Richard and Gill Read run Read Agriservices, a thriving agricultural business located on the outskirts of Wanstrow. However, the firm began life in a more humble form in Upton Noble. Here they relate their company’s amazing ‘rags to riches’ transformation
How was Read Agriservices formed?
Richard: In the early 1970s I was self-employed and worked from a former Nissan hut at Beech Tree Farm, Upton Noble, courtesy of the May family. Gill was teaching at Milk Street School in Frome.
Gill: We bought a cottage in Witham Friary which we renovated and for the next seven years we looked for a suitable site to establish our business. This proved soul destroying at times and we suffered many setbacks. Eventually we found a site that was not only available but acceptable to the planners and within our budget. That is what brought us to Upton Noble.
What happened when the business grew too big for Upton?
Richard: The problem was that as the business grew so too did the size of the lorries delivering to us and it soon became apparent that we would have to move to a main road location. The opportunity arose to purchase the former caravan showroom and yard in Wanstrow in August 1999. Work continued to make the property suitable and we finally opened in March 2001.
Describe its subsequent expansion
Gill: As farming patterns have changed the business has had to adapt. When we first moved to Upton Noble our client base was solely dairy farmers. We provided a repair-only service, but this then developed to include steel fabrication, structural framed agricultural buildings and sales of new and second-hand agricultural machinery. Today we also supply agricultural requisites, iron mongery, plumbing, fencing, drainage, cladding, clothing, tools, etc. Our client base now includes not only farmers but also smallholders, building contractors, civil engineers, local authorities, land agents and country estates, as well as the general public.
How many people do you employ?
Richard: We employ 22 from the local area, including engineers, welders, sales and clerical staff. We rely on Lackham College to train our apprentices and we encourage youngsters to become involved in what we do.
The firm is well known on the show circuit. When did you first exhibit?
Gill: We had our first tradestand at Frome Agricultural Show in 1976 and we have exhibited every year since — this will be our 40th year. On several occasions we have won the cup for the best agricultural tradestand, the first being in 1986 just a month before my father died. He was so proud of his son-in-law and daughter.
Read Agri also attends the North Somerset Show at Wraxall, the Gillingham & Shaftesbury Show and the Dairy Event at the Bath & West Show field. We sometimes exhibit at the Royal Bath & West Show, but not every year these days.
What did you do in life before Read Agri?
Richard: We moved to Upton Noble in 1982 when our youngest son, Sam, was six weeks old. Many years before that my parents had farmed at Batcombe. I attended Batcombe School and from there went on to King Arthur’s and then Lackham College, where I completed my apprenticeship as an agricultural engineer with John Wallis Titts.
Gill: My parents farmed at Witham Friary and I attended Witham Friary primary school, prior to going on to Sunny Hill (Bruton School for Girls) and then Glamorgan College of Education to train as a teacher.
Richard and I married in 1972 and lived in a flat above J Cayford, the butchers on Catherine Street in Frome. Soon afterwards we moved to Witham.
What are your memories of moving to Upton Noble?
Gill: I remember being made to feel particularly welcome by Dorothy Skinner and Norah Creed. Very little has changed except we now lack a village pub, plus there are no longer home deliveries made by local businesses. Jack Upshall used to deliver fruit and vegetables in the area, Peter Coombs would bring bread and groceries from his shop in Witham, while a fishmonger brought fresh fish around on a Thursday. Mind you, we still have our milk delivered in bottles, plus fresh meat from Cayfords.
What do your sons, Ben, Andy (‘Farm’) and Sam, do?
Richard: They all went to Upton Noble School, before moving on to King Arthurs at Wincanton and then college. Eventually they returned to work in the business.
Will you ever retire?
Gill: Neither of us plans to retire completely as the business has always been a major part of our lives and probably always will be. I have enjoyed being involved with the village hall and helping to organise events, including two masked balls and several walks. Richard is also a member of the Witham Vale Farmers Committee which raises money for local charities. They raise several thousand pounds a year by holding two annual events — a cheese and wine function in the autumn and a dinner dance in the spring. An added bonus is that their meetings are held in the Seymour Arms at Witham Friary, which we all love.
What does the future hold for you both?
Richard: Our roots are now established in Upton Noble and I doubt that we will ever move — even to that dream home by the sea. With modern surveillance we can view anything that is occurring at our premises in Wanstrow 24 hours a day without stepping outside our front door — the wonders of modern technology.
What do you love about your life today?
Gill: We are very fortunate to have our children and grandchildren living close by and they are now a major part of our lives. We find that we have more time to spend with grandchildren than ever we did we our own children, but I guess that is true of most parents.