A last-ditch attempt to save The Oxford Artisan Distillery has been launched by an action group after it was announced it will move to a bigger factory in Yorkshire.

Shareholders were told last month that a distillery known as TOAD will be “difficult to develop given its physical footprint” near South Park in Headington.

The plans will see Oxford’s first-ever distillery launched in 2017 move to a larger facility in the north of England to increase its production capacity.

READ MORE: Under-fire council commends Jeremy Clarkson and Clarkson's Farm on tourism boom

However, residents, businesses, MPs and the distillery’s founder Tom Nicolson have backed the Friends of TOAD group in an effort to stop the move.

The group want to see the artisan spirits business stay open and has approached the distillery with plans to save it.

This is Oxfordshire: TOAD founder Tom NicolsonTOAD founder Tom Nicolson (Image: TOAD)

Mr Nicolson, who spent 10 years creating the distillery but stepped down from his board position in 2022, said:  “Oxford has birthed many proud firsts during its long and illustrious history. 

“It was a great achievement launching TOAD, the first-ever distillery in Oxford. 

“It’s become a much-loved venue, visitor attraction and brand and it would be a great loss to the city and its residents if it disappeared forever. 

“The distillery has been a resounding success in Oxford, promoted and helped by the city and its people. 

“We fully understand the need for the business to scale up elsewhere but that’s no reason to abandon TOAD. 

“We will continue to seek a future for Oxford’s distillery." 

READ MORE: Man dies in crash involving four cars outside football club

TOAD opened in 2017 with the support of local authorities, the university and many local businesses and individuals. 

It ran a successful crowd-fund in 2018 and has since brought its award-winning spirits, distillery tours and events to the city.

In 2022 the company's Oxford Rye Dry Gin was launched into more than 150 Waitrose stores across the country.

The distillery in Cheney Lane, which also manufactures whisky, told its shareholders the move is also due to “fair and reasonable” restrictions imposed by the Oxford Preservation Trust covenants and Oxford City Council planning requirements.

Anneliese Dodds, MP for Oxford East, said: “Residents in my constituency are very proud of The Oxford Artisan Distillery brand and its location in South Park, in the heart of our vibrant and historic city. 

“As such, many of them have written to me to ask whether anything can be done to preserve the distillery’s future in Oxford.”

Businessman Matt Broadway, who is campaigning to keep the distillery in Oxford, said: “We think there is every reason to keep Oxford’s distillery open. 

“The current owners should allow us to preserve this excellent homegrown business, while they focus on their new ideas elsewhere”. 

Local restaurateurs Bernadette and Paul Petrillo of Branca on Walton Street said: “We’ve been stocking TOAD spirits from way back when.  

“They epitomise all which is good about small business. 

“If they’re not somehow able to work out a way of keeping the distillery going it would be a huge loss to Oxford."

The decision to move out of Oxford comes following investment from Distill Ventures, part of Diageo.

A briefing to shareholders adds that staff will leave the Oxford site at the end of 2024 when the company will cease to trade as The Oxford Artisan Distillery.

It is understood that the Oxford name will disappear from its whisky, and its English rye whisky will be called Fielden Whisky instead.

Tours are due to stop running at the end of May 2024 and the production team will blend whisky on site until mid-Autumn 2024. 

The company will continue to make some gin to reflect its Oxford roots, under the new plans.

It would work with Woods Bros Distillers, a small farm distillery in West Oxfordshire, to continue to make its heritage grain-based Grain Neutral Spirit and then use this as a base for its supply of Physic Gin and Ashmolean Gin to the Oxford Botanic Garden and Ashmolean Museum.