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Highland luxury tourism destination named as UK’s top small business

By Alan Hendry

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The UK award-winning team at the family-run tourism business Woodlands Glencoe.
The UK award-winning team at the family-run tourism business Woodlands Glencoe.

A Highland estate which transformed from an arable farm into a luxury tourism destination has been named the UK Small Business of the Year.

The family-run venture Woodlands Glencoe beat more than 3100 other entrants and 132 regional and national award winners to land the accolade in the annual Celebrating Small Business Awards, run by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

The business – which includes an estate, café (currently closed), activity centre, golf course and 17 luxury lodges with hot tubs – took the top award because of its growth rate and commitment to the local community. It grew its revenue from £45,000 in 2009 to £900,000 in 2020, and offers its activities free to local fundraising groups.

There are now 22 employees, compared with two a decade ago.

In addition to winning the overall UK Small Business of the Year award, Woodlands Glencoe received the UK award for business and product innovation.

Woodlands Glencoe’s development director James Young said: “At our heart, we’re a family firm that has spent more than a decade building and diversifying our business. That has meant a huge amount of hard work and careful planning, and it is phenomenal to see all of this hard work recognised by FSB.

“Tourism in Scotland has faced huge challenges over the past year but we know that our business, industry and country will bounce back. By innovating and investing, we can build back the strength of our sector and our communities.”

The FSB’s Celebrating Small Businesses Awards UK final took place virtually on Thursday. Hosted by broadcaster Clare Balding, the ceremony featured an address from Prime Minister Boris Johnson who applauded the grit of the UK’s small business community.

Andy Aird, FSB’s Scotland national chairman, said: “Scotland has regularly punched above its weight when it comes to these awards – and this year is no different. It’s little wonder when you have businesses of the quality of Woodlands Glencoe coming forward – they simply encapsulate what makes local and independent firms so special.

“After a dreadful year, we’re proud to be celebrating the hundreds of thousands of smaller firms in Scotland that sustain every second private-sector job north of the border. As we inch toward full reopening, we need everyone in Scotland continue to support these special operators – whether on our doorsteps or further afield.”

FSB national chairman Mike Cherry said: “After a torrid 12 months, it has been fantastic to come together and celebrate the great small businesses that are at the heart of communities right across the UK.

“As we slowly edge back towards normality, we’re urging everyone to get behind their favourite small firms – they need you now more than ever.

“It was a closely fought contest for the ultimate crown this year. The worthy winners show us what’s possible when you tirelessly adapt, invest and provide an unforgettable experience for customers. Huge congratulations to them and all of the brilliant winners and entrants.”

FSB Highlands and Islands area lead Tanja Lister hailed Woodlands Glencoe as "world class" and said: "The Young family have done a truly amazing job and they are a credit to our region.

“But there’s more to this story – for, while large in area, the Highlands and Islands is home to only a tiny fraction of the UK’s businesses. So how does one explain the two amazing successes in succession, Cruise Loch Ness being named the previous FSB UK Small Business of the Year and now Woodlands Glencoe?

"I suspect that these back-to-back wins reflect the amazing ability of Highlands and Islands business owners to think outside the box and innovate, combined with their understanding of their markets, determination, resilience and leadership abilities. It’s people like the Youngs of Woodlands Glencoe and the MacKenzies of Cruise Loch Ness that will lead our regional economy out of the pandemic.”

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