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Alan Riding's Story

During that first trial year, there was obviously no money to spare for the upgrading of plant or vehicles.  The Company owned two vehicles.  One old Austin army lorry for the transport of milk churns to and from the farms, and a Bull Nosed Bedford with a small tank on its back for the dispersal of whey.

After just three months the astounding news came from the accountants that a profit had been made which was equivalent to the losses of the previous year.  The decision was immediately made to buy the Company before the trading figures were produced.  Finance had to be found for the purchase plus all outstanding debts.  Another financial problem arose because the milk had to be paid for by the 16th of every following month, but the cheese needed at least three months to mature before it could be sold.  That was by no means the only problem.

The feeling of euphoria from the triumph of the first few months was soon to be cruelly thwarted.  Difficulties arose when the relevant public authorities were notified of change of ownership.  Visits ensued from the Public Health Department, the River Authority, the local Council, the Milk Marketing Board, and the Factory Inspector (health and safety).  The consensus of opinion was unfavourable, not surprisingly given the shambolic state of things.  The water supply was from a spring on the Fell.  This could be spasmodic as it was of course affected by rainfall.  One day a lack of water was found to be due to a little frog having found its way down the supply pipe to the tap.  The tap was rapidly dismantled and a strainer fitted.  The unanimous verdict of the Authorities was “Close this place down”.

Harry Riding, Alan’s Father, moved quickly to try to avert total disaster.  Plans were drawn up by architects, for a purpose built new dairy on a Longridge site which was owned by the Riding family.  The plans were accepted by the Authorities, and the Riding’s were given two years to complete the project.   This came with a string of conditions for improvement at the Beacon Fell Dairy, which had to be implemented immediately.

Alan’s indefatigable work, and aptitude for mending and making do, made it possible to continue producing and trading, but sales and turnover was slow.  A miracle was needed.

Quite soon the miracle appeared.  A cheese factor arrived at the dairy and asked Alan if he could make white crumbly cheese similar to Cheshire cheese.  He had an eager market for this type of cheese in East Lancashire, and said that if the product was to his satisfaction, then he would take all production and pay a good price.  The first batch of this cheese was a success.  Needing only a couple of weeks maturation, new Lancashire Cheese was ready to be sold even before the milk had to be paid for.

Although Alan’s instinctive preference was for producing the creamy and tangy traditional Lancashire cheese the way Grandma had made it, he saw this new product as an opportunity to make some much needed money, and therefore could see light at the end of the tunnel.  A corner had been turned!

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The new Longridge Dairy (Mill Farm) was ready by October 1961, but there was still not enough money for new equipment.  The old plant was transported from Beacon Fell and adapted by Alan to fit into the new building.

Problems were never far away.  Although the same methods of cheesemaking were being employed, the cheese failed.  The new building with its cement walls and floors created an alkaline environment which was not conducive to successful cheesemaking  Something had to be done and quickly.  Alan’s remedy was to wash the walls with an acidic solution, and once again managed to save the day.

By the mid 1960’s the white crumbly New Lancashire Cheese had started to be produced by larger automated factories, and could be bought by the cheese factor at a price that Singletons could not compete with.  The “miracle” disappeared.

Alan, who by now was a highly skilled craftsman cheese maker with a group of well trained staff went back to production of Grandma Singletons prize winning recipes, as well as making much smaller quantities of the New Lancashire cheese. He employed sales staff, provided them with sales vehicles and sent them out with deliveries selling to market stalls and shops all over Lancashire.  The demand was pleasing, the cheese was winning awards, and the dairy was now making money.

There followed two decades of phenomenal success.  Singletons continued to expand as a private Company.  During those two decades Alan bought second hand equipment from larger companies who regularly updated their own.  Together with three key employees, he painstakingly repaired and renovated it to be in good working order, thus saving the company many thousands of pounds.

In 1967 Alan approached the transport officer at the Milk Marketing Board, to request bulk collection of milk from the farms.  Unfortunately this was refused, which was a blow, as Singletons lorry, and the churns and churn washer were past their best, and now would need replacing.  It was infuriating when only three years later, the very same transport officer made contact to offer milk delivery by bulk tanker.

The allocation of milk was to come from local farms registered to supply Singletons Dairy.  MMB tankers were to be responsible for milk collection and delivery.  Financially this was beneficial and saved the company staff time and transport expenses.

During those extremely busy years Alan somehow found time to be a hands on father to his growing family, a school governor, treasurer of the Lancashire Cheese Association, and treasurer of Longridge Tradesmans Association.  He also was always willing to help out on his fathers farm at especially busy times such as harvest time.

There were to be trials and tribulations, including the experiment and subsequent failure of a project to make a non cholesterol cheese aimed at the health food market, the contents of which included skimmed milk and palm kernel oil.  The experiment failed because the oil supplied was not the correct quality.  However this venture was not in vain, as an extension to the dairy had been built and equipped to accommodate the manufacture  of this product.  The redundant plant would now make it possible to purchase and store surplus weekend milk.  Now that  the  MMB were assured of the dairy being able handle extra milk, Alan applied for an increased allocation of milk.  During the following twenty years the dairy’s allocation grew from 8,000 litres to 80,000 litres per day.  In the same period many extensions to the factory took place for storage and maturation of the increased stock.

With such a huge Quantity of stock, sales became very important, and new office space was also required to deal with the associated administration.  A fleet of five 3 ½ ton vehicles plus two 7 ½ ton lorries were needed to service the hundreds of customers all over the UK.

Alan and his staff had now mastered the art of producing all the English cheeses except Stilton,  delicious combinations of cheese with fruit or vegetables, chutneys, or with herbs and spices were created, and proved to be immensely popular.

Years of shrewd management, courageous decisions and vigilant attention to detail, brought due success, the profits from which enabled the company to buy its own dairy farm.  The milk from their own herd of friesian cows now went into Singletons Dairy cheese.

This venture never really paid its way, as things were changing within the industry.  In 1994 the MMB was disbanded and replaced by an independent Farms Co-op called Milk Marque. This, plus a world glut of cheddar cheese, wrought a difficult episode for English cheese manufacturers.

It was time for a new generation of the family to preside over the company in a swiftly changing technological age.  It was very gratifying to the man who began this endeavour as a 16 year old boy, and along with his Father, nurtured it  through 35 years, that his family wished to carry the company on to even greater heights.

Grandma Singletons Cheese was about to become a celebrated world brand.

Singletons Dairy now exports to 30 country’s and has been honoured by two Queens Awards for export, and a visit from Her Majesty.  In 2011 alone the company won nine major awards including the prestigious Prince of Wales Award for Outstanding Quality Cheese.

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Alan and his wife Glenys both give credit for the success of Singletons Dairy to the incredible loyalty and tireless diligence of a very special group of staff, some of whom are still with the company, and who were a staunch support, especially during difficult times of ill health, and through the devastating death of Alan Henry, the fourth of their five children.

With great pride and care, the cheese continues to be made from Grandma Singleton’s recipes, but it was her grandson Alan Riding who blazed the long and arduous trail to the international status the company enjoys today.

In the early 20th century it was almost unheard of  for  a woman to be at the helm of a manufacturing business.  

Women like Grandma Singleton must have been determined and far sighted.  Today the business is again back in the hands of a woman of equal talent and determination, Grandma’s great granddaughter Tilly Carefoot. With such a rich heritage, it seems very fitting that a woman is now in charge of supplying Grandma Singleton’s cheese to lovers of excellent food all over the world.