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About us

The Collins family have farmed at High Laver Hall since the 1950's. Over the years we have grown a wide variety of crops, most notably potatoes. At one point we were growing over 800 acres of potatoes in Essex, Suffolk, Surrey and Cornwall. Because we are in the "bread basket of England" we have always grown a lot of wheat but at one point we did have cattle on the farm as well.

The more recent years have seen us revert from organic to conventional farming whilst continuing to follow the ethical & environmental principles of organic farming but in a more sustainable and profitable way that suits our land. With the old adage of "know what is possible but do what is realistic" we are now concentrating on growing combinable crops and focusing our efforts on dealing with these very challenging times of modern farming. 

In the early 2000's, through supplying our local community, we began to realise that we needed to look at where our next customer was coming from and what are they eating now. Having young children of our own we explored what was happening in our schools and quickly realised that this was an area that needed severe change.

Knowing that local and organic produce was not the complete answer to this problem that had been building for generations we developed our "Feeding Our Future" project.


We created Ashlyns in 2005 to facilitate the next phase of our diversification strategy.

The project had to cover all bases so we identified four key areas to focus on. The school meal needed to be cooked on site at each school using good fresh ingredients. The children needed to understand how that food was produced through education visits and the people preparing the meals needed to be given the time, skills and resources to be able to deliver the vision. Many would say that this was how it used to be but unfortunately we have skipped a few generations of food education and the commercial limitations of school catering had led to a decline in freshly prepared meals


The last part of the puzzle was to help Headteachers and Governors put together a support package that looked at menus, food safety as well as promoting the vision of a better future

Our Story

What happened next ..

The biggest leap we have experienced was in 2008.

Previously we were advising schools on how to run their own school meal service but we were constantly being asked by Headteachers whether we would manage the service for them as they were too busy running their schools and by their own admission they didn't necessarily have the skills or knowledge to do it themselves.

This led to Ashlyns becoming Contract Caterers. It was something that we never envisaged but made perfect sense. We are now able to install our ethos and practices to make change happen. This is only possible by being in Partnership with our schools as there is so much work to be done through education and parental support.

There are always huge challenges but fortune favours the brave and we have experienced unprecedented success by believing in what we do and making it happen.

Our Team

Gary Stokes

Project Director

Gary's background is in farming.  His desire to provide local food for local people has been the driver behind the various Ashlyns' initiatives.  


Gary manages the overall business and occasionally finds time to help on the farm

Luke Shaw

Operations Manager (London)

Luke joined us in 2023 to support our London Schools. In June that year he was promoted to Operations Manager.  

Luke's experience in hospitality catering brings much experience and knowledge to support our school catering teams in London

Teresa Danskin

Operations Manager (Essex)

Teresa joined us in 2016 as a Catering Manager at one of our schools.

When her current position became available it was a very easy decision to promote her because of her skills, knowledge and dedication to the Ashlyns ethos

Dawn Bennellick

Support Operations Manager

Dawn joined the team in 2016.


She has worked her way up through the ranks and has now been promoted to help Teresa support our Essex schools

Jen Heymer

HR Manager

Jen joined us in 2021.


Jen is our guru for all employee matters but is also an integral part of the bigger business due to her Project Management Skills and passion and belief in what we do

Ali Stokes

Accounts Manager

Ali is Gary's wife (and some say boss!)

She manages all aspects of finance and is also the brains (so she says) behind a lot of the business development ideas

Debbie McKay

Orders & Admin

Debbie joined Ashlyns in 2006 although she has worked with Gary on other projects and is the longest serving employee. Debbie manages all of the order processing and liaises with our customers on a daily basis.

Sue Wilson

Accounts & Admin

Sue joined Ashlyns in 2006.


Sue assists Ali with all accounting matters as well supporting Debbie when things get manic. 

Andy Nicol

Knight in Shining Armour

Andy joined Ashlyns in 2011 as an Ops Manager but retired to his beloved golf course in 2020.


We are thankful Andy still helps the team in times of need either delivering produce or donning his apron again

Our Butchers

Gary, Keith & James

Our butchers have years of experience between them and start very early in the morning to prepare your meat order using fresh local produce of the finest quality

Drivers / Packers

Andy, Steve, Colin & Russell

Andy selects and pack your fresh produce to best way.

Steve, Colin and Russell are our delivery drivers who battle through storm, tempest and traffic to get your produce to you

The Bigger Team

We couldn't do it without you!

We are surrounded by so many like minded people that help support Ashlyns throughout its many different projects.

The Ashlyns Team is diverse and ranging in skills base but most importantly the ethos is the same 

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