Can’t hold a candle to – feature writing

I have written on more than one occasion about the pleasure I take from working in so many diverse sectors. It suits my personality (and clearly my brain) to move from one subject to another throughout the day. Amongst the many hats I wear, one is as a feature writer and sometime restaurant reviewer, for Devon Life, Exeter Life, Devon Home Magazine and Taste Buds. Feature writing brings me into contact with even more businesses and inspirational people.

The most recent encounter was with Richard and Sargon from The Recycled Candle Company. They had recently opened a shop in Ottery St Mary, where a number of my clients are based. Intrigued, I went to say hello and have a nose. Although the shop wasn’t quite ready, I knew immediately that it would be fabulous. I had a quick chat with Richard and asked if I could pitch the Featurie writing Richardstory – he agreed. I also purchased a rather gorgeous candle as a birthday present for a friend.

Devon Life liked the idea and commissioned a double page, so I returned for an in-depth interview. It was a fascinating to find out about Richard’s early fascination with candle-making, the blips along the way, how he met Sargon, the inspiration for the various scents and how they ended up opening a shop in Ottery St Mary. The process of using old wax to make new candles is truly interesting, though there were some trade secrets I was not allowed to divulge – on pain of death!

It is always an inspiration to talk to individuals who are following their dreams in business. Often for these people, it’s not about becoming millionaires (although I’m sure no-one would complain), it’s about having a passion. That’s not a word I normally like to use as it’s bandied around too much in the corporate world these days.

The feature on The Recycled Candle Company is destined for Devon Life’s January issue which should be on the shelves mid-December, hopefully in time to give the shop a boost for last minute Christmas sales. If those Christmas tree candles don’t fly off the shelves, then I’m a monkey’s uncle.

What’s up next for my work in feature writing? I’ve recently finished a feature for Devon Home about bathroom flooring and a review for Taste Buds for the Woolacombe Bay Hotel – that was fun and there was prosecco involved.  I’ve pitched some new ideas so watch this space.

Feature writing researchFeature writing research

Our awards table

On the awards podium

Attending the awards

This was the third year I attended the Food & Drink Devon Awards. The first time was in the company of Jeff and Jennie Cooper from Taste Buds Magazine – which I write for from time to time – when the awards were held at Exeter Golf & Country Club. Last year, with the awards close by at Deer Park Country House, I went again as a guest with Jeff, celebrating a gold and highly commended for client Otter Garden Centres along the way.

This year I went under my own steam to represent Otter Garden Centres. Sadly, Otter’s restaurant manager Simon was unable to come to the event, so I attended alone. Luckily I’m not shy and started chatting to chef Noel Corston at the drinks reception. It truly is a small world as we discovered in the course of our conversation that we had both lived in a suburb of Southampton called Chandlers Ford – not known to that many people. On my table were several marvellous folk, Lizzie from Hunts Cider, Ann and Neil from Waterhouse Fayre and Sabine from Sabine’s Macarons, and we had some great conversations through the evening.

Gold!

This year, Otter scooped two gold awards, one for their multi-award-winning raspberry jam and the first gold for their strawberry jam. With no Simon, it was down to me to scuttle up to collect the award from sponsors Stephens Scown and media foodie type, Nigel Barden. You’ll know him if you listen to Simon Mayo on Radio Two (which I do!). Hunts also picked up a gold as did Waterhouse Fayre.

On the podiumAs I am not usually the person to actually collect an award as this is quite rightly done by my clients, it was interesting (and slightly nerve-racking) to have a moment in the limelight with the camera of the talented Nick Hook snapping away. Fortunately I didn’t have to make a speech….

Back at the table we were all treated to a glass of fizz by a generous Sabine and her husband.

It was a pleasure to attend and to collect the two gold awards, even if by default, and to celebrate Devon’s fantastic food and drink and to meet some lovely folk. I can’t think of a better way to spend a Monday evening.

Taster Day Segway

Escot Taster Day

I have known Escot near Ottery St Mary for many years – my children spent many happy hours at Escot Park playing in the wonderful gardens, messing about on the pirate ship, watching otters and birds of prey displays.

Escot House

That part of Escot that I am so familiar with is now a visitor centre by charity Wildwood Trust, whilst Escot’s owners, Lucy and Mish Kennaway, are concentrating on promoting the house and grounds as a venue for weddings, conferences and activity days. They’ve actually been hosting events for well over 20 years, including the wedding of the couple that run the Beautiful Days festival which has been held at Escot every August since 2003. Anyone local will know of the festival, and I’ve been along a fair number of times myself.

Last year, the Kennaways asked me to write the copy for their new website, and I was delighted to oblige. This year I have been helping to promote the venue itself alongside Hannah Thompson of Six Degrees Marketing. Escot hasn’t raised its head above the parapet in terms of promotion for a while, and we decided to run a taster day so potential clients could see the venue and try some of the activities on offer with onsite activity providers, Devon Country Pursuits.

Taster Day

On the day, Devon Country Pursuits set up Segway and archery, whilst Lucy showed visitors around the three conference rooms and Lynsey baked fresh biscuits and, the hit of the day, honey mustard sausages.

Most people Taster Day Archerydecided to try the activities and naturally I had to show willing with a turn on the Segway. It was great fun and I’m tempted to book an afternoon there myself, to have a Segway Olympics. There are many other activities besides, including quad biking, interactive treasure hunt and swamp walk – the latter my son did on a school visit many years ago. Suffice to say, it’s messy!Helen on the Segway at the Taster Day

My trusty DSLR camera was ready and willing, and I managed to get some decent action shots – including Helen from The Creative Business Network who squealed the loudest when she was taking a turn on the Segway!

A number of positive enquiries came from those attending the event, with some firm bookings made. Others who couldn’t make it expressed an interest in making future bookings. All in all a successful event which was a pleasure to be involved with.

Plus I got to sample a number of Lynsey’s yummy biscuits.

Taster Day biscuits

Summer party welly game

Here Comes Summer

We Brits know how to party when the sun comes out, and businesses are no exception.

Everyone expects a staff meal at Christmas, but summer is the time to make the most of good weather and put on an outdoor event. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. Getting staff together in the sunshine always lifts morale.

Long-term client Otter Garden Centres holds a summer party for all employees at its Ottery St Mary branch each year. But it isn’t a question of sipping a drink, oh no. Instead, there are  school games. Games involving eggs, wellies and sacks. You get the picture. The weather held and everyone threw themselves into the games – quite literally in the case of the tug-of-war. No cheating went on at all… The management team were great, acting as Head of PE, Head of Maths and Headmistress. There was even a Miss Bossy Boots. I was there, snapping away and getting some great shots of people letting their hair Summer event at TFLC Plymouthdown (and falling over), ready to send to Devon Life Socials.

In Plymouth in June, The Family Law Company hosted a summer celebration, inviting local practitioners, barristers and clerks to thank t hem for referrals. I love that Carrie, who put the event together, mentioned that it was nice to meet up with people who they are often in opposition with at court. Down pistols for the sake of Pimms! (Press release)

This weekend it’s the turn of Coverstructures, celebrating the completion of its stunning new offices on the Finnimore Estate. Owner Stuart Phillips is holding a family day replete with bouncy castle and mobile catering provided by another client, Rusty Pig. I won’t be attending as I’m off to Greece for a summer break, but I’ve booked a photographer so watch this space. but I’ll be back in time to help out with a small celebratory event for Tickety-Boo, another of Stuart’s businesses, which will be celebrating

I’ll be back in time to help out with a small celebratory event for Tickety-Boo, another of Stuart’s businesses, which will be celebrating it’s first birthday mid-August. Hopefully there will be cake.

All too soon it will be autumn, and then time for Christmas parties!

Summer tug of warThe summer school teamSummer and everyone's falling over

Dining at Rusty Pig

Copywriting Rusty Pig’s oinking new website

Rusty Pig in Ottery St Mary is a long-term client. I first met owner Robin Rea when I wrote an article about him for Devon Life and we’ve been working together ever since.

I’m sure Robin won’t mind me saying that his website wasn’t really showing off the business as well as it could. So, it was with some relief that he told me he’d commissioned Rob Archer of Archer Studios to create his new website. Even more exciting, he was working with one of my favourite photographers, Matt Austin for images. Now, I have nagged Robin about images for years! Although I’m handy with my DSLR, the difference between my efforts and those of a professional have been documented before.

Copywriting

There was some discussion about how the copy was going to be written, and I was delighted when Robin agreed to me taking it on. I worked closely with Rob Archer to agree a word count for each section and played about with tone of voice until I got it ‘just so’. This type of website is not copy-heavy, and I really enjoy the discipline of cutting back the words whilst managing to keep the personality of the business. I also had to work fast – fortunately tight deadlines have never fazed me.

Launched

The website has now launched, and is a million trillion times better than the previous version. Take a peek at Rusty Pig and while you’re at it, why not book a table using the new booking facility!

Matt Austin’s images have been worth their weight in gold. Not only for the new website, but to illustrate a feature article I recently wrote for Devon Life, all about hedgerow cocktails at Rusty Pig. So nice to have wonderful photos to hand. And I’m proud of my headline ‘A sting in the cocktail’.

Rusty Pig feature

DEBI Awards Launch attendees

DEBI Awards Launch

2017 is the 25th anniversary of Devon Environmental Business Initiative (DEBI), and consequently the 25th anniversary of the organisation’s environmental awards. As a DEBI Director I am a keen supporter of these awards, which recognise this county’s commitment to environmental best practice.

As a charity, DEBI was founded to support businesses and organisations pursuing environmentally sound policies. The awards celebrate those in Devon that are going the extra mile for green issues.

DEBI Awards launch in the rain The awards launch this year took place at West Town Farm, in Ide, courtesy of the winner of the 2016 Enjoyed in Devon category, organicARTS. We were treated to a tour of the farm which we thoroughly enjoyed, despite the deluge (I was smug, in wellies and with a large umbrella to hand).

For my part, I was also on duty as ‘press photographer’ in prep for the launch press release, sent to the usual suspects including Western Morning News, Devon Life, Exeter Living and regional papers.

2016 winners

Many of last year’s winners came to the launch and talked about their experiences. Peter Grainger, Chair of Trustees at organicARTS spoke about their association with West Town Farm and the provision of an educational facility specialising in farm-based learning.

DEBI Awards Launch Mukti MitchellMukti Mitchell, Environmental Champion 2016, talked about his company, Cosy Homes, which provides energy saving secondary glazing and insulation for period homes and listed properties. He also spoke about each person can make a difference to climate change by reducing our personal carbon footprint – even the smallest effort can help.

Other 2016 winners, Melanie Shaw from Exeter Pound, Shevek Pring from South West Outdoors and Ryan Stojic from Mike Wye & Associates talked about how winning a DEBI award has benefitted their organisations.

About the awards

Entering the awards is totally free as is attending the awards event itself. This is held at the Met Office and offers a chance to network and meet like-minded people. The date this year is Thursday, 23 November.

The awards are really worthwhile entering. Judges (and I may be one this year) visit each shortlisted entry before the final decision is made.

More information on categories and how to enter is available here: DEBI AWARDS 2017

DEBI Awards logo

Case study two penguins

P-P-P Pick up a Penguin Case Study

What I love about researching and writing case studies for clients is the variety of places I get to visit.

I have been working on a series of case studies for Devondale Electrical; these have taken me to The Castle Hotel in Taunton, WESC in Exeter, an RSPB site near Exmouth and most recently to Living Coasts in Torquay.

If you live in Devon and have children, like me, there’s a chance that you have visited many of the great family-friendly attractions. But, although I took the children to Paignton Zoo on many occasions, we never made it to Living Coasts. So I jumped at the chance to meet the penguins. My friendly photographer was Tony Cobley, who I use for my South Devon and Plymouth photography needs. Tony brought along Amelia, a work experience student from Plymouth College of Art.

Living Coasts experience

Case study penguin We were showCase study photographer Tony Cobleyn around the attraction by Pete Morgan, fellow board member of charity, Devon Environmental Business Initiative (DEBI) and Environmental Officer for Paignton Zoo and Living Coasts. While we were taking a photo of him, Pete mentioned that he’d never been photographed with the penguins before, despite his many years in the role.

Kids in a sweetshop? That we were! Three grown adults excited to see penguins, otters, auks and seals. It’s a really relaxed attraction, and the penguins are able to pop out of their enclosures for a wander, should they feel so inclined. There’s a lot more to Living Coasts than I’d imagined; first and foremost it is there for education, and we saw many children learning all about the wildlife, agog at seahorses, octopuses, flatfish and more.

LED lighting

Case study LED lightingOf course, we were there for a reason, and between gawps at the inhabitants of Living Coasts, we did manage to find out about the new lighting, which Devondale has supplied from its Paignton and Torquay branches. Living Coasts is switching over to LED lighting to save energy costs and improve the visitor experience. Spot mine and Amelia’s turn as ‘extras’!

Living Coasts is in a great location looking out over the sea. When we finished working, we stopped for lunch on the terrace looking across Torbay. Not a bad morning’s work.

Guild of Fine Food Awards

Judging at the Great Taste Food Awards

I often work at weekends, as my time is fairly flexible. So when my work email pinged on a Sunday afternoon I had to take a quick peek. It was from Jennie Cooper of Taste Buds Magazine (which I write for) after a favour. She was supposed to judge at the Great Taste Food Awards on the following Tuesday but had been taken ill and didn’t think she would recover in time. Could I possibly take her place?

Tuesday for me was a ‘bit of a day’, but I have never acted as a judge before, and the idea appealed. It was hotfoot off to Gillingham in Dorset (not Kent, thank goodness) for a morning of tasting and judging.

Arriving at the Guild of Fine Food HQ, the wonderful Jilly Sitch made me very comfortable and introduced me to a friendly bunch, including Mrs Simkins, cook, recipe researcher and writer, who I now tweet with. After a coffee, I was directed to my table where I met our fellow judges; co-ordinator Susan, Jeremy and fellow virgin judge Matthew, head of product development at Winterbotham Darby.

We eyed up our table of goodies, which ranged from chocolates to honey, chutney, snacks and oil. During the course of the morning, hot food, ice cream, meat and fish were brought to the table, along with soft drinks. Luckily this wasn’t a cider judging day, or I would never have made my afternoon meeting.

Food Award JudgeJudging food (and drink) on its own can be a difficult task. Sometimes a chutney cries out for cheese! However, in general, the four judges at my table were of one accord, most of the time. If one person disagreed, the food was sent to an arbitrator. We did debate, but our debates weren’t heated.

There are potentially three stars that can be awarded – although you can also award no stars. Three stars is an amazing achievement, and I was told that a hush would descend on the room if such a thing occurred. My panel, in fact, did award a three star, but we weren’t sure if this was agreed with by other panels – a minimum of 20 judges must agree to make it so. I’m sure I shall find out when the results are published. We also were given a three star dish, but we didn’t agree and only awarded two. Tough love!

  • One star: Simply Delicious
  • Two stars: Outstanding
  • Three stars: Exquisite! Wow! Taste that!

I only attended a morning session but it was extremely good fun and opened my eyes to the range of food producers. A big thank you to the Guild for welcoming me. Now I’m hooked on judging – in fact, I’m about to judge for our local awards, Taste of the West. So watch this space!

Great Taste Food Awards judging

The Family Law Company at the Exeter Living Awards

Exeter Living Awards 2017

Awards are part of business life – in Exeter we have a wonderful array of awards to enter clients for; WMN, Express & Echo, Devon Life Food & Drink, Love the Flavour, Taste of the West – the list goes on!

I was lucky enough to attend the Exeter Living Awards recently. This is the second year for the awards, which celebrate the ‘best of Exeter’ (and beyond). The event was held at Exeter Uni’s Great Hall which was packed; more tables than last year and a very lively crowd indeed. The Great Hall looked, well, great! Tony Hawkes (not the skateboarder) was the compere, and entertained us with his dry humour.

My partner on the night was Sharon Goble of If…Media, and we had the best table in the house, with Jim, Lucy and Nathalie from Exeter Cookery School, Bethan and colleagues from YMCA Exeter and two of my clients, Kirsten and Rachel from The Family Law Company. Everyone, apart from Sharon and me, was a finalist. (Next year, Sharon?).

Awards Winners

Exeter Cookery SchoWinners Family Law Donna, Kirsten and Rachel at Exeter Living Awardsol and YMCA were pipped at the post on this occasion, such a shame but the competition was red hot. However, as the awards on the presentation table dwindled, we came to the Legal & Financial category. The Family Law Company has won some great awards in the past nine months, and a fifth gong seemed too much to hope for.

So, when they were announced as winners, I emitted a rather loud and embarrassing ‘woop woop’. Kirsten, Rachel and Donna (who was there with another winner, Citizen’s Advice Bureau which she’s a Trustee of) went onstage to collect the award. They looked absolutely great, three talented, strong women in an all too often male-dominated sector.

I always say to clients that it is almost as good to be a finalist as it is to win. But then, when they do win, it feels amazing!

Next up

In May, Devondale Electrical Wholesalers will find out if they have won their category in the national Electrical Wholesaler Awards, which they’ve just been shortlisted for. Fingers crossed for a win, Devondale is a truly independent South West company with a great ethos.

Writing awards submissions is sometimes time-consuming, but they really do help the writer (in this case, me) to understand a company better.

Of course, awards wins are only part of a PR service, but they are great for kudos, confidence and chutzpah. And not just for clients, for me too.

New Otter Logo

A new look for Otter

One of my long-standing clients is a garden centre business I have known since I moved to Devon nearly twenty years’ ago. While planting up my garden, I paid many visits to Otter Nurseries in Ottery St Mary; the garden centre is just 10 minutes from my house. My garden has perennials, shrubs and trees that all came from Otter, and when  I’ve always loved spending time there and

I’ve always loved it there, with an amazing array of plants and much more. I loved visiting at Christmas, and both my children went to meet Santa there when they were younger. This is a family business, with three generations playing an active part. The company, which over the years has grown from one to five garden centres, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014.

Marking 50 years brought with it the inspiration for a review of the Otter, and the company decided it was time to look at a fresh approach to its brand. So, over the past year or so, client Otter Nurseries has embarked on a rebrand with Exeter marketing specialist, Wall To Wall Sunshine. This has included visiting all the garden centres, creating customer profiles, producing new designs and new branding guidelines. The ‘Nurseries’ has gone, and the company is now known as Otter Garden Centres, to better reflect the company and its retail offer. There was some discussion about the otter and its part in the brand, but quite rightly it was decided that the animal was intrinsically linked to the business, so it remained.

My part within the overall project has, by comparison, been relatively minor but, even so, necessary; issuing PR to reassure the public that Otter has not been bought out, but is still a family business; updating social media platforms, updating the website, creating a post about the rebrand and linking to it on social media.

As an objective observer and a customer of Otter, I think this is a really positive change for the company. As the rebrand is rolled out across the branches over the coming year I’m sure customers will respond positively. Certainly on social media so far, the responses have all been ‘thumbs up’.