Featured in Feast, issue 38 – July/August 2019 – Big Interview Feature
The former Environmental Health Officer, who was born in West Runton, near Sheringham, set up health and safety consultancy, RedCat Partnership in 1999, and it has provided countless food safety courses, from Level 1 to 4, over the past two decades.
Clients span the whole food chain, from local caterers or artisan suppliers to international manufacturers. ‘We’ve got a lovely client base which has grown organically,’ says Sarah, 52.
Along with husband Richard Mills, she went on to open No.8 Thorpe Road, in Norwich, in 2014 – a meeting, training and conferencing facility overlooking Norwich Railway Station. ‘It’s an awesome location – we wanted it to be in the city centre so everybody could get to it. But there’s still a challenge out there: the first person to arrive by boat can have a bottle of Champagne!’
As well as providing RedCat with its own training rooms, No.8 rents out its spare capacity. ‘We have heard that we are finalists in the IPSE (Independent Professionals and the Self Employed) Co-working Space of the Year Freelancer Awards,’ says Sarah. You can see why. Check out the tea and coffee making facilities – coffee is from Mattishall-based Give It Some Beans, tea is about to come from Wilkinson’s of Norwich, and there are pots of Norwich Porridge on display as soon as you walk through the door.
Catering, for office lunches, buffets, and corporate events, is prepared on site using Norfolk’s larder of fine ingredients. ‘We make things from scratch,’ says Sarah, ‘our own bread, for sandwiches, and we source all the fillings locally, and so we are great users of Archer’s Butchers and Crush Foods. And we cater to people’s dietary needs.’
Evangelical about all things Norfolk and food-related, it’s probably not too much of a surprise to many that the farmer’s daughter has joined the board of the rebranded Proudly Norfolk Food and Drink, and has brought a new energy with her. Proudly Norfolk events regularly take place at No.8 and Sarah has been spreading the word at the county’s various foodie events. ‘We’re much more membership-based and it’s a big family now – it’s lovely. At Reepham [Food Festival] it was pouring down with rain but there was a real Dunkirk spirit – we all looked after each other.’ When we met, the brand new Proudly Norfolk gazebo was drying off in one of the rooms at No.8!
How many Proudly Norfolk members are we talking about these days? ‘It’s easily 200 now – we gained six last week and I’ve picked up three over the weekend.’
The week beginning July 22, Proudly Norfolk are taking over the Norwich Pop Up Shop on Castle Meadow. Members can have a unit at the shop, run by the Norwich Business Improvement District, for just a day or the week.
Sarah is also one of the founding members of Porkstock, the fun, foodie festival which has been held at the Norfolk Showground for the past couple of years. And just when you thought Porkstock was ‘doing a Glastonbury’ this year, by taking a break, Sarah reveals: ‘The girls of Porkstock went out the other night and a few gins were consumed…’ The result? A mini Porkstock is planned for September 8! ‘We are going to Bedford’s in Norwich – it’s just to get our name out there again.’
So does she have a penchant for pork in particular? ‘I love a sausage!,’ is the reply, although her daughter Jasmin, 22, is vegan. ‘I swing from that to not eating any meat at all when she’s at home. I’m a complete flexitarian.’
She adds: ‘My favourite restaurant is Benedicts. The guys at Benedicts know us so it’s like going out to eat with your mates – Adam [Vass] is on the board of Proudly Norfolk.’
Is there anything she finds challenging about being a business woman, being in the industry she’s in? It doesn’t sound like it! ‘I don’t find it a challenge, being a woman in business – I know where I want to go and we are in control of our own destiny here – the challenge for me is juggling the many things I do.’ It’s a mainly female team at No. 8, although husband Richard must get a mention: ‘He’s the chalk to my cheese. We’ve been married for 26 years and have worked together for 16 of those. This is our future – this is all our eggs in one basket.’
It would be fair to say Sarah is a colourful character. Sporting bright red Cat trainers (what else?), she says: ‘When I turned 50, I became even more decisive over what I wanted. If I’m going to work hard, I’m going to work hard for what I want.’