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Friday, 1st Feb 2019
The forgotten county
By Tim Porter
Stones in his pockets
Wednesday 24th April 2019
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We were privileged to welcome 2 speakers for our evening in Stow to tell us the complete behind-the-scenes story of this hugely inspiring, successful and award-winning venture on our own doorstep. From conception, design, planning, charity and community involvement and local food input of over 130 local suppliers – to fruition.
At the April Open Meeting, Derek Taylor joined Society members to find out about a Gloucestershire enterprise that’s changing the way we think about motorway travel.
Motorway Service Areas! Huh! Who needs ‘em? Well, that’s the trouble, we all do sometimes. When the grandkids in the back are yelling they have to go NOW, or we remember on the way home we’ve run out of milk, or just because we’re starving and it’s late. But with their spotty loos, industrial food and tacky gift shops, who’d go to a motorway service area by choice?
Well, as 49 Society members and guests learned at the April Open meeting, all that’s changed on the M5 in Gloucestershire. Mark Gale and Nicky Wildin came to tell us about Gloucestershire Gateway, the motorway services areas – one northbound, one south – that stand on its head our preconception about these dire pit-stops.
Before I heard Mark and Nicky speak, I’d heard rumours about Glos Gateway, how it was a bit different because it sold a better quality of sandwich and more upmarket varieties of drinks, a kind of Waitrose of the Superhighway. But I was shocked to find I didn’t know a fraction of the story.
For a start, the enterprise was set up as a piece of social engineering, to create jobs for local people. And it is a spectacular success. As well as the 400 folk GG now employs – a figure that includes no fewer than 16 skilled butchers, several fishmongers and a score of apprentices – the company’s policy of getting its supplies from small local outfits has provided employment for countless more.
Nicky (“I have the nicest job”) explained that some of the suppliers have been amazed at the demand for their wares. Xavier, a local pastry chef, suddenly found himself having to bake 800 to 900 delicate items of patisserie every Saturday. He took on more staff. A Gloucestershire woman who makes “the best marmalade in the world” had to employ 3 helpers. And a couple who expected that £20,000’s worth of their sausage rolls might be sold at the Gateway in a year were hit by a pleasing demand for £175,000’s worth!
And all these goodies, said Nicky, are “best in class.” A claim confirmed by Society Secretary, Dave Wiblin – a man who knows a good sausage roll when he tastes one – who stood up and declared the ones he’d had there were “awesome.”
But all this is not the whole story of the Glos Gateway experience. The buildings themselves are a delight to the tarmac-torn eye of the visiting traveller. These structures with their grassy roofs and enchanting lines were last year awarded “Best Building in the country” by Civic Voice, the national organisation of Civic Societies.
The evening ended with a resounding round of clapping not only for the two speakers but also to recognise the achievements of those who started and now run this deceptive Motorway Services Area.
Those three words will never again strike such terror in my soul. Now I know there’s hope for us all. Where Gloucestershire Gateway have led, maybe others will follow. Maybe soon when we pull off the motorway, we’ll find other places that are more paradise than pit-stop.
Mark Gale, Chief Executive Officer of the Gloucestershire Gateway Trust opening the evening and introducing the Westmorland family.
Nicky Wildin, the Local Food Sourcing Manager explaining the close working relationship they have with local suppliers