Nestled at the foot of Barr Beacon is a place that could be described as Aldridge’s ‘best kept secret’ – but it is a hidden treasure that more and more people are discovering.
Beacon Farm, off Beacon Road, has been in the Lilwall family for generations, rearing cattle, breeding pigs and growing produce for local people. Peter Lilwall first took over the farm 35 years ago, after his uncle passed away.
“The buildings were derelict, but Peter spent three months living in a caravan on the site, repairing and rebuilding the place and getting it up and running,” says his wife, Pauline.
“We’ve spent the last 22 years extending and improving the farm to create what it is now.”
The result is a thriving working farm that also supports a number of businesses on the site, selling everything from restored furniture to bicycles – but it’s the farm’s own butcher’s shop that has developed a following of loyal customers who are willing to travel miles to buy quality, farm-reared meat.
“We rear cattle on the farm and breed pigs too – all fed on grain that we mill ourselves – which means that the meat we sell in our butcher’s shop is incredibly high quality,” Pauline said.
“Most of our trade comes from word-of-mouth, and people keep coming back once they have tried our produce.”
The butcher’s shop sells meat products, black pudding, bacon, pork pies, fresh eggs and pork to die for.
The farm also has a popular grocery business, selling vegetables grown on the site alongside fresh produce brought in daily from wholesalers.
The COVID pandemic has had a positive effect on the farm’s trade, bringing new interest in quality food.
“During lockdown our trade in the butcher’s shop trebled,” Pauline said, “and now we find we have retained a lot of those new people.
“I think a lot of people didn’t want to queue in supermarkets to buy their food and, if you compare our meat to what you might buy in a large supermarket it really is superior. So I think the lockdown changed people’s shopping habits in a good way.”
Those changing habits have also introduced a new kind of customer to the delights of Beacon Farm.
“We have always had a lot of older customers – some have been coming here or 20 years – but we are now seeing a lot more younger people coming here too,” Pauline said.
“Young people these days care so much about what they eat, and I think they can see that the food we sell here is high quality.”
Throughout the pandemic, the farm has stuck to all the strict guidelines laid down by the Government, following hygiene rules, restricting the numbers of people in the shops at any time and practising social distancing.
All of this has been carefully overseen by staff who pride themselves on friendly, welcoming and homely customer service.
“People have been very understanding,” Pauline said, “they have been amazingly supportive.”
Perhaps the most unusual thing about Beacon Farm is its location – a slice of rural life right on the doorstep of the urban West Midlands.
The couple’s two sons live in Sutton, while their daughter lives in Little Aston.
“I think we get the best of both worlds living here,” Pauline said. “If I look out of any of our windows, the view is trees and countryside, but at the same time we are just a short drive away from Aldridge, Walsall, Sutton and Birmingham.
“I suppose that’s why people are often so surprised when they first discover us. We quite often get a new customer who says: ‘you know, I’ve lived around here all my life, and I had no idea this farm was here!’”
Thanks to the quality food they produce and the recommendations of loyal customers, it seems more and more people are discovering the secret of Beacon Farm.