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Child Okeford Wessex Internet
Hector Gibson Fleming, left, CEO of Wessex Internet, celebrates outside the Child Okeford Village Shop with proprietor Andrew Stevenson-Hamilton.

Two businesses located fewer than three miles from each other in North Dorset have won their categories for the South West region of the 2024 Countryside Alliance Awards.

The Child Okeford Village Shop & Post Office was selected as the Best Village Shop in the region, while nearby Wessex Internet, based in Shroton, won the Rural Enterprise category.

The Countryside Alliance Awards, which are now in their 17th year, recognise businesses that go the extra mile within their communities, by supporting the local economy and championing local goods and services.

Both Wessex Internet and the Child Okeford Village Shop were initially nominated anonymously by their customers. Then, from hundreds of nominees in the region, the two businesses topped a public vote.

Hector Gibson Fleming, CEO at Wessex Internet, said: ‘It’s a wonderful testament to the innovation and community spirit of the local area that two very different businesses, located only a few miles from one another, topped their categories in an awards region that covers a huge geographical area stretching from Wiltshire to Cornwall.

‘For Wessex Internet, this follows recent recognition as Best Rural Internet Provider at the 2023 ISPA Awards and as Overall Fibre Provider of the Year at the 2023 UK Fibre Awards. To now be acknowledged more widely as a leading Rural Enterprise, as well as leaders in our sector, is particularly special, as these countryside-focused awards recognise values that are very important to us.

“We have always sought to be champions and enablers of the rural economy – through providing ultrafast broadband to areas overlooked by other companies, as an employer of choice for hundreds of local people, and by working in consultation with rural communities and landowners in how we build our network.

‘I’m also delighted for our neighbours at the Child Okeford Village Shop and know first-hand how popular the shop is with our teams. With many villages unfortunately seeing the closure of local amenities, we are lucky to have a nearby shop that provides many locally sourced products – including delicious deli lunches – and an essential Post Office service. By providing ultrafast broadband to Child Okeford and other villages like it, Wessex Internet will also continue doing our part to help rural communities thrive.’

Proprietor of the Child Okeford Village Shop & Post Office, Andrew Stevenson-Hamilton, said: ‘We’re thrilled to have been voted the best village shop and post office in the South West of England and that our neighbours, Wessex Internet, have been winners in their category as well. We are indebted to our loyal customers who came out in force to vote for us, in both the qualifying rounds and in the finals.

‘The competition was very strong and we have huge respect for our fellow finalists. In particular, I would like to pay tribute to the runner-up in our category: The Hawtree & Sons Riverside Garage, which is based in West Stour. It says a great deal about the quality of the village shops in the north of Dorset that two village shops, within eight miles of one another, came first and second in the whole of the South West.

‘However, most of all I would like to thank the fabulous team who work at the shop, the bakery and the post office, whose dedication, good cheer and hard work brought us to this point.

‘We now look forward to the national awards in June, when we shall learn which shop from the eight regional winners will be crowned the best village shop in the United Kingdom.’

As regional winners of their categories, representatives from Wessex Internet and the Child Okeford Village Shop have been invited to an awards ceremony at the House of Lords in June, where national winners will be announced from the regional finalists.

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