Funding boost helps set up Northumberland Alpaca shop

A Northumberland couple who make produce from alpaca wool have been given funding to open a shop

Debbie Rippon with Chris Cassells and alpacas Pearson and Ochre
Debbie Rippon with Chris Cassells and alpacas Pearson and Ochre

A Northumberland farming couple who produce clothes and crafts made from alpaca wool have opened a shop thanks to a funding boost.

Debbie and Paul Rippon, who farm near Elsdon, have been given £9,000 from the Northumberland Uplands LEADER programme which allowed them to create a permanent display area for their goods.

Debbie last night said the facility would mean the couple no longer having to keep their produce in boxes.

The couple live at Liberty Hill Farm, just off the A696 on the border of Northumberland National Park with views of the Cheviot Hills to the North and the Redesdale Valley to the West.

The farm is home to Debbie and Paul’s 72 strong herd of prize-winning alpacas, many of which have bred by the couple and born at Liberty Hill.

For the last eight and a half years, the alpacas have been sheared every 12 months so that their fleeces can be used to create hand-knitted and woven garments for sale to the public, under the name Barnacre Alpacas.

Alpaca fibre is different from sheep’s wool. It comes in 22 natural colours, has no lanolin or oil and is fine and soft.

Human hair is around four times thicker than alpaca fibre, and yet the latter has a hollow core filled with air which makes it well insulated and warm.

As well as knitwear, The Rippons make jewellery, bags, and even nesting materials for birds and rodents.

The Rippons even use alpaca dung to make fire bricks that burn like coal for around two hours. Now, the couple have been able to open the shop, thanks to the LEADER grant, which has covered more than half the cost. It is in a purpose-built hand-made shepherd’s hut, made with reclaimed oak by Tyneside business, Trunkreclaimed.

The facility has been insulated using alpaca fleece. The shop is the latest addition to the couple’s hill farm enterprise which offers farm walks ‘n’ talks, alpaca training courses and animal sales. Full husbandry training is available.

Debbie said: “We love our alpacas and know every one by name.

“Alpaca fleece is so fine, soft and warm and the terrible weather of this winter and spring has led to an increase in demand for our hand-knitted garments. The new shepherd’s hut at the farm means visitors will be able to meet the alpacas and buy their knitwear in comfort.

“It gives us a permanent display facility for the knitwear rather than having to get boxes out when people come.”

Michael Nixon, chairman of the Northumberland Uplands Local Action Group, said: “We are delighted that we have been able to help Paul and Debbie develop their business through the provision of a permanent display area for their products, and we look forward to hearing more about their endeavours.”

Northumberland Uplands Local Action Group (NULAG) was established by Northumberland National Park Authority with the aim of directing European Leader funds into the North East upland rural economy through an independent panel of community champions – the Local Action Group.

The Northumberland Uplands Leader area covers 3,042 square kilometres of Northumberland from the River South Tyne to the River Till.

Since its inception, NULAG has aided 76 community and business enterprises with £1.985m of grant funding, helping to bring £2.3 million of match funding into the region and creating 30 and a half new jobs.

The park authority is lead partner and host for NULAG at its base in Rothbury.

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