Major new mental health and horticulture project at Tebay Services.

A major new mental health and horticulture project to help people in Eden and North Cumbria is to open at Tebay Services on the M6.

Kendal-based organic farm and mental health charity Growing Well will expand to a second site thanks to a unique partnership with Tebay Services owners the Westmorland Family, and National Lottery funding announced today.

Westmorland Family today confirmed £150,000 of funding to create Growing Well’s on-site market garden that will supply fresh vegetables direct to their kitchens, while a two-year £180,000 grant from The National Lottery Community fund, announced today, will support the running costs of the charity’s therapeutic horticulture service.

Growing Well at Tebay Services aims to help 100 people a year in Eden and North Cumbria recover from mental health difficulties by volunteering there one day a week for up to a year.

Under the supervision of experienced therapeutic growers and mental health support staff, volunteers, who can be referred by GPs, other health services, or themselves, can rebuild confidence, learn new skills, benefit from peer support and be helped to achieve their goals, such as returning to employment or education.

Volunteers will work in Growing Well’s new market garden enterprise at Tebay Services, which will supply salads and other leafy vegetables fresh every day to the Tebay Services Farmshop & Kitchen, where they will be cooked and served to customers just a few hundred metres from where they are grown.

Growing Well Chief Executive Mary Smith said: “We are thrilled to be partnering with Westmorland Family to bring our unique model to a second site in Cumbria, which will open up our service not only to the people of rural Eden and Penrith, but up the M6 as far as Carlisle. There are big gaps in mental health services, an ever-growing need post-Covid, and rural isolation is a particular problem. With a large proportion of our site investment costs covered by Westmorland Family, today’s announcement from the National Lottery is the final piece of the jigsaw and means we have more than half of our running costs covered for our first two years.”

Westmorland Family Chair Sarah Dunning said: “We are delighted to be to working in partnership with Growing Well on a project that will help to address one of the great needs in our community, which is mental health.”

She added: “We are a business that has locally sourced food at its heart, so we are excited about being able to source freshly harvested, pesticide-free salads and vegetables on our own doorstep.”

The National Lottery funding announced today comes from The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK, and was made possible thanks to National Lottery players who raise over £30 million each week for good causes throughout the UK.

Duncan Nicholson, Head of funding for the North East and Cumbria region at The National Lottery Community Fund, said: “We are thrilled to be supporting the expansion of Growing Well’s mental health services in Cumbria. Thanks to National Lottery players, the project will provide those affected by ill mental health with the help and support needed to get back into education and employment, enabling them to prosper and thrive. We are excited to see the impact of the project on people’s lives and the benefits it will bring to the local community.”

Michael Boaden, from Carlisle Eden Mind, welcomed the news, saying: “We are delighted that Growing Well are developing services in the Eden area. We have long been admirers of the innovative work they have been doing for many years in the south of the county and look forward to developing and, dare I say growing, our partnership working as the new service progresses. Congratulations to all involved in this exciting venture.”

The project, which will create four new full-time jobs, will be sited at Tebay Services Northbound on the southern side of the Tebay Services Caravan Park. It will fully open to its first horticulture volunteers in January 2023, but it is hoped there will be some opportunities to work on the site build and first planting of crops from October.

Westmorland Family is providing the rent-free site, support in kind to carry out the initial groundworks, and £150,000 capital funding to provide polytunnels, raised beds, horticultural equipment and a building to house a site office and meeting space for staff and volunteers, and to purchase a minibus to transport volunteers from different communities each day to and from Tebay.

The family-owned business has also committed to buy up to £40,000 of fresh produce, including leafy green vegetables and salads, from Growing Well’s raised beds and polytunnels, giving the charity vital guaranteed income. Growing Well has successfully operated from its 6-acre site at Low Sizergh farm outside Kendal for 18 years. It became a fully registered mental health charity in 2019.

Chief Executive Mary Smith said: “We are a real-world food enterprise as well as a mental health charity so when Westmorland Family approached us with this opportunity for a second Growing Well it looked like a perfect fit. They are providing a superb accessible site, a supply chain on the doorstep for our quality produce, most of the start-up funding, the chance to tell our story together to millions of their customers, and a national profile which can only help Growing Well’s further development.”

The final go-ahead for the project was dependent on the success, announced today, of the ‘Growing Well: Reaching More Communities’ bid to the National Lottery.

“We responded to the challenges of Covid with a growth strategy that responds to the growth in need for more services like ours,” said Mary, “and we are so excited that our plan to replicate Growing Well’s work in new Cumbrian communities has begun.” Mary added that Growing Well was already actively exploring opportunities for three further sites in West Cumbria, Barrow and Carlisle over the next four years.

Jobs at Growing Well at Tebay Services will be advertised later this month for two Therapeutic Growers, a Volunteer Support Co-ordinator and an Office Co-ordinator.

Growing Well will also be recruiting support volunteers, who support the staff working with beneficiaries, volunteer minibus drivers, and volunteer community fundraisers.

To find out more about referring to Growing Well, or getting involved in any way, please email

Joy of imperfection

Bing Cao and Cara Ou are the innovators behind Wabi Sabi, the Ambleside restaurant that brought sushi and ramen to our Services.

“Nothing is perfect; nothing is complete, nothing is permanent.”

There are many translations of the Japanese phrase wabi-sabi, but for Cara Ou, this is the one that sums it up best. 

“It is a beautiful concept,” says Cara, co-owner with her husband, Bing Cao, of Wabi Sabi restaurant in Ambleside. For Bing, whom she describes as a “crazy chef”, the name perfectly encapsulates the philosophy that underpins his food.

“It means: I keep improving; I look for new things; the menu is always changing,” he says. “We chose this name for the restaurant because it represents me and the things I want to cook.”

Before the Covid pandemic, the things that Bing wanted to cook were becoming things that more and more people wanted to eat. His tiny restaurant was a word-of-mouth hit, a favourite of Cumbria’s Michelin-star chefs for the creative, idiosyncratic dishes that seemed to jump straight out of his imagination onto the plate. 

But then came lockdown and the overnight closure of the restaurant industry. “When the pandemic hit, I had enough money to pay my rent for three months,” Bing says. “I needed to find a way of surviving.”

Bing and Cara got in touch with our Farmshop Buyer, Alexander Evans, with an idea to sell fresh sushi and ramen kits made in the restaurant kitchen. Alex was immediately intrigued, spotting an opportunity to bring something new and fresh to Tebay’s customers while supporting a small local business to survive and thrive.

At stake was a dream that first took shape when Bing was a student at Lancaster University, where he and Cara had both arrived from China to study business. “I rang my mum in China and asked her to send me money to buy a car,” Bing remembers. “She said: find a job and earn the money.”

He took a job washing pots at Jade Gardens, a Chinese restaurant in Ambleside. As he was graduating from Lancaster, his boss was looking to retire. So – after another phone call to his mother – he bought the restaurant. Five years later, he changed its name to Wabi Sabi, gradually transforming it into a unique destination restaurant with an inventive tasting menu inspired by Lakeland landscapes and local ingredients.

“I like to experience this environment: on the boat, in the woods, on hikes with Cara and our dog,” he says. “By getting to know the environment where local ingredients are growing, I get the inspiration for the dish.”

He explains that buying meat, such as Herdwick mutton, from local farmers and foraging for wild plants and mushrooms in the forests near their home is a vital part of his process.

“To recreate a dish from my mind and make it into reality I have to use local ingredients, because otherwise it won’t taste right. For me, taste is the meaning. When you taste something good, it becomes a new memory. A good memory.”

The clear passion and commitment with which Bing and Cara approach their craft were the magic ingredients that our buyer Alex Evans is always on the lookout for.

“I’ve always bought into the person that’s producing a food rather than needing to find this product or that product,” Alex says. “You need to leave yourself open to people coming along and taking you in a direction you hadn’t thought of. Bing and Cara are those people. They just make you happy.”

As a self-taught chef who had never sold through a shop before, Bing deeply valued the support he received from Alex and his buying team. “Every time we had a small problem, Alex would say: ‘We can sort it for you.’ I feel it is so easy to talk to him, ask him for feedback and adapt to make things better. Those little details: they made me feel I was back on track.”

The first products they launched in our Farmshop were boxes of ready-to-eat sushi, handmade in Wabi Sabi’s tiny kitchen and delivered by Bing and Cara in a refrigerated van they bought specially. The maki rolls and nigiri sushi in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian selections showcased Bing’s use of locally sourced ingredients and imaginative flavour pairings: beetroot-cured salmon; charred hispi cabbage with charcoal oil; tempura courgette and miso egg yolk sauce made using eggs from their own woodland chickens.

Next, Bing and Cara launched their ramen kits in the Farmshop: viewers of the recent Channel 4 Series A Lake District Farmshop watched the couple put their hearts and souls into preparing ramen bowls to impress Alex and his colleague, Emily, featuring slow-cooked Herdwick mutton, flavourful handmade broth and perfectly elastic handmade ramen noodles.

Crucial to their success was persuading Alex that the dish would be easy for customers to recreate at home from a kit. Cara’s hand-illustrated instructions added a sincerely personal touch. “We created these kits during a pandemic when everyone was stuck at home,” Bing says. “If I was the customer and I saw a hand-drawn message, it would make me feel happy.”

Wabi Sabi restaurant is now open again, and Bing is once again creating elaborate tasting menus inspired by his dreams and foraging trips around his beloved Lake District home. But so successful have been their ramen kits and sushi boxes that the couple have opened a permanent takeaway shop next to the restaurant.

The growing range of Asia-inspired ready-to-eat foods they now deliver to Tebay Services includes gyoza (filled dumplings) and bao buns. We can’t wait to see what Bing dreams up next.

“With Bing, you can see he thinks really deeply about things and he likes coming up with solutions,” Alex says. “You get the sense there’s more to explore, more opportunities and more ideas that we’re going to come up with together that neither of us knows about yet.”

We’re on TV

A Lake District Farmshop is a four-part series about Tebay Services: our people, our produce and the magnificent landscapes around us.

Filmed by Purple Productions for Channel 4 during the autumn of 2020, the documentary tells the story of how Tebay Services was built and how it has grown during nearly 50 years into a cherished motorway pitstop visited by 4.5 million holidaymakers, truckers and road trippers each year.

The series follows Tebay’s team of butchers, buyers, builders, bakers, cleaners, cooks and designers. It shines a light on our communities and profiles the local producers who supply our Farmshop & Kitchen.

Sarah Dunning, Chair of our parent business the Westmorland Family, explains why she is so delighted that Channel 4 and Purple Productions have captured the unique relationship between Tebay Services and the rural community it grew out of. 

“When the M6 was built through my parents’ farm, they viewed it as an opportunity to diversify and welcome the world to our farm. My sister and I grew up with the business; as we grew, it grew. Tebay now is the stable for hundreds of diversified enterprises, from raw milk cheesemaking to scented candles.

“Quality local food was at the forefront of my parents’ vision when we opened nearly 50 years ago, but it is the people behind the produce and our enduring relationships with our makers that gives our business heart.

“The world is at a pivotal moment at present, and it has given us a chance to appreciate and value what is on our doorsteps. Local produce, local landscapes and communities have been at the very heart of Tebay Services, and it’s a great pleasure to share these stories with a wider audience.”  

A Lake District Farmshop begins on Saturday 10 July and runs for four weeks. Watch it 8pm on Channel 4 or as a free All 4 box set at

A fruitful partnership

Chef Jake Winter is the new face of Wild & Fruitful, the West Cumbrian jam-making business behind our Farmshop preserves and seasonal fruit compotes.

If you want to know where to find a Keswick Codlin cooking apple tree or help yourself to a crop of wild gooseberries, Jake Winter is a good person to know. The 22-year-old chef has been foraging for produce in the parks and hedgerows around Keswick in the Lake District since he was a boy, when his granny would take him out blackberry-picking and teach him how to cook.

“Whenever I go out for a walk, I always take a bag,” he says. “You never know what you are going to find.”

His love and knowledge of his local area, combined with the skills he learned during five years as a chef at country-house hotel Lyzzick Hall, make him a worthy custodian of a local food producer that is very close to our hearts. Together with David Seymour, owner of the Lingholm Estate and Kitchen on the banks of Derwentwater, Jake is now running Wild & Fruitful, the Cumbrian preserve maker with which we work in partnership to create our Farmshop label jams and preserves.

Wild & Fruitful was founded 20 years ago by Jane Maggs, a landscape architect and environmentalist. She started it to use up the surplus fruit going unpicked in West Cumbrian hedgerows and gardens, motivated by a determination to reduce food waste.

Our Farmshop Buyer Alexander Evans was her very first customer, first at his Made in Cumbria shop at our sister business Rheged, and then in the Farmshop at Tebay Services. In 2017 Jane and Alexander worked in partnership to launch a range of preserves under our Farmshop label featuring local fruits and wild ingredients. With her knowledge of wild plants and enthusiasm for edible ‘weeds’, Jane created unique combinations, such as blackcurrant extra jam with meadowsweet and a strawberry conserve infused with the Turkish-Delight-scented leaves of Pelargonium ‘Attar of Roses’. 

When Jane sold Wild & Fruitful in 2020, Jake inherited a binder full of hundreds of typed-out recipes. “One of my lockdown projects was converting all the recipes from pounds and ounces to grams and kilos,” he says.

While streamlining their range of jams, conserves, curds, chutneys, sauces, relishes and pickles and ensure their commercial viability, Jake and David are also determined to remain true to the ethos of Jane’s original enterprise: making jams and preserves by hand in real pans using as much locally sourced, foraged and surplus produce as possible.

Autumn will find Jake and David in the Lingholm estate orchard, picking Marjorie plums and heritage apples while peeking through the branches towards the summit of Catbells. Before that, when the blackcurrants arrive, Jake will be picking them up from his neighbours and taking delivery of carrier bags full in return for a few jars of jam.

“People are happy to give it to a good home,” says Jake, who does his best to ensure that no donation goes to waste.  “We have invested in more freezer space so when local fruits are in season we can preserve them to use later.”

While not limiting themselves to local and seasonal ingredients – recipes in their newly branded Wild & Fruitful range included mango chutney and lemon curd – Jake and David make use of as much Cumbrian produce as they can get their hands on: rhubarb from neighbours’ allotments, damsons from the Lyth Valley, strawberries and tomatoes from Cochranes Nurseries at Longtown near Carlisle, elderberries foraged from the bushes that grow metres from the back of their production kitchen in Maryport.

The Lingholm Estate itself has a vegetable garden supplying tomatoes, carrots and beans. “We’ve got loads of runner beans, which I’m planning to come up a recipe for – maybe a pickle,” Jake says. The more you pick them, the more they grow.”

As a chef he’s in his element in the production kitchen, where he directs Jane’s original team. He loves coming up with new recipes and flavour combinations, working with other local producers such as Keswick Brewery and The Lakes Distillery to create new products to add to the rebranded Wild & Fruitful range. He and David have just launched Wild & Fruitful English Lakes Honey, new in our Farmshop, which is gathered from hives at Lingholm and in the Borrowdale, Newlands and Lorton valleys.  

They’re still working closely with Alexander to make our Partnership products to Jane and Alexander’s original recipes, which include a South Indian-spiced ‘Fusion’ piccalilli, Sticky fig and rhubarb relish and cheeseboard favourite Pear & walnut chutney with port. 

“In Jake, Jane found someone who will do his best to stick to her principles, who knows the value of the provenance of the produce he is getting in,” Alexander says. “He wants to do the best by his producers, just as Jane did, and he has kept the essence of what Jane was trying to do.”

Crucial to this essence is the handmade process. “Every batch is slightly different,” Jake says, explaining how he and his team still peel and chop whole fruits and vegetables by hand to retain the character and texture of the final product. They make everything in batches of 20-30 jars at a time, using the same stovetop method you’d use at home – just with bigger pans.

“I use my eye and senses to know when things are ready,” he says. Choosing which of the Lingholm plums to put into one of the seasonal fruit compotes that he makes for our Kitchen – where it is spooned on top of porridge and sandwiched in our Victoria sponge cakes. Or knowing when the strawberry compote, made for us with Cochranes’ Cumbrian strawberries, has reached the perfect point – gently set but retaining some fleshy fruitiness. These instincts have become second nature to a chef who made and sold his first jams as a teenager in his parents’ Keswick B&B.

“I can’t explain it. I know by touching it when a plum is just ripe, but not too ripe,” he says. “That’s the perfect plum to make a compote.”

Tastes of the plain

Cheesemaker Carolyn Fairbairn and her daughter Leonie Fairbairn produce unique Cumbrian cheeses at Thornby Moor Dairy on the Solway Plain.

After 42 years working with milk, moulds and microbes, one would imagine a cheesemaker to be in complete control of her craft. But Carolyn Fairbairn, who’s been handmaking unpasteurised cheeses on the Solway Plain near Carlisle since 1978, modestly admits to a mere supporting role.

“The bacteria are in charge,” she says of the friendly lactic acid bacteria whose activities are so integral to the quality and flavour of her cheeses. “I’ve got to look after them. I’m just trying manage things so that the bacteria I want are allowed to thrive a bit more quickly than the ones I don’t want.”

She speaks while rubbing sea salt into a batch of round white cheeses that will become Toveys –mould-ripened goats’ milk cheeses that Carolyn named after the late chef and Lake District hotelier John Tovey, an early fan. Beneath the table where she’s working, a lower shelf is crowded with Cumberland Farmhouse cheeses in presses, their moisture being slowly squeezed out.

Once pressed they will be bound in cloth and aged for at least five months in the maturing room, where they are turned once a week. “All the cheeses are alive and I am responsible for their welfare,” says Carolyn. It’s not hard to imagine her giving them a gentle talking-to.

Cumberland Farmhouse, a hard cow’s-milk cheese, is a bestseller in our Farmshop for its buttery texture, full flavour and local provenance. Delivered to us by Carolyn’s daughter Leonie Fairbairn, it takes pride of place on our cheese counter beside Thornby Moor’s hard goat’s-milk cheese Allerdale and the popular Crofton – a creamy mould-ripened cows’ and goats’ milk cheese that has converted many a goats’-milk sceptic.

It is unusual for a small cheese dairy to produce such diversity of styles – Carolyn also produces day-old goats’-cheese stumpies, fresh curd cheeses and a delicate blue, all using locally sourced milk. Despite being the second largest milk-producing area in the UK, the Solway Plain has no strong tradition of farmhouse cheesemaking – historically it was a butter-making area. So when Carolyn, a former professional photographer, started making cheese on her kitchen table as way of using up the milk produced by a pair of rescued pet goats, she began with a clean slate.

“I can’t bear it when people call it a ‘cheddar’,” she says of Cumberland Farmhouse, which is made using milk from a single local herd of Dairy Shorthorn cows. Carolyn created it as a territorial cheese for Cumbria – our answer to a Lancashire or a Wensleydale or Gloucester: a Cumbrian cheese made with Cumbrian milk reflecting the Cumbrian soil and landscape.

“When people talk about wine, they’ll say it’s grown on a sunny hillside facing south and so on. That’s important, and it’s exactly the same with cheese,” she says. “The soil that your forage comes from, and the breed of the animal that processes that forage into milk, it’s important to how the cheese tastes and it’s important for a healthy diet. This is why I stick to my guns. I don’t mess with the milk. I let it arrive at cheese.”

During nearly half a century in which the food industry has become ever more industrialised, sticking to her guns has not always been easy. In 1989 Carolyn became a founder member of the Specialist Cheesemakers’ Association, which was spearheaded by Neals’ Yard Dairy founder Randolph Hodgson to support and encourage farmhouse cheesemakers in the face of increasing regulation and the pressure to pasteurise.

“Working with raw milk leaves you no excuses,” says Leonie, who’s been a champion of gut-friendly real food since her mother sent her to school with packed lunches made from homemade bread and goats’ cheese that had been ripening in the spare room. “You have to have good quality milk. It concentrates the mind from the beginning of the process, which improves animal health and wellbeing.”

She explains why using milk that has not been heat-treated to kill microbes is so essential to the unique flavours and qualities of their cheeses. “A very broad spectrum of bacteria remains alive and active within the milk, and that will go on to be reflected in the flavour and structure of the cheese,” she says. “With pasteurised milk you often get a more upfront and one-dimensional flavour. But with raw-milk cheese there’s complexity and length of flavour. The flavour tends to build on your palette and then linger.”

Our Farmshop buyer Alexander Evans, who began his career behind the cheese counter at Harrods in the 1980s, says he has huge respect for Carolyn and other raw-milk farmhouse cheese producers who have fought so hard to preserve recipes and techniques deeply entwined with their landscapes and places. “Carolyn was a pioneer of making farmhouse cheese in Cumbria when it was dominated by the big dairies,” he says. “She is fiercely protective of what she does.”

Alexander has recently added Tovey and the creamy blue-veined Blue Whinnow to the range of Thornby Moor Dairy cheeses on our counter. But he remains most devoted to the Cumberland Oak Smoked, which Carolyn and Leonie infuse slowly over oak shavings in a smokehouse they built themselves.

He loves to visit to the tar-blackened outbuilding behind the dairy, where smoke creeps out from beneath a rickety wooden door and the pale yellow cheeses take on a deep amber hue. “That incredible sunset yellow colour inside when you open it the cheese,” he says. “There’s nothing better.”