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SAILS TO SUCCESS

It's that tenacity that has helped her win the day in a fight over plans to extend a conservation area on to land earmarked for expansion of her cheese-making business.

She is the fourth generation of her family to run Singleton's Dairy a business founded by her great grandmother Duilla - the "Grandma Singleton" featured on all its products - and there's no doubt Tilly is a chip off the old cheese block.

She is clear what would have happened if the conservation area in Longridge had been expanded to the derelict weaving sheds next to her dairy - she would have quit the town which has been its base for over 50 years.

It would have been a major blow for Longridge. Singleton's has an 86-strong workforce and a £17million turnover. It also helps raise its profile - with Royal visits and two Queen's Awards for Export. 'Grandma Singletons' cheeses are sold in 27 countries. "It will be 30 by the end of this year,'' Tilly says.

She says she only found out about the council's plans by chance when she was about to sign the deal to buy the site after two years of negotiations.

"It has been very frustrating. I understand the need to conserve and preserve, I love beautiful old buildings, but when there is not one jot of common-sense applied, it makes my blood boil.

"We are on a small two and a half acre site that we have outgrown. Basically we are bursting at the seams.

"I set to work campaigning and won the decision. The next move is to apply for a demolition order for the site. It's not a total victory; I see it as winning the first round.

"I don't want to quit the town; our staff are our most important asset and largely come from Longridge and surrounding villages. My really long-term ambition is to build a brand new factory ideally on the outskirts of Longridge on a greenfield site."

Ambition features a lot in Tilly's vocabulary. She wants to double turnover in the next five years, is expanding her sales force, including putting a member of staff on the ground in America - exports to the States account for £6m of turnover - and is driving forward product expansion.

"America increasingly wants blended cheeses, we have to offer two to three brand new products every year, which is a big ask. One of our latest is salted caramel cheese, which is delightful."

Earlier this year the company invested more than £600,000 in a new packing line and blending facility. The dairy makes 1,100 tonnes of cheese a year using 21,000 litres of milk a week from local farms.

Mother-of-three Tilly 48, joined the business in 1985. Cheese-making is in her DNA. She says: "I was tightening cheese at the age of three. We used to live at the dairy; the office I use now was my mum and dad's bedroom!"

The business was facing a number of difficulties - exports weren't on its radar, nor were supermarkets. She says: "Seventy-seven per cent of our business was to people selling cheese on market stalls. It was a very traditional approach."

Tilly, who describes herself as "tenacious", went about changing that. "I went to Cologne to a trade fair with my brother, I only knew two sentences of German but we got a Finnish and American order. Then we had to learn fast how to get the cheese to them!''

UK supermarket sales are also important -though competition is fierce and margins low. It took Singleton's two years to secure its first deal with one of the big names.

She says: "The margin is negligible, this year we are working virtually for nothing in the UK. Supermarkets use cheeses on promotion. We are really being squeezed."

That's what makes exports so important. Singletons' cheeses can be found in India, China and Australia and across Europe.

"We work terribly hard, striving to give a better service all the time. It is important to have the right people," Tilly says. "Morale also has to be good. People have to really enjoy their working environment. If it wasn't like that, I'd sell up."

Away from the business Tilly who lives in Knowle Green, is passionate about sailing, she has just returned from her latest trip round the Med; and gardening - she once featured on Gardeners' World, she reveals proudly

She says: "I want to expand turnover to £30m at least, build a new factory and develop the young team we are putting together so it is absolutely the best it can be. If we manage to be successful in that respect I do hope to do more sailing; I want to sail around the world."