The Herdy Company - promoting the Lake District around the world

A couple from Bolton and a very special breed of sheep are helping to promote the Lake District around the world. Emma Mayoh reports

Gingerbread, sticky toffee pudding and Beatrix Potter are all things that have become synonymous with the Lake District. But there is nothing more iconic in this vast and beautiful area than the Herdwick sheep. This small but hardy animal, Britain’s toughest breed of hill sheep, has shaped the landscape of the Lake District and Cumbria since it first started grazing its fells centuries ago.

It was in 2007 that Spencer and Diane Hannah decided to immortalise the Herdwick in the designs they made. The couple, whose background is in commercial design, launched The Herdy Company adorning everything from fine bone china mugs to keyrings they designed themselves with images of the animal’s face.

Diane said: ‘We wanted to produce something that was going to make people smile. There are also a lot of things you can get from the Lake District that are either very traditional or food-based. We wanted something really modern and smart to represent the area.

‘We wanted something that celebrated and promoted the Lake District and would remind people of visiting here. The design is memorable and it is cute. Now, when people take a mug away from a holiday here we hope they will remember the Herdwick sheep and this beautiful place.’

With the animal’s tough and enduring reputation, there is little wonder that a company inspired by it has gone from strength to strength. Herdy products, which range from kitchen, giftware, craft kits and home furnishings to clothing, stationery and even a children’s book, are stocked around the country as well as being exported to America, Japan and Germany. Herdy has won several awards including in 2010 when they were presented with a Business in the Community Award for Small Company of the Year by Prince Charles. One local mountaineer has also stocked up on products from the Lake District, including a Herdy mug, to remind him of home while on an expedition in Antarctica.

Local businesses and ethical initiatives are also supported. The couple use printers, spinners, weavers and china potters from the north of England and they use Herdwick wool in some of their home furnishings. Diane and Spencer also sell British wool.

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But The Herdy Company, which also has a shop in Grasmere, is not just about producing striking products. Diane and Spencer, originally from Bolton but now live in Windermere, are also keen to support the community and the Herdwick sheep.

They donate a percentage of the company’s profits to protecting the surrounding landscape and they have also established The Herdy Fund. This provides grants and funding to rural organisations and enterprises that promote the conservation of the Herdwick and upland fell farming in Cumbria. They have helped The Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association to buy electronic scanning equipment and Buttermere Shepherd’s Meet and Show to replace hurdles lost in floods.

One of their most recent projects has been to support Herdwick lamb. A special event, Herdwick At Its Best, was organised with the breeders’ association to support farmers by promoting the meat they rear and encouraging more pubs, restaurants and hotels to serve it. ‘It’s all a part of our responsibility to the Herdwick sheep and the Lake District,’ said Spencer. At first, encouraging people to eat the Herdwick may not seem a good idea but it benefits their future as a breed. Since we started Herdy we have always wanted to provide responsibly sourced, high quality items.

‘With the Herdy Fund we are also able to offer support to our rural communities and to help in some way to care for the landscape we love. If we are going to take something out of the area commercially it is important to us that we put something back.

‘We want people to enjoy our products and for them to be fun but we also want to ensure we are working responsibly. We now want Herdy to be a great British brand that is still firmly rooted in the Lake District.’

Herdy heads for the hills video

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