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FOUR successful rural businesses have been chosen as standard bearers for the North-East in an annual competition to find Britain’s best countryside retailers.

FOUR successful rural businesses have been chosen as standard bearers for the North-East in an annual competition to find Britain’s best countryside retailers.

They are the regional winners in the Countryside Alliance’s Best Rural Retailer contest, which aims to identify shops and other businesses which give outstanding service to their isolated communities.

The four businesses – three from Northumberland and one from County Durham – will now contest the national final of the competition, which is in its third year.

They are The Country Barn farm shop in Widdrington, near Morpeth (best local food category), Allendale Co-operative Society (best shop/PO), Tully’s of Rothbury delicatessen (best traditional business) and Piercebridge Organic Farm Shop and Cafe near Darlington (best diversification).

Tully’s has been run by husband and wife Rich and Sue Hurst since 1998 and it is now the last general store in the village.

Run across 12 UK regions and four categories, the Countryside Alliance competition received more than 2,500 nominations this year and 11 were shortlisted in the North-East.

Yesterday Northumberland farmer Richard Dodd, regional director of the Countryside Alliance, said: “One nomination describes the Country Barn as having put Widdrington Village on the map, and says walking into the shop takes your breath away. It is clearly a hit with its loyal customers.

“Allendale Co-op got dozens of nominations, with special praise singling out the fact that the staff’s cheerful attitude makes it the heart of the community.

“The Piercebridge shop and cafe is a wonderful diversification and shows what hard work and determination can do. Chris and Liz Hodgson have turned a conventional farm into an organic farm shop which sells exceptional produce, inspired by their son starting an egg business.

“And Tully’s of Rothbury is a standard bearer for the small, independent family-run business. It is as much about people as produce and customer service is at the heart of the enterprise.

“It sells the best produce you can imagine and many customers told us how refreshing it is that many obscure products are available, such as blue potatoes.’’

The national winners of the Best Rural Retailer competition will be announced at a House of Lords reception on February 6.

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