Gloom descended over Winchelsea as the prospects for its disappearing shops took another turn for the worse with the publication of the 2013/14 annual accounts for Winchelsea Farm Foods. This is the company that bought all the shops in the town, as well as two premises in Rye (including Ashbees) and the lease of the farm shop outside Icklesham. In April 2014, the date of the accounts, Winchelsea Farm Foods owned the Little Shop, the sub post office and Winchelsea Farm Kitchen, as well as a closed premises (formerly Winchelsea’s celebrated butcher, Jamie Wickens). In the year to that date, Winchelsea Farm Foods increased its cumulative loss by £772,000 to £4.546 million.
Winchelsea Farm Foods is a trading subsidiary of an environmental charity called Wetland Trust, set up by retired hedge fund manager and Icklesham resident Stephen Rumsey. It is intended to generate profits for the charity but never has. The widening hole in the charity’s finances that has been caused by Winchelsea Farm Foods has been filled by loans from Rumsey of £5.168 million (up from £4.837 million the previous financial year). Without these, the charity would be insolvent.
The depressing numbers included another drop in turnover, this time of 25% or £414,000 and the 19% increase in net losses. And although the cost of administering the shrinking business has been trimmed back to some £739,000, it far exceeds turnover. But the reduction of administrative expenses has involved the shedding of 15 more staff. The charity also dismissed another nine.
Meanwhile, plans to convert the former Little Shop premises into an art gallery, recently advertised as an “exciting new business opportunity”, have apparently fallen through. The building remains empty and the lease is being advertised at £12,000 a year.