Lancashire Life food editor Philippa James visits Roaming Roosters

PUBLISHED: 23:22 19 August 2012 | UPDATED: 21:46 20 February 2013

Philippa James walks with Simon and the family’s sheep

Philippa James walks with Simon and the family’s sheep

Food and drink writer Philippa James meets a Nelson family with some meaty business ideas

Looking at the impressive Roaming Roosters project, a farm shop, bistro, destination

venue, and education centre, in the making, it is hard to imagine the ventures humble beginnings.

Back in 1979 Geoff Mellin was learning his trade, working for butcher Dennis Harrison in Waddington for 15 a week. But a friend of Geoffs dad, knowing the youngster was looking to move on, suggested he enquire about a job that was going in Nelson.

When he rang, the news wasnt what he expected the owner, Fred Wigglesworth, had decided to sell the business. Geoff said: I went to my father and said I was thinking of taking on a butchers shop of my own.

He just said Oh reet. Me father was a man of not many words.
So with life savings of 500 and a van, Geoff and his father went into business.

He admitted he didnt have a clue where Nelson was, or where he was supposed to be going as he set off at 5.30am on his first day his first three journeys to the shop took him three different routes, via Gisburn, then Downham, and another trip was in four foot snow drifts.

Fred had agreed to stay on for a while at the shop to show the new lads the ropes and Geoff added: It was one of the shops of its time, in the area, but it was like moving from the fourth division up to the premier league. Id watch in awe as Fred would truss chickens, working so fast and accurately, with his tongue sticking out, concentrating. He worked me so hard it nearly killed me. I wondered what on earth Id done.

Despite desperately long hours, romance somehow blossomed, and Geoff, and the young lass, Carole, whom he had waved to on the local bus, married in 1986 and sons Simon and Nicholas followed. Eldest son, Simon left brother Nick and his dad to run the shop while he went off into the world of mechanics, motor sport, and GT racing for six years, learning a good deal about business and marketing.

Simon, who started working in the butchers and on the farm from an early age, began to realise that what his dad did was fairly unusual and, tiring of the world he found himself in, he decided to return to his roots and re-join the family trade.

Simon, 25, spoke with pride of his younger brother Nick, 23, saying: A more highly skilled butcher youd be pushed to find. As well as traditional butchering skills he also now likes to dabble with new products, like curing his own bacon.

Both boys learned the skills of boning and butchering meat at weekends and during school holidays when their grandfather died, and it was all hands to the pumps they started to wield a knife aged around six!

As we drove over to the new premises Simon talked enthusiastically of the sourcing of their meat. The family still run their farm, where they raise free range British breeds of pork, the Oxford Sandy and Black, one of the oldest British breeds, crossed with Gloucester Old Spots, among others, and they also raise free range chickens. Their beef mainly comes from farmer Martin Lee at Sabden Fold, two miles away, and lambs are sourced from Pendle Hill farms where they stay with their mothers for six months to ensure a natural, relaxed growth rate.

Simon added: We use a small, local abattoir so the animals arent stressed in any way and nothing we sell comes from the auctions. We dry-age our beef for four weeks which releases the lactic acid so the flavour develops, as the muscle fibres break down.

Simon also updates the smart website and uses social media like Twitter where he encourages people to tweet their nightly tea suggestions. He has also been awarded a Theo Paphitis Small Business Sunday award and the Young Entrepreneur of the Year in the Pendle Business Awards 2012.

Heading back into Nelson, Simon commented on how the town is changing, he said a lot of the heart has gone from the town, so it is encouraging that Nelson recently was one of only 12 across the UK that won the support of Mary Portas in her Portas Pilot Project where 100,000 is injected into towns to boost ideas to reinvigorate and help to regenerate them.

Simon, Nick and apprentice butcher Jordan Foley will be at Roaming Roosters where many new jobs will be created when they open in the autumn.

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