Team Talk – Jane Ainsworth

Tuesday, July 30th, 2019

As part of our 60 year anniversary, we asked past and present team members to share with us their memories of The Hollies through the years.

Here is a great write up from Jane Ainsworth who was part of the team from 2001 – 2009…

Memories from my years at The Hollies? Goodness, where do I start?!!

I suppose the beginning is as good as place as any and my first memory is of having enquired about a possible part-time job and getting a phone call from Hilary inviting me to call in to meet ‘the boys’. I didn’t have a clue as to who those ‘boys’ were but I certainly wasn’t prepared for the two strapping six-footers who met me at the door! My ‘interview’ was conducted in the greenhouse and, with hindsight, I’m not sure who was most out of their comfort zone – me attending an interview for the first time in heaven knows how many years or the boys conducting possibly one of their first ever ‘proper’ interviews.

Things must have gone quite well as I started almost immediately, working two afternoons each week. I was to work alongside a young man called Chris, serving in the shop and topping up the shelves from deliveries as they arrived whilst Sue – the only other non-family team member, as I recall – battled with the elements out in the greenhouse. The first job that Chris handed over to me was the stocking up of the only fridge in the shop (an upright, not much bigger than a domestic fridge) with yoghurts, cream, butter and milk. It didn’t take a genius to realise why he was happy to relinquish that job – something had invariably leaked, possibly as a result of things having to be packed in so tightly, which entailed emptying the entire stock and cleaning everything down!

At that time the shop (farm outbuilding if we’re being honest) consisted of just one main room with a small secondary room to the rear, at the side of which was the euphemistically styled stock room – in truth little more than an oversized broom cupboard. Into this was crammed boxes of biscuits, breakfast cereals and wrapped tin loaf cakes along with a few jars of Mrs Darlington’s jams and chutneys. Hilary and I had to take it in turns to collect stock from there as there wasn’t room for both of us to be in at the same time. Hil had the job of ordering all the goodies to stash away in there whilst also doing the book-keeping and – with her free hand – caring for her husband, three growing offspring and trying to keep the house clean and tidy in spite of all four of them!

Phil was in overall charge of running the show on a day to day basis and dealt with all the fresh fruit and veg and latterly the flower deliveries that came in from Holland. In his spare time he dreamed of expanding the Hollies and his first big move was to purchase a second fridge for the shop. That went well – within a very short time the protesting electricity supply gave up the ghost and the place was plunged into darkness whilst everything in the two fridges gradually made its way back up to room temperature. Having said that, there was a distinct difference between ‘room’ temperature and ‘farm shop’ temperature. During business hours the old wooden door was always kept wide open and it seemed that on more days than not the wind howled in and we resorted to standing on piles of broken down cardboard boxes to keep our feet warm and trying to operate the till whilst wearing gloves. To cope with the depths of winter, we eventually got a small electric heater to keep behind the counter. All farm shops operated in a similar way at that time and I don’t think we ever felt badly done by – the temperature came with the territory!

During those early days, I saw very little of Ed (the other ‘boy’) or dad, Richard, as they were busy running the market stall in Runcorn. They would arrive back at The Hollies in the late afternoons looking absolutely drained after long days that had started at goodness knows what silly hour, offload any excess stock into the shop and then disappear to the house for some well -deserved rest. None of us realised then that the market stall would close down, Richard would come back to take full time charge of the plants, pumpkins and Christmas Trees (aided by the legend that is Cyril!) whilst Ed would let loose the talent for design and showmanship that came to play such a huge part in the transformation of our little farm shop. I say ‘our’ little farm shop because to work there was to become one of the family and Hilary managed to take everyone under her wing. We were such a small band that break times were taken in her warm and welcoming kitchen where she dispensed hot drinks, listened to woes and generally became invaluable to us all. As the shop expanded, so did the cast of players. Val, Trish, Angie and Sara joined me behind the tills along with Liz whom I adored because she liked nothing better than donning her rubber gloves and cleaning out the fridges! Somewhere along the line, poor Trish got allotted the task of sorting out the flower deliveries in the barn – I don’t think she knows to this day quite how she fell for that one! Then there were the ‘lads’ – little Richard who could never quite decide which way he wanted his life to pan out, Adam with his permanent smile, dependable Sam and young David, who turned out to be a very talented artist and held an exhibition in the barn one year. So many others joined us as time went by – far too many to mention here but all of them bringing their own unique personalities and strengths into the mix.

We also had the support of some truly amazing suppliers – Mr Jones ‘ the cheese man’ who sourced, cut and wrapped vast quantities of cheeses for us and then uncomplainingly drove over to deliver them day after day, Devonshire Bakery who discovered that they could bake all manner of breads they’d never attempted before, The Cheshire apple juice company, egg suppliers, ice cream makers, asparagus farmers and so many other local producers who believed in ‘the boys’ and trusted in their ability to turn The Hollies into the best that Cheshire has to offer.

I can’t really place events into chronological order, nor can I recall exactly when or how my hours at the shop grew longer, but these are some of the memories from way back then that will never fade.

The first time Phil agreed to accept pre-Christmas orders for collection on Christmas Eve. The barn was packed with fresh produce and – on the evening beforehand – the stalwarts stayed late to help with putting these orders together. Phil stood in the midst of the boxes and, like a true sergeant major, barked out the orders which we desperately tried to scribble down before scurrying off armed with baskets and boxes. It took quite a few hours to get everything boxed up and ready for collection but a sense of camaraderie kept us all going – that plus the promise that at some point Richard would appear bearing fish and chips! Oh, the delight of falling into a chair in the kitchen with a plate of hot food – probably the only thing that kept us sufficiently motivated to tackle the last hour or so of shifting sprouts!

Then there was the first time we held a ‘meet the suppliers’ day. A gratifying number of our suppliers agreed to come and the barn was opened up to accommodate them all. Trestle tables were assembled, samples and stock carefully arranged and then, with all the available Hollies gang in attendance, we waited with bated breath to see how many people would actually turn up. To say that the response from customers was staggering would be a gross understatement – we were absolutely inundated. The fields were packed solid with cars (no posh car parks in those days!), people resorted to parking in the back lane and walking in from there and still they were undeterred. At one point in the afternoon I remember the boys in blue turning up, increasingly worried about the amount of cars trying to turn in and out of the entrance – what a day! Most of it passed for me in a blur of ferrying drinks and bin liners for rubbish to the various stall holders, ensuring that the younger members of our team took the occasional break to recharge the batteries and generally trying to be useful in half a dozen different places at the same time. The ‘boys’ had decided beforehand to donate some of the profits from the day to the British Legion, particularly in light of the event being held around Poppy Day, and we had three members of their group set up at a small poppy stand by the entrance to the barn. I can’t recall exactly how much money they raised on the day but suffice to say that I still have one of the metal pin badges that they gave to the Hollies team in appreciation of the boost that had been given to their funds by the Farm Shop and its customers.

Speaking of memorabilia another item is a brilliant cling-film dispenser which I still use to this day! As the shop continued to burst at the seams and get new bits added on to accommodate the overflow, we took on products from Olives et Al. A large table groaned beneath the weight of huge bowlfuls of luscious olives preserved in all manner of ways – lovely to look at but they all needed carefully wrapping in cling-film at the end of each day and putting to bed in one of the fridges (we had a great deal more than two small uprights by that time!). I dread to think how many acres of film I used over the years or how I and – latterly other team members managed to precariously balance all those bowls in the fridges but, like most things at The Hollies, somehow it was achieved. Periodically, the film suppliers would send us new dispensers (we must have been good customers!) and I was lucky enough to be the recipient of one of the excess supplies that we accumulated. Thankfully, I can still get refills online!

So many other new ventures spring to mind – the chance conversation with James Timpson that led to a freezer being filled with ‘Cook’ meals (yes, just one freezer at the outset!), our first foray into the world of beauty products with a stand of appropriately named ‘Cowshed’ and our own ‘Angie’s card room’. How I miss the latter and having wonderful cards for every occasion at my fingertips. Ed turned his artistic talents towards the barn and I remember the first year it was opened as a Christmas shop. How he managed to turn a neglected old barn into a fantasy land in such a short time and on a limited budget is beyond me but he did it – year after year. Mind you, it paid to stay out of his way during the transformation process…………

Another memory is of going with Phil to look at a building in Stretton that he thought might be suitable for housing an offshoot of The Hollies. By that time, I had come to respect the business acumen that he had developed over the years but the prospect of transforming such an aircraft hangar of a building into a welcoming farm shop seemed ambitious to say the least. The rest, as they say, is history!

Somehow, in the midst of all this mayhem of expansion and darned hard work, we found some time for fun. I remember the first time we were nominated for an impressive award, when we all dressed up in our finery and were whisked off for a wonderful dinner in a huge and beautifully decorated marquee before the results were to be announced. I can still recall the look on Ed’s face and the tears that he tried to hide when The Hollies won – little did he know that it would be the first of many such occasions.

Speaking of ‘fun times’ I can’t leave out the hot air balloon ride that was arranged one year. An amazing experience despite one of our number (mentioning no names but she may be closely related to Phil and Ed) spending the entire flight huddled in sheer terror at the bottom of the basket, or the time we all went to Amsterdam for the day. What a lot we crammed into that day although – for two of our group – that included sampling rather too many ‘moon cakes’. Quite innocuous, they both said but – that was before they became increasingly more incoherent as the hours went by – they probably don’t remember much about the flight home! Then there was the Sports Day on the back field, memorable for the sight of Angie and Sara battling it out in Sumo wrestling costumes………

Dear me – I could ramble on for ever about my memories of those days and the characters I met on both sides of the counter but it’s probably time to call a halt and make way for others who are far better qualified to take up the story from then on. I loved every minute of being a Hollies ‘girl’ (forgot to mention the day when we got our first ‘uniforms’!) and just hope that, despite the huge changes that have taken place since I left, some of the feeling of being a family remains. I haven’t been able to quite let go – I still meet up for lunch with several of the ‘old’ gang once or twice a year and really enjoyed sharing a BBQ with the family when they holidayed on Anglesey a while back. Ed and Sean pop over from time to time and even little Richard came for the day on one occasion!

Once a member of the Hollies family, always a member at heart.

Well done, Hollies team, you deserve every bit of the success that has come your way and I’m delighted to have had this opportunity to stroll back down memory lane. Here’s to the next 60 years!

Categorised in Farm Shops, General