Published: 11:00, 29 April 2016
| Updated: 11:12, 29 April 2016
A Weald village shop has been named best in the country at a ceremony dubbed the Rural Oscars.
The Heath Stores in Horsmonden was awarded the title at the Countryside Alliance Awards.
Last year the family-run shop on The Heath was named one of the 20 best small businesses in the country, with owners Kate and Andrew Mills attending Downing Street to pick up their award.
Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss awarded the racing green and gold plaque to the couple who have been at the shop’s helm since 2011 following careers as research scientists. They carried out a £100,000 refurbishment before reopening the following year.
Mrs Mills said: “We had never run a shop before but when we saw it for sale we thought ‘why not?’ We wanted to keep the shop’s charm and history. The award is recognition of how far we’ve come. We couldn’t be what we are without the village.”
More than 40 businesses attended the glitzy ceremony at Westminster’s Cholmondeley Room, with The Heath Stores beating off competition from 12 other shops from across the UK to be crowned champion.
The only other Kent finalist was MB Farms Produce Ltd, from Stockbury, which was a runner- up in the butchers’ category.
Lindy Hall, who has worked at the shop for 24 years, said she felt very emotional after hearing the news and paid tribute to Mr and Mrs Mills for turning fortunes around since taking over.
Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner said: “When Kate and Andrew took over the shop it was in danger of closing down. After reopening the aim was to create a convenience store with a farm shop, provide local employment, particularly for the young, a place for financial transactions, a meeting place for those isolated and to play a central role in the community.
“A group of elderly ladies meet here at least twice every day and woe betide any passers-by who take their regular table. This is far more than just a village shop.”