which you enjoy. Why doesn't that happen here?

“I think there's a wonderful change going on in people's shopping habits at the moment, and I'm glad to say the fun factor is coming back.”

The new business will be unique to the east of England, although similar enterprises are thriving at other places including Darts Farm Village near Exeter in Devon, Ludlow, and Oliver also admires Chatsworth farm in Derbyshire.

Suffolk Food Hall is being created within a former cowshed at the family's Wherstead farm, preserving its old wooden beams and agricultural exterior, but incorporating modern chrome and clean colours inside. The café will be on a mezzanine floor, with a glass wall overlooking the river.

“Going through the planning process was quite interesting,” said Oliver, “as some people were quite sceptical about it. The hall is in an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty but at the same time it fulfils many central government policies about diversifying, creating jobs, economic prosperity - it ticks so many boxes.”

Both Oliver and Robert have given up their London careers in computing and finance to move back to the family farms in Suffolk and start the business, while their older brothers run the two farms.

Both have wives and young children, and say they are glad to escape life in the fast lane.

Oliver said: “We got a bit disenchanted with London but it was still a difficult decision. We have given up city salaries and had made a lot of friends up there, but I suppose that's the trade off for a better quality of life in Suffolk. We now want to do something more meaningful and have more job satisfaction.”

The next few weeks will be spent preparing the hall and recruiting staff - see page……………,check jobs ads go in as planned>.

In contrast to some farm shops, Suffolk Food Hall will be open from 9am to 6pm Mon-Sat, and also open Sundays. It is due to open in early May, bringing the next chapter for this enterprising Suffolk family.


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Early 19th century: Oliver Paul's great great grandfather founded Pauls Agriculture in Ipswich, initially to trade in malt and barley for brewers. This later expanded into trading of maize and other ingredients for horses.

Early 1900s: Started also making food for other animal feed.

1893: R&W Paul Ltd was formed.

1964: R&W Paul merge with White Tomkins & Courage to become Pauls &White Ltd and listed on stock exchange.

1984: Pauls is acquired by Harrisons &Crosfield plc - now Elementis plc.

1992: British Oil and Cake Mills Ltd (BOCM) merges with Pauls Agriculture to form BOCM Pauls Ltd.

2000: Refinance of company, now 90pc owned directors and management.


Barges which used to deliver grain from Ipswich to London, carried city rubbish back to spread on the fields at Wherstead. You can still find occasional clay pipes which had been thrown away by Londoners, in the fields today.

Famous faces are showing their support for the National Farmers Union's new campaign.

Why Farming Matters runs throughout this year to highlight the contribution British farming makes to the nation, including providing top quality fresh food.

President Peter Kendall said: “For far too long the importance of farming to Britain has at best been taken for granted, and at least written off as irrelevant and out-of-date.

“Farming is at the heart of a £3bn food and drink industry in East Anglia which employs more than 90,000 people. Our rural towns are also underpinned by the hard work of farmers and growers managing the countryside and producing local food.”

Supporters include conservative MP Boris Johnson, and Olympic gold medallists Sally Gunnell and Ed Coode who said healthy farm produce helped during their careers.



Bed & breakfast accommodation

Self catering holiday accommodation

Exotic/rare breeds

Camping barns

Contracting out farm machinery, and repairs to agricultural machinery

Industrial workspace

Livery stables, trekking centres, and DIY stabling

Farm shops

Food processing

Craft centres

Organic farming

Countryside stewardship

Woodland planting scheme