Farmer, baker, guitar maker: Making a living in the East Neuk

Image caption Cows farmed by the Pollock family near Elie

Its harbours are much photographed and painted, it has beaches and fish and chips. For many people, the seaside pleasures of the East Neuk of Fife mean it is a familiar holiday destination.

But how do local people make a living both from the visitors and in the much quieter winter months?

We will be looking at a range of businesses in the area, from the baker who gets up at 4 o'clock in the morning to stock his shops with bread, to the guitar maker who left Edinburgh for the East Neuk in search of something different and the company which sells aluminium flakes around the world from their Anstruther base.

The first stop on Business Scotland's tour of the East Neuk is just a few steps away from the yachts in Anstruther's harbour: GH Barnett and son, artisan bakers. The business is very seasonal and it is now the quieter time of year.

'We're quite spoilt here'

"We need the tourists to survive and when they come it makes a big difference," says Stewart Barnett. His father started the business in 1947 and this is now one of five shops in the area.

He points to a number of challenges he faces - including the number of holiday houses which can be empty over the winter - and of course, the more general decline of the high street. The price of houses locally also means that people may move away.

Yet his optimism for the future is witnessed by the fact that he is building a new bakery nearby and sees the business continuing in the family. His son already works with him and his daughter is keen to follow.

"It's a beautiful place to stay," says Mr Barnett. "It would break my heart if they (his children) had to move away from the East Neuk, because I've stayed here all my life and I think we're quite spoilt here."

Image caption Stewart Barnett outside his artisan bakery in Anstruther

"I think people are more interested in their food now and more interested in where their food is coming from," he adds.

He sees that renewed interest in food is forming an important part of the area's future. The business tries hard to source local ingredients, even planting a field of wheat to try to mill their own wheat for bread.

'Something special'

Someone else who has also come in search of an area which is "something special" is Rory Dowling of Taran Guitars. He makes bespoke instruments for clients, often working with them over the course of 18 months. He explains that each piece of wood has a different resonance, tapping as he goes to illustrate the point.

He moved from Edinburgh three years ago to this workshop, which has been transformed from an old dairy shed on the Balcaskie Estate near Pittenweem. Here, he has much more space than he would have been able to afford in a city.

"Primarily the reason that I wanted a workshop in the middle of nowhere is because it's the experience of people when they come here. They feel like they're coming here to get something special."

He lives close by and cannot imagine moving any time soon.

Other businesses which have made their home in these buildings include someone who restores car dashboards and another who makes creel pots.

Image caption East Neuk's economy continues to evolve

Quality of life

"The long term aim is to ensure that the East Neuk remains a fantastic place to live," says Toby Anstruther of Balkaskie, "and in order to do that it has to have employment as well as natural resources." He is keen to keep developing alternative uses for these buildings.

His family has been in the area for something like 900 years. He was brought up in London and came here about six years ago. As well as farming he is part of a wider initiative, the East Neuk Community Action Plan, which aims to look longer term at the area's future.

The issues which need addressing depend on the individual communities themselves, he adds. "So in Elie their focus is on how they keep a balance and perhaps not to have too many holiday homes.

"How do they keep the shops and the school open because so few people live there out of season, other communities are looking at how they encourage more visitors."

Overall he thinks it is about developing a good quality of life.

"You need to break it down into the jobs, into the built environment, into the biodiversity and the ecosystem," and understand where there might be "conflict" and "tensions".

The economy of the area has already changed.

Image caption An industry catching prawns or Scottish langoustines has grown up

Pittenweem still has fishing boats in its picturesque harbour but 40 or 50 years ago fishing was a significant industry across the East Neuk. It had larger volume fishermen catching white fish but that has changed with the wider fishing industry.

There has always been an inshore industry fishing for crabs and lobster and an industry catching prawns or Scottish langoustines has also grown up.

"The highly significant part of that market," says Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, "is that these are high value products much valued by our friends in Europe and the market for Scottish langoustine is France, Italy and Spain. They love them and they pay premium prices for them."

He would like to see the local market developed more: "Perhaps we could look more carefully at colourful, local, fresh-landed beautiful product more heavily used locally, but it's a premium product, there's a price to be paid so that will take some careful work."

Just a few miles down the road from Pittenweem, in a factory in a small industrial estate in Anstruther, aluminium pigments are processed into flakes for use in automotive paint or in the plastics markets. The machinery is noisy and those working here have a sprinkling of the sparkly metal dust which is a by-product of the process.

Metaflake employs 17 people and exports mainly to Europe.

Image caption Johnny Knox of Metaflake

"It's a high value product that we're selling so the fact that we're out in the sticks a bit isn't a big problem for us," says Metaflake director, Johnny Knox.

He explains that the transport costs are actually very small on the price of the finished product and for him the real benefits of being based here are a ready supply of good workers and the kind of lifestyle that he and his family can have living locally.

Being rooted in the locality is key to what is being done at a farm outside the village of Elie. In amongst a grove of trees, seemingly too contented to move much, are a herd of cows farmed by the Pollock family. As well as the farm, they also run the Ardross Farm shop - which they started up nearly 10 years ago because their beef was not making money.

"I found mum and dad sitting at the kitchen table scratching their heads trying to work out if they could somehow make a margin," says Nikki Storrar, one of three daughters in the family.

She says when the idea for a farm shop came up, all the daughters "thought they were completely off their heads" but nevertheless they buckled down and scrubbed up an old cart shed which had been a workshop.

"We painted the floor, we painted the walls, we got a calculator, a pen and our old kitchen table and we started selling our beef. From there it's just progressed beyond our wildest imagination."

The business now employs 24 full- and part-time people.

Since the farm shop got up and running the way they farm has changed too. Instead of acres of broccoli for the supermarkets they now grow a bigger variety of vegetables and sow smaller amounts so that they can be harvested fresh.

"Most definitely between the farm and the shop there's huge potential," concludes Ms Storrar. "It's changed our lives for the better but it's very hard work."

Business Scotland is on BBC Radio Scotland just after 06:00 on Saturday and just after 10:00 on Sunday. You can access the programme here.

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