FROM a disused garage to one of Ingleton's most thriving businesses, Country Harvest celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

Looking at the busy food hall and coffee shop you can appreciate the vision of the pioneers, who established it in 1993.

Mark Birkbeck – now of the House of Bruar – with his retailing expertise encouraged his farming friends, Mike and Liz Barker and Richard Halhead, neighbours in Cockerham, to diversify.

After much research they acquired the derelict garage and an acre of land adjoining it in 1991.The aim was to offer the best farm foods and produce from the local areas of Lancashire, Cumbria, Yorkshire and further afield. Mike`s pork was retailed in the butchery department.

Although the site is a 45-minute journey from Cockerham they realised it was preferable to have the business on the A65, with its tremendous flow of traffic to and from the Lake District.

Planning permission was gained, Gillibrand Dawson were the architects and Fred Hall constructed it. Extra costs were entailed with the instability of the ground and removal of fuel tanks.

They opened in October1993 with a food hall, gift area and a flurry of local curiosity. It soon became apparent that a coffee shop was in demand and by Easter 1994 reorganisation of the food hall provided tables and chairs.

Into the fourth year the business flourished and grew to such an extent that in 2000 an extension was built to house a larger coffee shop and kitchens with a boardroom above. By now the retail offering had expanded to include a range of country clothing, accessories, quality gifts, books, cards etc.

Country Harvest was named Independent Cheese Retailer of 1999 in the British Cheese Awards. Some of the lines stocked in those early days have now become household names and are still on sale today, such as Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding, Hawkshead Relish, Cottage Delight, Brymor Ice Cream and Cook Ready Meals.

As Mike was still full time farming and Richard had taken a less active role, it was Liz and Richard who did most of the daily management and buying, with Mike helping out from his farm office and attending the shop every Sunday.

It was a rapid learning curve moving from farming into retail but, with the help of loyal staff (Pat Towler was employed on opening day and worked there for 20 years) they succeeded.

In 2008, as Richard was in his seventies and Mike and Liz wished to pursue family interests, they decided to offer the business for sale and Mike Clark took it over and set about making a few changes.