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Behind the scenes at Lancaster Auction Mart

PUBLISHED: 10:36 27 August 2014 | UPDATED: 23:29 23 October 2015

Main Auction Ring

Main Auction Ring

Archant

Young blood is helping the centuries old Lancaster auction mart thrive in the 21st century

Katie Greaves and Paul ClowKatie Greaves and Paul Clow

For generations auction marts up and down England have not just been places to do business – they also provide a social hub where farmers gather to swap stories over a mug of tea.

That’s still true today but the people running these markets have had to adapt to survive in the 21st century and in Lancaster that has involved injecting young blood into the business.

Lancaster Auction Mart has been in operation for centuries but it has been on its current site at Wyresdale Road for 50 years. It now has three young people working in key areas and it is hoped they will be the building blocks for the future as the business continues to diversify.

Farmers of the old school are not noted for suffering fools so the three newcomers have had to learn quickly and build relationships in a field of commerce where buying and selling livestock hasn’t changed much for hundreds of years.

Will Alexander (Fieldsman and Trainee Auctioneer)Will Alexander (Fieldsman and Trainee Auctioneer)

‘We are young and enthusiastic but we know farmers like a craic, especially at auctions, so you have to be knowledgeable but also approachable,’ says Will Alexander, a trainee auctioneer and fieldsman, a role that requires him to work with the farming community to persuade them to use the auction mark at Lancaster and their newer facility further north at Junction 36.

Will got his qualification at Harper Adams – like all the new recruits – but farming wasn’t in the family. ‘My dad ran the post office in Quernmore but I like to be hands on. I do some milking and I have my own flock of sheep.

‘I think the people we deal with like to think we have a genuine interest in farming and that it’s not just a job.’

He and 23-year-old Ian Atkinson had the daunting task of learning the auctioneer’s art live in front of a crowd of farmers.

Unloading onto the docksUnloading onto the docks

His family farms 650 Swaledale sheep at Scorton but Ian needed to find a job as the business wasn’t big enough to support him. ‘We got chucked in at the deep end as far as auctions were concerned, but they put us on the tins of rusty nails until we got the hang of it,’ said Ian, who is also a trainee land agent and surveyor.

‘That part of the job is all about getting the best price for the farmer so you need to have credibility. You can’t start the bidding too high or too low. There are a lot of auction marts so we have to make sure we offer the best service and get the best prices so people come back.’

Will added: ‘It is very difficult to get farmers to try a different auction mart. Going to one place tends to be a family tradition so we have to work very hard be better than the rest to prove we can get better prices.’

Katie Greaves completes the trio. She is from Gressingham and studied Rural Enterprise and Land Management at Harper Adams.

‘My father used to work next door selling tractors and my grandfather was a cattle haulier so I spent a lot of time here as a kid,’ said the trainee surveyor, land agent and valuer. ‘It’s the perfect job for me. I didn’t want to move south – why would you when you live in the most beautiful place in the country?’

Katie helps farmers in a range of areas – anything from property sales to compensation claims and stewardship advice. ‘Although my family aren’t farmers, I’ve been a relief milker for eight years so I can talk about dairy with some confidence and I’m building up a flock of Herdwicks at Gressingham. I wanted to be involved with the farming community without having to get up at 5am in all weathers!’

Paul Clow is also a relatively new recruit. He has come into North West Auctions as its chief executive at time when some of the big supermarkets are cutting out the auctions by buying direct from the farms.

But, as anyone who has dealt with supermarkets will know, that can be a double-edged sword and he is confident auction marts will continue to set the prices and be around for another 50 years.

‘We need to adopt some fresh approaches and that means a lot of diversification that creates a one-stop shop that is trusted by farmers. It also means doing new things, even handling garden machinery and garden ornaments.

‘Our aim is to continue to offer traditional services to farmers and buyers and injecting young blood like Ian, Will and Katie will help us thrive and develop in the future.’

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