A SKELMORLIE woman who has spent more than six decades working as a butcher has been made an MBE in the New Year honours list.

Elizabeth Craig Ovens, the director and co-owner of the award-winning McCaskie's Butchers in Wemyss Bay, gave a heartfelt and emotional message of thanks at the "quite emotional" award.

The 79-year-old has been honoured for her services to retail and the economy in Scotland, after becoming co-owner and director of the family enterprise 25 years ago.

The shop has become the UK’s most awarded butcher and was named UK Butcher Shop of the Year in May by the Food Manufacture and Meat Trades Journal.

Ms Ovens still works more than 50 hours a week to ensure the business remains one of the finest in the retail butchery sector.

After hearing she would be recognised as an MBE, Elizabeth said she felt a “mixture of surprise and delight”.

She added: “It was also quite emotional, thinking about family members who are no longer with us who were very much part of this journey.

“I am sure my late mother Abigail, father Mearns and husband Tom will be looking down from above with great pride.”

The business was established in 1935 by Mearns McCaskie.

Elizabeth remembers her father showing her how to use butchery equipment in 1954, which she said makes her feel “rather old”.

She added: “He always focused on supplying the highest quality meat and meat products and we have kept that ethos going over the past nearly 90 years.”

Things started to change when Ms Ovens’ son Nigel graduated and joined his mother as co-owner in 1998.

The duo began investing in modernising the premises, and bought a cafe in 2008.

They set up a production unit behind the shop which was formally opened by the Princess Royal in 2018 - an event remembered by Ms Ovens as a “very proud day for the team here”.

During the visit, the Princess met the Ovens family and staff and toured the facility, which has been developed with an investment of around £800,000.

The shop has won a number of awards and accolades over the years, including being named champion for haggis and black pudding.

It also won awards for its steak pies and bacon, which helped to drive sales and put McCaskie’s on the radar of many hungry Scots.

Ms Ovens described her career highlight as being earlier this year when McCaskie’s was named the UK’s Best Butcher in the Butcher Shop of the Year awards.

“It has been so exciting to be part of this positive journey," she said, "but huge credit must go to all the staff who have gone before and the current exceptional team.

“Sincere thanks must go to all our customers who have supported us so loyally over the years.

“My overall philosophy is look forward rather than back, and to continue to invest and innovate, whilst never taking our focus off quality and customer service.

“I am very fortunate that I have rarely missed a day’s work in over 60 years, but I am also fortunate to have a great team around me who keep me young.”

In the 25 years since she took over the business, turnover has increased from £200,000 to around £2 million and staff numbers have grown from five to 25.

The shop stayed open throughout the Covid pandemic, providing a lifeline to locals with its food and other household items it would not normally sell.

Ms Ovens said: “We were relieved and pleased to not close at all during Covid.

“We did whatever we could to support the community during this very challenging time.

“As an example, thanks to our long-term supplier relationships we managed to source household items which were in very short supply, which we didn’t normally stock, and offered these along with our normal range of products.

“While the restrictions were at their strictest we often had queues of some 50 metres along the pavement.

“We noticed a lot more people were shopping local and most of these new customers continue to shop with us.

“We support the community, but the community very much supported us and continues to do so.”

As well as local customers, the business delivers all over the UK and supplies produce to fellow independent butchers, and restaurants and hotels.

Ms Ovens has organised and funded numerous activities and events in support of local and national charities, and says her customers’ kindness “has meant we will have donated over £10,000 to these charities in recent years”.

Today the business is run by Nigel and Helen Ovens in partnership with Elizabeth.