A SPECIALIST hen business, which started out as a hobby, has won a top award at a glittering ceremony.

Durham Hens, of Bishop Auckland, was crowned Britain’s Best Rural Retail Business at the UK-wide Rural Business Awards at Chateau Impney in Worcestershire on Thursday.

The business had also won this category in the regional heat of the awards scheme, which was held in autumn.

It was started in 2007 after Margaret Manchester lost six hens to a fox.

Since then, the business has increased in size every year to meet demand and now sells laying hens, pure and rare breed chickens, fertile hatching eggs and poultry supplies.

Its reputation for selling quality stock and providing helpful advice means customers travel long distances to visit.

The business also sells poultry supplies nationally through e-commerce, offers a regional delivery service, runs courses on chicken-keeping and offers Hen Holidays, a boarding service for hens.

Mrs Manchester said: “I am honoured to win this prestigious award.

“Durham Hens has grown from small beginnings to be one of the largest suppliers of egg-laying hens in the country, and I am immensely proud of all we have achieved. I can’t wait to share this news with the team at home.”

Now in their fourth year, the Rural Business Awards is the only UK-wide programme dedicated to showcasing the success of rural business.

Mini Explorers Nursery, the first and only farm school nursery in the country, was named Best Rural Education or Training Business.

Set on a 260 acre family-run farm near Bedale, the team offers early years childcare at the heart of a fully-working arable farm.

Mini Explorers was started by Steph Pybus, a mother-of-six, who said: “We are thrilled to have won the Rural Business Award for the Best Rural Education or Training Business category. Education is at the heart of what we do at Mini Explorers Nursery, and our children are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the farming landscape and its inhabitants every single day.

“ We are passionate about the impact that the outdoors can have on a child’s well-being and development.”