A Shropshire charcoal business is expanding into an innovative new market with help from a series of programmes supported by the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership.
Caradoc Charcoal – which was formed in 2019 by directors Charlotte Smith and Kevin Fryer – has earned a national reputation for the quality of the charcoal it produces at its base in the Stretton Hills.
Now the company is also selling a by-product of the charcoal manufacturing process called biochar as a soil improver and animal feed after receiving a package of help through the Marches LEP and its business support service, the Marches Growth Hub.
The company, from Leebotwood, near Shrewsbury, was awarded £10,000 from the Small Equipment Grant Scheme to help purchase a special sifting machine to grade the biochar into usable sizes.
The grant also helped buy a bagging and weighing machine to upgrade their existing system, enabling them to bag both their charcoal products and new biochar products.
Alongside the Small Equipment Grant, the company was also supported by the Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute (EBRI) based at Aston University which ran extensive tests on its biochar products to ensure they met the required standards for use.
EBRI offers help for businesses in the Marches to develop low carbon products and services from redundant material, such as manufacturing, agricultural, packaging, food and drink waste.
And it also received help from CREST – The Centre for Research into Environmental Science and Technology at University Centre Shrewsbury – which carried out detailed research into the biochar, including the cost of processing, use of additives as a binding agent and market interest in the product. Research is now continuing to explore if the addition of biochar has an impact on milk yield/quality and cow/calf health.
CREST provides research and innovation support to small and medium enterprises across Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin to develop and test new products, processes or services which relate to the environmental science and technology sector.
All the programmes are supported by the Marches LEP and Marches Growth Hub as part of their business support programme, and receive European Regional Development Fund assistance.
Charlotte Smith said the Small Equipment Grant and research help meant the company had been able to take on a new member of staff and bring the new biochar product to market.
“The help we have received through the grant scheme and the other programmes has made a huge difference to our development. We produce a high-quality 100 per cent natural product, with a minimal carbon footprint, which has big environmental advantages over much of the imported charcoal used in this country.
“This help means that even our bi-product can be put to an environmentally-productive use, improving the soil and even neutralising methane in animals’ stomachs when it is introduced to their feed.”
Rachel Laver, Marches LEP chief executive, said Caradoc Charcoal was an excellent example of the positive benefits of accessing support available through schemes promoted by the Marches Growth Hub.
“The hub has access to a huge range of support, advice and funding and can help businesses of all sizes and sectors meet their ambitions to grow. The support that Cardoc Charcoal has received through a variety of programmes is a small indication of what we can offer.”
Small Equipment Grant programme manager Caroline Cattle said Caradoc Charcoal was the latest success story for the scheme.
“The Small Equipment Grant is helping companies across the Marches purchase the machinery they need to grow and we would urge any business in the region which meets the criteria to investigate how it can help them.”
Grants of between £1,000 and £10,000 are available under the programme, which is open to small and medium-sized companies across Herefordshire, Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin.
The grant is available as a contribution of up to 50 per cent and primarily covers B2B companies. Items purchased must exceed £500 in value and have a life expectancy of three years. Eligible projects must lead to the creation of at least one part-time job within six months of the creation of a new product or service to be used by other businesses.
Because of restrictions imposed by the ERDF, the scheme is not available to retail businesses, restaurants, drinking establishments and fast food takeaways, online retail or rental businesses, farms involved in primary production, or local social welfare facilities.
Details of the scheme are available through the Marches Growth Hub.
Herefordshire Council is the accountable body for the scheme.