Jane at farmtalking.org has forwarded this immensely cheering report from Peter Greenhill in Cockermouth I thought you might be interested in the results of our first sale in the new mart at Cockermouth. Here is a summary:-

Mitchell`s Auction Company, the oldest livestock auction mart in Gt. Britain closed its doors last February as a result of the F&M outbreak which also closed all other marts. Our situation was a little different: we had already been concluding an agreement to sell the old in-town site to Sainsburys and move to a new site on the fringe of town. The advent of F&M cast a huge cloud of doubt over the project. Who in their right mind would want to build a livestock mart with prices at rock bottom and F&M rampaging through the country (hotly pursued but never quite caught by Defra)?

It wasn`t an easy decision but it was thought that if the Lake District and West Cumbria was to retain its essential beauty it needed farms. These farms, in the main, are too small to be able to gain the benefit from dead weight selling, having only a few animals per week ready for sale. A mart was the only means of sensible disposal. So the decision was taken to go ahead with the mart build which gave a possible date of 24th. May for the first sale.

Getting everything ready for that date was a huge gamble but the biggest gamble would be whether the farmers would back the mart. Back them? they nearly swamped them! The mart is best known for its quality sheep sales: cattle sales are generally small by comparison with other marts. But as the days ran on, the numbers of bookings rose, peaking finally at a little short of 700 beasts. The mart hasn`t seen that sort of numbers for 25 years! This was the farmers responding to the promise that if they backed the mart company, the new facility would be built.

Friday 24th. May came and a foul day it was weathwerwise. But truck after truck appeared with eventually a 15 minute long wait to get into the mart complex! Staff coping with new equipment and shaking off the cobwebs after a 15 month lay-off coped wonderfully well. The atmosphere in the ring was electric: it was jammed to the rooftop with smiling people. Many were old, established clients, others were new whilst a welcome number had come back to the mart after a gap of some years. So in some 6 hours or so 680 animals went under the hammer and like all good dreams, nothing went wrong. People were happy to hang around for the "crack" the first for many of them for months. There were some misty eyes in the various groups.

The staff were absolutely marvellous and coped with everything thrown at them. Much has to be finished off to give the Cumbrian farmers a really broad-based facility. The computer training facility will be up and running in conjunction with the Newton Rigg campus of the University of Central Lancashire and this has already been proving that you can teach old dogs new tricks provided the training is friendly and fun. The exhibition space will allow farmers to hold market days as well as having demonstrations of large equipment or maintenance courses. It is also hoped to have a range of other courses available so that farmers can use the latest technology to enable them to meet the demands of the future.

There is still a long way to go but as a first step, the new mart has punched some enthusiasm into West Cumbria to replace the appalling gloom of the past 15 months.

Peter Greenhill Chairman
Mitchell`s Auction Company
Cockermouth.