Carole Varley heads to the New Forest to visit four of Brockenhurst's most established businesses and discovers why they set up shop in the village

On their bikesA business was born in a dilapidated stable building as New Forest Cycle Hire Centre in 1993 with just a �3,000 loan from the Prince’s Trust. Today, as Cyclexperience, it employs some 20 people, has an online shop with thousands of product lines and four retail outlets, two with cycle hire, including the biggest one-stop cycle hire shop in the New Forest, with almost 200 models available. On the journey, Cyclexperience has pocketed two prestigious Tourism Excellence Awards.So what’s the secret of success for Ross Kempson and his partner Nikki Ryce? An ‘outdoorsy’ type himself, Ross says that it was created out of a desire to do something with a business degree with which he had recently graduated, without having to move to London. With the advice of one of the council’s “very helpful” tourism officers, who told him about the tourism strategy for the region, the beautiful surroundings and the number of trails about, Ross and Nikki saw an opportunity in Brockenhurst and since then, says Ross, “our business has just increased organically every year.”Even the recession hasn’t stemmed the surge and might even have aided it, says Ross, as companies sign up for the Cycle to Work scheme: “Commuters are definitely a growing market”.  Indeed, everyone is becoming more aware of the health benefits of the “outdoors becoming the new indoors,” says Ross. “In terms of leisure, awareness is growing all the time, as more and more people are getting out on their bikes. We are also seeing an awareness emerging about the attractions of the New Forest, particularly among Londoners, for whom we are just a couple of hours away. We are getting a lot of new business from people who are just finding out about it.” “It’s a win, win situation,” says Ross.

A cottage industry“I feel quite lucky to work here. I certainly don’t have a problem getting up to come to work.” So says 23-year-old Tom Holliday, the newly-appointed head chef at the Thatched Cottage, a small hotel and restaurant in Brockenhurst. It’s not surprising that his heart is singing along with the birds every morning, given that his workplace is a 400-year-old former farmhouse, creaking with rustic charm from its floorboards to its timber rafters.It has been owned by the Matysik family for the past 20 years and is run by Margaret Matysik, who first came to Brockenhurst as a weekend visitor in the days when the family were managers for the Hilton hotel group. “We just fell in love with the place,” she says. Now the hotel, which they bought as a bankrupt restaurant, has five “very individual double rooms” and attracts clients from as far away as London, Switzerland, and even the US.Locally, though, the restaurant is most famous for its afternoon cream teas (the pretty tea garden is open all summer) with various flavours of baby scones – fruit, cherry, chocolate and wholemeal. Tom, who took over from Margaret’s son when he took up a prestigious position in Canada, says that his food he will be “simple with imagination” and make the best use of locally-sourced ingredients. “I want to concentrate on New Forest food.”Tom thinks hard about his ingredients, seasonality and sustainability and he sources his ingredients locally when he can, including  breakfast sausages from the New Forest Sausage Company and cheese from Lyburn Farm. “You can’t really get much better when it comes to local produce than here,” he says. “Every month brings something different.”  A Great British Menu contender for the future?  Remember, you read it here first.

Flower powerAllan and Liz Wyatt have been running Corbin’s florists, which was first established some 60 years ago, for 25 years and, like many of the other business people in the village, love Brockenhurst for being a “proper community”.  Liz, who hails from Pinner in Surrey, first came to know the area through her brother, who had moved down there.“Here you can visit the village vegetable shop, go to village butchers, basically do all your shopping in the village in one go. It’s much more convenient and interesting,” says Liz. And, if anyone knows what’s going on in the village, it must be Liz, as Corbin’s provides floral displays and bouquets for weddings, funerals and many major functions, as well as for one-off occasions such as film shoots, and for local hotels, such as Chewton Glen, where Liz is the in-house florist. This is a job she loves, since she is given pretty much a free hand.Free maybe, but the hotel is also in very good hands, since both Liz and Allan are highly-trained professionals, having gained qualifications such as the National Diploma for the Society of Floristry and were once medal-winning exhibitionists at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The couple employ four full-time staff as well as a team of freelancers for particularly busy periods, all of whom are highly-trained and fully-qualified. “There’s a lot more to floristry than just going to evening class one hour a week,” says Liz. The craft involves various skills as well as creativity, such as knowing how to handle and arrange flowers and plants so that they will remain fresh for as long as possible, as well as being able to know which ones will look good together, says Liz. And her personal favourites? “Peonies,” she says at once. “They smell so gorgeous and are big and beautiful and evanescent.”

On the cutting edgeRobert Bruce first opened his hairdressers in Brockenhurst in 1972, having undertaken apprenticeships in both his native Bournemouth and Duke Street in what was then one of the chicest parts of swinging London. He moved to the village for “sentimental reasons”, having first visited it on childhood trips with his family as a child – and he has never looked back. Not only because, as a keen motorcyclist (he used to race in motocross at one time), there’s some great open roads to ride along but, also a keen waterskier, he’s just a stone’s throw from the sea.“It’s just perfect”, he says. “There’s also a very strong sense of community here, which is one of the primary reasons I’ve stayed. I am very lucky in that I have a very loyal customer base. You can never feel lost in a crowd here, instantly someone will know you.”Particularly, by the sound of it, him, since he is still dressing the hair of some of his first clients: “I’ve done hair for their weddings and their children’s weddings”, he says. He also has customers coming from as far away as Basingstoke and the other side of Poole. “Hopefully we do what they like.”Having been in the business so long, he says that fashions might have changed substantially, but one of the greatest differences he finds today is that everyone everywhere is much more aware of what is going on. “There’s no longer such a thing as living out in the sticks as far as style is concerned”, says Robert. “People really appreciate good hairdressing everywhere now. It’s the same with cooking, you don’t need to be in the centre of London any more to find exceptional food.”Or cutting-edge hairdressing, either, by the sound of it.

Brockenhurst is easy to find as you leave the M27 at the last junction (1) and travel on the A337 through Lyndhurst and just a couple more miles brings you to the centre of the village. From the west you can cut out going round on the A35 if you go on the B3056 through New Milton and Sway. Sat nav code for village centre: SO42 7RR

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