Back to The Future (Part 1) - Foxford

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When we came across a picture in the Mill showing a number of young women from Foxford in the 1950’s learning how to make jams and preserves it made us smile…the more things change the more they stay the same!
It’s decades later and here we are planning to build an artisan production kitchen in the Woollen Mills, producing more of the jams, chutney, dressings etc. that we know our customers enjoy.

Why would a company that has been making blankets for almost 130 years think of getting into food production? Turn back the clock to 2006 when we opened the Café to serve tea, coffee and desserts made in our bakery…from this humble beginning our little business grew very quickly to now employing 22 people.

It’s the plant based menu, it’s the bread and desserts, that are all made in our bakery that have really struck a chord with our customers. So much so, that while in the past people came to visit the Mill and maybe have something to eat while they were here, many now come primarily to enjoy our Café and visit the Mill almost as an aside!

In the early years of the Café there were less visitors between January and April, so, in an effort to sustain employment, Rachel and Kathleen (Manager and Chef) decided to make some jam, chutney and dressings during that ‘off season’ period.

The clatter of the jars arriving, the aroma and warmth of big pots of fruit boiling on the cooker and the precision involved in getting the hot jam into freshly steamed jars, the lids being sealed and the labels put on by hand – an industry in itself. The jars remain hot for maybe 24 hours and once cooled they are put onto the shelves in the pantry, all lined up waiting for a good home.
This artisan ‘production’ has become increasingly difficult for the café team to juggle while continuing to maintain our core café business, preparing and serving the delicious in house menu. The ‘off season’ lull no longer exists and with increasing support from our loyal customers both for what we now call Foxford food retail and those who visit our Café it became clear during 2019, that the Foxford food retail has outgrown the existing space in the Café kitchen and needed it’s own artisan production area.

During 2020 we began to think seriously about the investment needed and the next question was where to locate the production kitchen. We definitely wanted it in Foxford and ideally somewhere near to the existing Café kitchen.

So, we came up with the idea of moving our finished woven goods store (also on the first floor) to an area over where the cloth is finished in the Mill. This made total sense as it keeps all the woollen manufacturing and dispatch in one area and the area coming free is right beside the existing Café kitchen. A win win!

From the outside this is the area covered by a barrell shaped roof on the right hand side as you enter the store.
This area, approx. 7000ft2 is in the shape of a traditional hayshed constructed from steel, concrete, timber and galvanised sheeting originally built in the early 1900’s.
We had our suspicions about the condition of this roof – the ‘drip, drip, drip’ sounds after heavy rain were a bit of a hint – so we surveyed to see what exactly we were dealing with.
The roof’s main trusses need supporting before we do any work on the leaks. Steel girders need to be erected which will not only support the sagging galvanised roof but also hang air handling equipment, cables and suspended ceilings needed for the production kitchen to be completed. A big job!

Like all good building projects, the estimated cost to complete the production kitchen is now well over our original budget and leaves us with a big investment to justify.
This is where the doubts creep in and the ‘what if’s’ begin. However, looking back at the history of the company, the Mill has been faced with several challenges down through the last century and has overcome every single one.

As our Founder Mother Agnes would say ‘Providence will Provide’.

Check back in for more updates as the project progresses

Joe

 

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