Musgrove Willows Teanm   crop

Musgrove Willows, a leading willow grower and producer based in Bridgwater, Somerset, is on the shortlist for the Best Rural Diversification Project in the Rural Business Awards after winning the South West regional final. Our colleagues Molly Dickson and Louise Duffin are on the judging panel for the awards which recognise rural initiatives that have gone above and beyond to offer something different to its customers. We have sponsored these awards since they started in 2015.

Musgrove Willows was established by the Musgrove family in 1928 and originally began supplying willow to businesses such as basket making companies and will now go head-to-head with other regional winners from across the UK in an online national final on Thursday 24 February.

When husband and wife Michael and Ellen Musgrove took over the business 20 years ago, they diversified to begin making their own willow produce including garden fencing and hurdles, baskets and gifts. They also launched a range of educational courses to teach people the art of willow weaving.

The company’s latest diversification is in willow coffins, not only offering people the opportunity to choose an environmentally-friendly coffin, but giving families and loved ones the chance to help design and weave the coffin should they wish. During the pandemic when families were not allowed to visit Musgrove Willows, the business embraced technology and offered live streaming and video calls for the families to speak to the weavers and see the coffins being made.

Ellen Musgrove said: “The industry has changed an incredible amount over the years, now focusing on smaller customers rather than supplying to large businesses, and we have diversified in line with this. Many might have thought basket weaving was a craft that would eventually disappear, but the pandemic has seen willow weaving thrive as it provided those looking for things to do at home with an opportunity to get creative, so it’s still very relevant today.

“Our focus at the minute is on willow coffins, and we are the only company in Somerset to grow the willow, process it and weave it in to coffins all on-site. We’re also the only large manufacturer in the UK to offer families and loved ones the opportunity to design and weave the coffins themselves. It’s an extremely personal and therapeutic experience at a time when some might be feeling a bit lost, and we’re seeing more and more people want to take part.

“There’s also the ethical, sustainable side, with us giving people the chance to see where all of the materials which make the coffins are from. We are extremely proud of our business and the whole team at Musgrove Willows. It can be difficult as an SME in the rural sector, so to receive this recognition from the Rural Business Awards is incredibly heart-warming. We are a carbon negative business and have doubled our workforce in the last two years to 45, which also includes four apprentices.

“Everyone here learns about the business from the bottom up, right from the growing and processing to weaving the willow. Looking to the future we will be focusing more on research and development to enhance our offering to customers. We will be looking into new equipment and machinery that will benefit the business, introducing additional training programmes for employees and hosting more online tutorials as the appetite for this style of events continues.”

David Merton, Head of Rural, based at our Ashby office said: “Musgrove Willows has done a fantastic job at diversifying in line with consumer trends.

“The business has also taken a focus on the incredibly important area of sustainable burials, and it is inspiring to hear how the team is supporting families by offering the coffin weaving experience.”

Musgrove Willows’ fellow category nominees are The Coo Shed in South Ayrshire, The Enbarr Foundation in Wales, Jimmy Birchmore Events in Warwickshire and Nettlecombe Farm on the Isle of Wight.

We’ll be sharing stories from all the regional winners of the Outstanding Rural Diversification Project this month. Follow us on Twitter @fishergerman, Facebook and LinkedIn to find out more.

To find out more about our rural property services click here To find out more about Musgrove Willows click here