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Gun Brewery co-founder Mark Berry: rural lifestyle has has its attractions

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FEATURE: East Sussex brewers supported by local gov’t grants, loans

Cash, advice and encouragement from a proactive council are helping drive a dramatic increase in brewing in East Sussex.

Research by business finance specialist Rangewell has suggested the county has become the most popular place in the UK to start a brewery as businesses have benefited from a total of more than £2.5 million in funding.

East Sussex County Council, working closely with development company Locate East Sussex, has backed five breweries since launching its Investment Fund in 2013 including Burning Sky, Gun, Brewing Brothers and Hop Yard Brewing.

Grants and loans to them from the council’s coffers have added up to £100,000, with match-funding from banks and other sources taking the figure up to £2,529,000. Eighteen jobs, 16 full-time, have been created.

Brewing is a priority sector for the county, explained Vera Gajic, economic development manager at East Sussex County Council.

“The point for us is jobs growth, especially in areas of high unemployment, and to attract new businesses into the county,” she said.

“We’re not as interested in retail or service industries, for instance, as they only displace jobs. It’s all about adding value, which is exactly what breweries do. They are competing with the big boys rather than each other, so it’s new business, and there are export opportunities, too.

“Brewers are brilliant for all that and we’d like to attract more.

“There may be only 500,000 people living in East Sussex but we’re not worried about saturation. There are enough people who can still be converted to drinking beer, and from here businesses can easily service south London, which is a massive market.”

Brewers from the capital, such as Gun Brewery, have also been attracted by the lifestyle change that Sussex offers, said Gajic.

“Londoners find the property is cheaper - and we’re cheaper than West Sussex and Kent, too. It’s a beautiful place to live, still within easy reach of London, and there’s such a great brewing tradition here, led by Harvey’s of Lewes.”

East Sussex Investment Fund stipulates a maximum grant of £8,000 per job created, or £16,000 if it’s a loan. Applicants must show they can draw down match-funding of at least 50%, which might come from banks and finance houses, and from families and friends.

The council offers broader help through its agencies, principally Locate East Sussex which is funded by five district councils and the EU’s Regional Development Fund.

“We’ll work with companies with finding premises, on their business plan, and give them support and advice on match-funding,” said marketing manager Beth King. “It is usually the case that the endorsement from Locate and the council strengthens a business’s case when it goes to other lenders.

“Brewing is a priority sector for us because a craft brewery can offer high-value products and provide a good return on investment,” she went on.

“Brewers can have a wider impact on business here, too, in terms of the supply chain they need, from design and marketing to specialist brewing equipment. We’d like, for instance, to bring more bottling and canning facilities into East Sussex.”

Having more locally-made beer in the county also has a positive knock-on for retailers, she added.

“Local sourcing is big. It makes a difference to the quality of the pub experience, and there’s always demand for a locally-crafted beer, as there is with locally-crafted food.”

Burning Sky, led by former Dark Star head brewer Mark Tranter, was the first brewer to benefit from the county’s support and has had the largest council funding so far. Its £50,000 helped pay for equipment and enabled the company to expand into the barn next door at its home near Firle.

Gun, founded by Toby Smallpiece and Mark Berry, had already bought premises at Gun Hill when the council stepped in with £26,000 in grant and loan on the basis of creating four jobs. Locate Sussex helped the business access grants and purchase brewing equipment.

Brewing Brothers, namely Charlie and Ned Braxton, received a £10,000 loan match-funded up to £20,400 to establish a brewpub at the Imperial in Hastings, while Hop Yard Brewing Co, a bar, venue and pizza restaurant at Forest Row, has taken an initial grant of £10,000 up to a match-funded total of £45,900.

Phil Mellows 
23rd January 2018

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