THERE are those who might argue that being a lifelong fan of Darlington Football Club is enough to turn anyone to drink.

But for Paul Colman, a member of the Darlington FC Supporters’ Group, alcohol and the town’s Quaker traditions are proving to be an unlikely winning formula.

Darlington owes much to the pioneering Quaker families of the 18th and 19th centuries and, as well as their notable influence on the railways, wool, linen and banking, they are also known for their moderation when it comes to alcohol.

It is, therefore, a surprising twist that Paul, along with his wife Leanne, should now be forging a new business under the brand “The Little Quaker Distillery”.

Enterprisingly launched in an old washhouse in his parents’ back garden last October, a bid is now being lodged for it to be registered as the UK’s smallest gin distillery.

Paul’s background is in manufacturing, working as Head of Continuous Improvement with Nobia, owner of kitchen suppliers Magnet. However, he and Leanne, an accounts manager with EE, shared a dream to do something different with their lives and their love of gin provided the answer.

They spotted a gap in the market – that Darlington didn’t have a gin to call its own – and they embarked on a period of research and training, finding out everything they could about the distilling process.

After a successful crowd-funding project, the business was ready to be launched, but they needed a name. Darlington Gin was rejected on the grounds that it was too obvious, and Paul’s footballing affiliations gave them the idea for a quirky alternative that also touched on the town’s history.

“We wanted to go for something that was instantly recognisable as being associated with the town and Quaker Gin just seemed to fit perfectly,” says Paul.

Leanne drew the line at letting him have Darlington FC’s black and white hoops as the label, and an historic picture of the town centre was chosen instead.

The recipe for Quaker Gin includes orange, grapefruit, lavender from the couple’s garden, and an extra-special ingredient inspired by Paul’s Grandma, Olive, who died two years ago.

“Throughout my life, she always encouraged me to do things and when she was dying, I used to tell her about the plans for the gin distillery, and she just told me to go for it,” recalls Paul.

Olive had a large rose bush in her garden and, when she died, Paul decided to take the petals, dehydrate them and crush them. 

“Every batch of Quaker Gin produced up to now has been made with a scoop of those rose petals as a little tribute to my Grandma and what she meant to me,” says Paul.

So far, it’s been a case of the business blossoming. Within months of the launch, Quaker Gin is already supplied to just about every bar in the locality. It is stocked by the likes of Rockliffe Hall and Walworth Castle and online sales are growing healthily.

“We can’t believe how well it’s gone,” adds Paul. “The support we’ve had from the town has been amazing and we just want to go on building a reputation in the industry and move into bigger premises in time.”

In a month or so, there are plans to add another product which will again touch on the town’s illustruious history. Black Diamond Rum will be named after one of the locomotives used on the Stockton & Darlington Railway. Beyond that, a whisky will be launched in time for the railway’s 200th anniversary in 2025, and suggestions for names are welcome.

The old Quakers from days gone by might be turning in their graves at the thought, but Darlington’s very own distillery looks destined to become the toast of the town.

PAUL Colman, of the Little Quaker Gin Company, was one of the demonstrators at last week’s successful Darlington Food and Drink Festival.

It was also a pleasure to compere a demonstration by the admirable Food For Thought organisation, led by its founder Louise Graham.

Food For Thought, launched 18 months ago, intercepts surplus food from local supermarkets and puts it to good use.

So far, the Food For Thought volunteers, some of whom are pictured below, have served nutritious dishes to 2,000 people at pop-up events, and around 1,200 direct  deliveries have been made to people in urgent need.

Louise told me: “There is a real need for what we do and we hope to go on growing so we can help more people. We always need more volunteers and there are a whole range of ways to help – so come and join us!”

n To find out more, search for “Food For Thought Darlington” on Facebook, or email

FINALLY, it was a pleasure to be guest speaker at Stokesley U3A last week. This is how I was introduced: “Peter Barron was editor of The Northern Echo for the best part of 20 years but he is better known for his terrible singing on The Headline Challenge every morning on BBC Tees.”