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Meeting the businesses of Wickham proudly doing things differently

PUBLISHED: 12:59 13 August 2018

Top from left to right: Claire Ford and Peter Axworthy. Bottom from left to righ: Simone Hadley and John Cunningham (Photos by Jason Allen)

Top from left to right: Claire Ford and Peter Axworthy. Bottom from left to righ: Simone Hadley and John Cunningham (Photos by Jason Allen)

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From food and drink to fashion and furnishings, Wickham is home to businesses that are pushing the boundaries. Viv Micklefield meets some of those proud to be different

Appearances can be deceptive. At first glance Wickham is the very epitome of tradition with its annual horse fair, its ancient water mill and imposing village square. Yet look a little closer and there are some very distinctive independent businesses springing-up, proving that it’s possible to serve-up something new in even the most historic of places.


Scandi chic

“I’ve always loved Scandinavian design, particularly the use of natural products and the neutral colours,” says Claire Ford a self-confessed Ikea junkie, who, having started her own family, left a career working with young people to start up Nordic Mini, a children’s lifestyle boutique.

“When I was looking for something a bit different for my boys, it was difficult to find anything locally. I made things like bunting whilst on maternity with my second son and also began selling online. Once I’d had my twins, there just wasn’t the time to make my own stuff anymore, so that was the start of sourcing elsewhere and the business has grown from there.”

In January, the busy mum from Bitterne took the decision to expand and opened her first retail shop in Warwick Lane. The Wooden toys made by Danish manufacturer Bloomingville, she says, are particularly popular. Yet supportive of other entrepreneurs Claire has sourced products locally too that fit in with her ethos of quality, such as the handmade felt garlands that can be personalized for a little one.

And since opening the doors, Claire says that every effort is being made to entice new customers.

“We started offering craft sessions within the first month. These have already included canvas painting and pottery sessions which gets additional people in, including one lady who’s travelled from over an hour away.”

• Words on Wickham: “The Warwick Lane building lends itself really well to the smaller boutique business and having parked the car I love my walk to work through the woods, it’s really picturesque.”

Nordic Mini, Warwick Lane, 3 The Square, Wickham, PO17 5JN; open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 9.30am-4pm, plus Bank Holidays

Planting new menu ideas

“I’d already been vegan for a year and was keen to promote plant based dishes for their health and environmental benefits,” recalls Peter Axworthy, chef director of Offbeet, describing the transition three years ago from running a conventional café which began as a joint venture alongside his mother, into an acclaimed gastronomic hotspot with a unique twist.

As a student of the celebrated Ashburton Cookery School, Peter’s no stranger to fine dining but the secret of Offbeet, which is housed within Wickham’s historic Chesapeake Mil, is its affordability and relaxed vibe. And it’s not taken long for news to spread far and wide.

“My mission is to attract non-vegans and to showcase the cuisine,” says Peter, who now heads-up the business which includes a cookery school, with the help of four fellow vegan chefs.

“We decided to be brave, to be unconventional, and to offer a fully vegan restaurant but with a unique twist. So there might be a maple gel, or polenta fries with a hot dog flavour. Although, we’re careful not to be too experimental.”

The kitchen, Peter points out, creates much of the menu from scratch, meaning you might discover ‘salmon’ created from carrots, and cheese crafted from cashew nuts.

Continuing to push the boundaries, Offbeet’s second restaurant and cookery school is set to put down roots on an organic farm near Totton. So Hampshire’s diners will be lucky enough to experience some of the best vegan and gluten free fare on offer.

• Words on Wickham: “It’s a beautiful place to be; the River Meon runs right underneath us here and in the summer we catch sight of trout and kingfishers.”

Offbeet, Chesapeake Mill, 7 Bridge St, Wickham, PO17 5JH; open Tuesday to Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 11am-4pm

Paint magic

Far from just dabbling in a spot of stippling or sponging, ex-scientist Simone Hadley has turned a passion for interior design into a thriving business. Initially spurred-on by requests for her upcycled chalk painted furniture from friends and family, private commissions quickly followed, and Simone felt ready to take the plunge.

“Initially I grew by selling through different emporiums and the business went from strength to strength. In 2015 Eliza Rose was formed and it was named after my daughter, although I promised my son that my next business will be named after him!

“I’ve been in Warwick Lane for 10 months. Wickham has the perfect balance of a thriving market village, which is close to where I live, and with plenty of people looking for inspiration to decorate their houses.”

As well as collaborating with local florist Sarah Guild – the two currently run workshops including making silver rings and macramé – Simone is actively sharing the experience of starting her own business with other entrepreneurs. Indeed, as a finalist in this year’s Muddy Stiletto Awards and rated as one of the top gift shops in Hampshire, her advice is much sought-after.

“Throughout my journey the online community have brought constant support and encouragement. I have now grown to 13,000 followers on Instagram @eliza_rose_home where we love to chat interiors. Recently this has evolved into running Instagram workshops for small businesses, that have sold out and I’m currently in discussions to take this even further and talk at some major trade shows.”

• Words on Wickham: “It is so lovely that people are always popping by for a chat, I really feel like I have become part of village life.”

Eliza Rose, Warwick Lane, 3 The Square, Wickham, PO17 5JN; open Tuesday-Friday 9.30am-2.30pm and Saturday 9.30am-5pm, plus Bank Holidays

Gin-tastic

Converting one of Wickham’s best known buildings in the heart of the village into a new enterprise was guaranteed to pique more than a passing interest.

However, the conversion of The Old Curio Shop with its 16th century open hall into a traditional pub with a contemporary twist has seen customers flocking to The Square Cow since it opened in April.

“It’s such a lovely building with a lovely atmosphere,” says manager Jason Cunningham, adding: “There used to be three or four pubs here, so it’s just what Wickham needed.”

Being steeped in tradition – complete with a medieval window, the pub’s grub includes all the classics, yet a quick look behind the bar reveals an impressive gin menu too which Jason’s keen to share.

“We’ve about 30 gins so far and the number is growing all the time. “There’s Twisted Nose from Winchester and there are a few from the Isle of Wight too.

“We like to support other local businesses, so our meat comes from Wickham itself and we get our fish from a supplier in Bishop’s Waltham.”

With outside seating beneath the pergola perfect for lazy lunches during the summertime, owners Dizzie Bruce, and Frank and Trish Dixie appear to have tapped-into a winning cocktail with The Square Cow.

“Our food has already become so popular you have to book a table at weekends,” says Jason. And, he continues, as well as selling tickets for next month’s Wickham Festival, plans are afoot to host regular music events, including jazz evenings at the pub for locals to enjoy.

• Words on Wickham: “The community spirit here is special, it’s sometimes lacking elsewhere but here you get to know everyone very quickly.”

The Square Cow, The Square, Wickham, PO17 5JN; open daily 11am-12am.

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