At Amazon, we know and value the important role that rural businesses play for the nation; a sector which in England alone contributes £261bn to the nation’s GVA – nearly a fifth of the country’s total economic activity.
Last Thursday marked our fifth year of sponsoring the RBAs, and once again we have been inspired by the accomplishments of rural entrepreneurs. The RBAs have achieved an incredible feat in enabling us to take stock and celebrate the role that rural businesses play in the economy – thanks to two businesses owners based in rural Leicestershire - co-founders, Anna Price and Jemma Clifford.
Anna and Jemma established the RBAs in late 2014, with the aim to give recognition to businesses operating across the rural sector. The awards celebrate the achievements of rural businesses, from renewable energy firms based in the countryside, to social enterprises supporting village communities, to artisan designers using natural British materials.
“In 2014, there were no independent awards that really focused on celebrating rural businesses, which led us to creating the RBAs,” Anna explained. “Rural businesses face some unique challenges - whether it’s accessing the right infrastructure; attracting the necessary funding; or simply battling outdated stereotypes of ‘Rural Britain’. However, as our RBA finalists and members of our Rural Business Group demonstrate, new opportunities are emerging for rural businesses. The shift to remote and hybrid working has accelerated connectivity, and temporary restrictions on international travel has opened more eyes to the joys of staycations and the great British countryside, for example.”
The RBAs showcase winners across a range of twelve categories, such as Best Rural Start-up, Best Rural Diversification Project, and Best Rural Professional Services Business – decided by an independent panel of judges drawn from the rural business sector, rural public sector agencies, and rural charitable organisations.
“In terms of categories, we wanted to make sure that they encompass most sectors, whether it’s professional services, retail, social enterprise, charities or food and drink,” Jemma added. “Contrary to what a lot of people think, these businesses don’t have to be operating in traditionally agricultural ‘rural’ areas or in farming - if their product or service serves a rural population, then we absolutely think they should be recognised as part of the rich fabric of our rural economy.”
In this year’s awards, a strong sense of resilience and broader good has run through in the entries. It is fantastic to see just how many rural businesses are working to protect the environment, something that is similarly important to us at Amazon as we work to build a sustainable business.
“Increasingly, rural businesses are recognising their unique position to operate in a way that protects the biodiversity of the environment in which they are based, and to accordingly drive long-term financial gains for themselves and the wider economy,” Jemma adds.
As well as sustainability, there is no doubt that a big part of the RBAs is community. Since its creation, Anna and Jemma have gone on to establish the Rural Business Group, a collaborative, free-to-access membership network for the rural business community, which aims to support these businesses and connect them for mutual benefit, sharing insights through dedicated membership channels.
“We have been overwhelmed by the success of our RBAs, which have done much to champion countryside-based firms across Britain,” Anna said. “Each year, it was clear that a community was building, which is why we created The Rural Business Group, to break down barriers for rural businesses, so they are best equipped to support their local economy and communities.”
At Amazon, we invest heavily in a community of successful independent sellers, authors, content creators, delivery providers, developers and IT solution providers who partner with us. We have more than 65,000 UK SMEs selling on Amazon’s online store, including thousands operating from rural locations across the UK. Not only this, but in our 2021 UK SME Impact Report, we found that over 60 rural businesses exceeded £1m in annual sales on Amazon.
“We believe the rural economy has huge potential for growth by embracing the opportunities of the digital economy, and the pandemic put this into sharp focus,” John Boumphrey, UK Country Manager at Amazon, said, “We are thrilled to be supporting the RBAs again, and we continue to invest in a community of successful independent sellers who sell on Amazon, helping them to grow their sales whilst making it easier for our customers to find their products.”
From an idea born around a farmhouse table in 2014 when thinking of ways they could bring together people running rural businesses, Anna and Jemma have gone on to create an Awards programme and a broader community which shines light on businesses putting economic, social, and environmental sustainability at their core.