Third time lucky for award-winning Norfolk farmer

It was third time lucky for a mid-Norfolk arable and livestock farmer at the East Anglian diversification awards.

The prestigious BALE or best alternative land enterprise award was presented to John Carrick, of Castle Farm, Swanton Morley, near Dereham.

He has been the runner-up for each of the past two years but he won the Ashton Graham Challenge Cup and �1,000 for his remarkable conversion of a Victorian barn and run-down buildings into Hunters Hall. This high-class wedding, conference and event venue has become a great success over the years, thanks to Mr Carrick's energy and determination, said the judges of the Suffolk Agricultural Association's award scheme.

The BALE awards, now in their 19th year, are open to farmers in Suffolk and neighbouring counties, and are judged on the commercial, creative and practical merits and contribution to the regional economy.

The judges were the Earl of Iveagh, of the Elveden estate, who is a council member of the association; Jonathan Long, of sponsor and solicitors Ashton Graham and Robert Paul, winner of the 2009 award.

Mr Carrick was also praised for his 11 four star-rated bed and breakfast rooms and the conversion of two derelict farm cottages to the Darby's free house and restaurant, which caught the eyes of the judges.

In the official citation, Mr Long said Mr Carrick had won the award 'because of his ability to provide what his customers want; an attractive conversion of otherwise redundant buildings providing not just a venue for weddings and other events but also accommodation and other facilities.

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'He has done this in a cost-effective way and employs a significant number of local people, which is very important in helping to keep the rural economy thriving in these challenging times,' said Mr Long.

It was a great honour to win, said Mr Carrick, who said that he was over the moon with the award.

Mr Carrick, who started the diversification on the family farm 11 years ago, said it was 'something I always wanted to do – my only regret is not starting it earlier.'

The runner-up was Mark Black's Portable Space, from Bacton, near Stowmarket. He was presented with �250. A fourth-generation farmer with David Black & Son, he started Portable Space in 2002.

It hires, sells and transports portable cabins and shipping containers for accommodation and storage use and last year had a turnover of �1.7m.

The best newcomer award was presented to Melanie Chapman for the Cheeky Monkeys Playbarn, of Fulbourn, Cambridgeshire.

The best green practice award was won by Jason and Katherine Salisbury, of Creeting St Mary, near Ipswich, for Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses.