Alastair Bell from County Antrim recently visited No 10 Downing Street where he met up with Prime Minister Boris Johnson to whom he duly presented a jar of his multi award winning Irish Black Butter. It was the culmination of a journey which started some five years earlier. Alastair explains, “In 2016 I was spending a lot of time on a hobby business called Muddyfarm Models. This involved customising farm toys and models with a variety of effects to make them more realistic.”
He became aware of a national small business campaign called Small Business Saturday UK and applied to become one of one hundred featured small businesses. Small Business UK is a branch of Small Business Saturday in the USA which was introduced by American Express in 2010. It is a campaign to shop local and support small businesses.
In the UK Small Business Saturday is a grassroots, non -commercial campaign. It highlights small business success and encourages consumers to shop and support small businesses in their local communities. The principal supporter remains; American Express.
In the one hundred days leading to Small Business Saturday one hundred businesses from across the UK are highlighted. These are selected from businesses which apply to take part.
In the last eight years the Small Biz 100 have received exposure on social media channels as well as in local and national press. They have joined the Small Business Saturday team in London at receptions at Downing Street, House of Lords and the Treasury Drum with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
“I applied and was successful in becoming a member of The Small Biz 100 in 2016,” says Alastair.
“ It was great to connect with entrepreneurs across the UK and in my case bring my one of a kind tractor business to the streets of London. Bringing along my head of marketing – Jake the tractor to London was a bit of a master stroke – like who has ever taken dirty tractors inside number 10?”
Alastair and Jake the Tractor descended on London, posing for pictures at Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and subsequently 10 Downing Street much to the curiosity of those assembled. The highlight of the day was Jake and Alastair getting photographed on the front steps.
On returning home Alastair decided in early 2017 to write a book about Jake The Tractor and work duly commenced in the Spring. However as the project continued long harboured thoughts of black butter came to the fore and a plan was hatched to create the first commercially produced black butter in Ireland. Black butter is an old historic foodstuff made with apples and cider and variations were available elsewhere as well as being made locally.
Over the Summer of 2017 a recipe for Irish Black Butter was created and perfected using Armagh Bramley Apples and local cider. In November 2017 Irish Black Butter was launched on the beach at the Whiterocks at Portrush and the very first jar was sold on the beach that day.
Reflecting back Alastair recalls how local photographer Kevin McAuley was there that afternoon taking the pictures and he said, ”I have a good feeling about this Ali.”
So the journey went from there and lead to awards from Business Eye/ First Trust Bank, Chefs Choice in the Blas na h’Eirann Irish Food Awards, three stars in the Guild of Fine Food Great Taste Awards, awards for cheese accompaniment at Nantwich International Cheese Awards, Farming Life Artisan Producer of The Year. And most recently Regional Award winner of the Great British Food Awards. On top of this Alastair featured on BBC Dragons Den and celebrity Chef; James Martin on his Great British Adventure Series told viewers of Irish Black Butter “this is off the charts.”
Alastair would have kept in touch with Small Business Saturday sharing content and being interviewed on their social media. “I often tell local businesses to get involved with Small Business Saturday as it is more than a campaign – there are free useful resources available to this family of like minded individuals seeking to build their business.”
This year Alastair received an invitation from Prime Minister Boris Johnston to attend a special event to celebrate and showcase British food and drink loved by consumers across the UK and the world.
Practically five years to the day Alastair was back at 10 Downing Street not with tractors, but with his multi award winning Irish Black Butter and was delighted to present a jar to the Prime Minister.
“It was a fantastic event and a real honour to be invited,” said Alastair. “To be amongst so many superb producers from across the UK was a real privilege and a wonderful opportunity to introduce people to Irish Black Butter. More than that it was great to meet up with fellow members of Small Business Saturday as well as the Director Michelle Ovens who is such a passionate advocate for Small Business across the United Kingdom. I would encourage people to support all our local small businesses on Small business Saturday and beyond. Looking to next year I recommend that small businesses apply to Small business Saturday and get involved.”
Judging by Alastair’s journey you never know where things can lead.