Donning a white coat and apron and handling raw meat for a living is not a career many teenagers would willingly contemplate pursuing.
Certainly the appeal of training as a butcher has waned in recent years as youngsters have set their sights on more alluring and technically advanced vocations.
It’s no secret that high street butchers shops have been having a tough time of it with the supermarkets enticing away customers in their thousands.
Scores of once thriving independent family butchers have been closing every week across the UK, unable to compete with the big name grocery chains on price and the convenience of wandering in at any time of the day or night and picking up a no-hassle pre-packaged cut of meat.
There have been fears that stand-alone butchers shops could soon fade from many people’s memories as Britain’s high streets undergo a radical – and not necessarily for the better – transformation thanks to the explosion of out of town shopping complexes and ever larger supermarkets.
But there is evidence the tide is turning with a new generation of young butchers, fascinated by what is one of the world’s oldest professions dating back to when man first acquired the taste for meat, swelling the depleted ranks.
One of these is the now multi-award winning Daniel Lovatt. The 23-year-old joined the team at Blagdon Farm Shop just over five years ago as an apprentice butcher.
Since then he has quietly and proficiently been learning his trade under the watchful and skilled eye of Blagdon’s butchery department manager, Simon Osborne.
He has completed both level two and three qualifications in meat and poultry processing, learned about the industry, grown to appreciate the attraction of local sourcing and food and at just the age of 21 was appointed Blagdon Farm Shop’s butchery department supervisor, making him effectively second in command to Simon.
Last November he brought the coveted Banger Award to Blagdon, by winning the North East section of British Sausage Week’s now annual national sausage competition - a prize Simon admits with a wry smile he’s been trying to win himself for years!
Rolling his eyes Simon says: “I train him up and then off he goes and takes an award I’ve been wanting from right under my nose with his special porcini mushroom and caramelised onion Blagdon Birthday Banger, created to celebrate the farm shop’s 10th birthday.
“There’s no hard feelings. The award came to Blagdon and without doubt Daniel is the best young ‘un I’ve ever had here at the butchery or had the pleasure of working with in the industry.”
Proof of that came this week when Daniel clinched one of the biggest prizes of all – the prestigious national Best Meat Student for the Management Award awarded jointly by the Meat Training Council and The Institute of Meat.
Presented at a glittering ceremony last Tuesday at Butchers’ Hall in London, it is the equivalent of a trade ‘Oscar’ and places Daniel among the best young apprentices currently coming into an industry that thanks to the ongoing horse meat scandal and the popularity of TV cookery shows, is dragging itself back from the abyss many feared it was about to fall into.
Blagdon Farm Shop’s butchery is among many independents which have seen business increase significantly since the horsemeat fiasco hit the news headlines 14 months ago.
More importantly, while some consumers have inevitably drifted back to the supermarkets, Blagdon has managed to hold on to much of that new business.
Simon feels more confident about the future. “I think we have reached a level now where it’s not going to get any worse. In 1984 I think there were 15,500 independent butchers shops across the UK and now we are down to around 7,000, so the figure has more than halved in that time.
“But I am of the opinion now that the worst is over. We have weathered BSE, the recession and foot and mouth and we have come out the other side.
“There is a hard core of people out there who have always continued to buy their meat from the independents and wouldn’t go anywhere else, but thanks to horse meat they have been joined by new customers worried about where there food is coming from and what is being done to it before it reaches the shops.
“Consumers are worried about provenance and the supply chain to your local independent butcher is one hell of a lot shorter than that to the supermarkets.
“The butchers shops left now are the ones that have survived and have a good business model. They are the ones who have innovated and moved with the times but still managed to maintain the links with their suppliers and remained ‘local.’
“For the first time in years we are now seen as a good trade to move into and there are more apprentices coming through like Daniel who want to make their future in the industry.
“It is not necessarily a pretty job. It can be cold, the hours can be long, especially at Christmas, but it is rewarding, gives you a chance to work with the public and at the end of the day you have a craft.
“Once you have trained as a butcher you can go anywhere in the world and get a job.”
Simon believes Daniel’s success will attract more youngsters into the trade and can only be good for Blagdon. “Hopefully it will help us recruit better apprentices. It shows we are doing the job properly if we are recognised by a group like the Meat Training Council.”
The importance of winning awards is shown in Daniel’s case. He was attracted to Blagdon Farm Shop because of the success the venture run by Simon and his partner Jo Celerier has had in other areas in the 11 years it has been open.
Among the accolades that have come the shop’s way are a host of Great Taste Awards for their homemade food products, winning the National Farmers’ Retail and Market Association’s (FARMA) Best Farm Butchery in 2008, reaching the final of the National Farmers Union Best Rural Retailer in 2007, as well as a clutch of regional Countryside Alliance honours.
Daniel, who had wanted to be a butcher ever since getting a Saturday job at an independent outlet near his home in Blyth, Northumberland, “pestered the life out of” Simon for three months before his boss finally caved in and took him on two days before Christmas 2008.
“I was very impressed with Daniel’s tenacity,” Simon recalls. “He really wanted to work here and really wanted to be a butcher.”
For his part, Daniel had been bowled over by Blagdon’s growing portfolio of awards. “They are a regionally and nationally recognised award-winning farm shop and they are passionate about local produce and their customers.
“I thought if they have been recognised so many times by the industry, then they must be doing something right. I wanted to learn the real craft of butchery and I wanted to be trained properly by real butchers.
“I knew there would be nowhere better I could complete my training.
“Added to that, the meat comes off the Blagdon estate just a few miles down the road and can be traced from the field to the butcher’s block, right through the supply chain, which I think is fantastic.”
He adds: “I don’t know why I had always wanted to be a butcher, but I just loved everything about it. It’s something different but it’s also a skilled craft and I like working with the public.
“I know all my customers and I know what they want before they even come in. It’s a very personal job.”
Daniel says he is “very proud and humbled” to have won the Best Meat Student award and hopes his success will encourage others to come into the trade.
Certainly Simon is keen to take on more apprentices.
Looking ahead Daniel, who is engaged to be married, admits he would like to one day open his own butcher’s shop. “I don’t think I could work anywhere better than Blagdon. After being here I would have to open my own business and be my own boss.
“There’s also the whole thing about supporting local, whether it be the farmers or the community, and knowing where your food is coming from.”
Simon applauds rather than fears Daniel’s ambition. “I would love to think that Daniel would one day get his own shop. I’m certainly not worried about the competition. If someone can do a job properly then I am all for them getting on.
“We are a close industry, I think we have had to be with everything that has gone on, and we tend to help each other out.”