Sussex man who helped keep food supplies going in the pandemic receives royal recognition

A man who helped to keep food supplies going during the pandemic has been honoured by the Queen.

And Nick Hempleman - owner and founder of The Sussex Produce Company - has spoken of his ‘delight’ at the recognition.

Nick has been awarded the BEM for services to the community - particularly during the pandemic - in the New Year Honours.

“It’s great,” he said. “But we don’t know who to thank for putting us forward for this.”

Nick Hempleman owner of the Sussex Produce Company

Nick and his team at the Sussex Produce Company in Steyning worked tirelessly for the community when the pandemic first broke out.

“One of the first things we did was put a box in the shop asking customers to donate items for a local food bank,” he said.

“We said we would match all the donations.”

It proved a winning scheme. “People were so generous,” said Nick, who ensured that staff from the restaurant and events side of his business - which had to close during lockdown - were offered a chance to work on the retail side.

The shop also started donating regular food and veg boxes which Horsham Food Bank packed and delivered to those in need.

Shop trade increased rapidly at the start of lockdown and, as well as fresh produce, the company was able to source foods such as pasta and flour which customers were finding difficult to obtain elsewhere.

Nick also started a home delivery service for the most vulnerable in the community.

And he launched an early payment scheme for food suppliers who were also struggling at the time because their regular customers - restaurants and pubs - had been forced to close.

“Our suppliers did us such a fantastic job all the way through,” said Nick.

Meanwhile, the Steyning shop’s shelves were kept well-stocked through careful management while some supermarkets were running low on goods.

“We were really proud of doing it,” said Nick. “Our staff were great. It shows the benefit of shopping locally.

“Small shops like ours were a lifeline.”

Nick, who launched the Sussex Produce Company in 2007, sold the Steyning shop last year and is now developing a food-based events venue near Petworth, as well as running the business as a restaurant and retail consultancy.

He added of his honour: “Whilst I was delighted to receive a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Years’ Honour’s List 2022, I find myself in the embarrassing position that I don’t know who to thank for putting me forward.

“Apparently it is quite a lot of hard work but the recipient of an award is not told which person/s did so on their behalf. Therefore can I publicly thank whoever did so?”