Breathing new life into a business takes energy, passion and thinking outside the box. Often that can come from the sons and daughters of farming families.
NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
Chris Dickinson’s grand plan was always to move back to the family farm, but he knew he would need to set up his own enterprise.
His parents run a mixed farm comprising beef, sheep, poultry and arable enterprises.
Diversity aplenty, but third generation Chris spotted a niche market in need of a champion.
Globally, goat meat is one of the most consumed meats and although the UK is one of the only countries in the world where this consumption isn’t common, Chris recognised that interest was rising.
“Goat meat is low in fat but high in protein and iron,” Chris said. “People often have a pre-conceived idea about it – that it’s tough or fatty – but once you convince them to try it, they realise goat meat is a fantastic alternative to the more mainstream options.
“The popularity of protein-based meals and clean eating has also led people to try it for the first time, because it’s the perfect product for health-conscious consumers.”
His breed of choice was the Boer and, in a stroke of luck, a 120-strong herd came up for sale following a local farmer’s decision to emigrate.
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw a herd of that size was being sold as it’s very rare,” he said. “In order to minimise the risk of disease and because I was aiming to establish a closed herd I bought them all.”
Recognising The Tailored Goat Company’s potential, Chris was awarded a scholarship of £3,000 and a mentor from the Henry Plumb Foundation in 2014.
Today he is finishing more than 350 goats a year, selling the finished product to local restaurants and butchers in Cumbria.
“By creating a business which has less competition I can set the price, rather than be beholden to the market,” he said.
“I’m currently selling my goat meat for double the price of lamb and I have extremely loyal customers.
“I was selling to Selfridges in London, but actually made the decision to stop as I had more than enough local business, which in turn keeps my transport costs down.
“I am now supplying goat to high end restaurants in Scotland such as Gleneagles through an excellent catering butchers called John Gilmour.
“I’m setting the agenda rather than falling in line – and what small business owner doesn’t want that?”
FROM DISCONNECT TO RECONNECT
Jess Gibbs didn’t always plan on launching a business from her family’s farm.
Initially she trained as a lawyer and moved to London, but it wasn’t long before the lure of the countryside tempted her back.
Situated in Elstree, just three miles from the end of the Jubilee line, Home Farm has been in the Gibbs family for 300 years.
Jess realised that the farm’s close proximity to London meant that a potential audience of nearly nine million people was right on their doorstep and decided to seize upon a new trend to entice them to the countryside: glamping.
No one understood more than Jess how important escape from the city can be, as she commutes to the farm every day from her home in Brixton.
“This is the place to come if you want to escape London but can’t face the thought of a long drive or crowded, expensive train,” she said. “No need for a car, you can grab your overnight bag, hop on the tube or overland straight from work and be with us in 40 minutes.”
Jess’s dad was initially sceptical: “He joked ‘why would anyone want to sleep in a field?’” Jess said.
However, her hunch that a rural escape was exactly what Londoners needed turned out to be well placed and Home Farm Glamping opened its doors in early 2015 with three yurts and nine bell tents.
Far from being just a destination for weekends away, Jess has used her corporate experience to market the site as the perfect place for organisations to hold team building away days or for businesses offering their staff stay incentives, as part of HR schemes that encourage staff to take positive time out.
Businesses that have used Home Farm include Samsung, Sainsbury’s and Investec. Each organisation used the site to build an experience for their staff that met their specific objectives.
“The activities each group chose were very different but all of them commented on what a great experience it was and how different it was from any other team away day they had taken part in,” she said.
“People come here wearing their suits, clutching their mobile phones. By the end of their stay, they’re talking to one another around campfires, bonding over adventure trails, and they’ve got muddy wellies on their feet. People are very inspired by the glamping experience and Home Farm is a real escape from the city.
“We’re here to enable people to disconnect in order to reconnect.”
GIN FLIES OUT THE CUCKOO’S NEST
Few spirits can claim to have enjoyed such a resurgence as gin. The Wine and Spirit Trade
Association says combined yearly sales of gin in the UK and British gin overseas have doubled in the past five years.
In the 12 months to June this year sales in the UK were worth over £1.6bn, up 38% on last year.
For one Lancastrian farming family, it has meant the farm remains viable for the future generations.
Gerard and Cath Singleton set about transforming Holmes Farm in Brindle, near Chorley, in 2017 with the help of their children Alice, William, Liz and her husband, Mark Long.
“When we first set up it was all hands on deck for the family to do everything ourselves,” said Alice.
Growing the barley, which is the base for the Cuckoo gin brand, and general farm maintenance is carried out by Gerard and William. Marketing and sales is headed up by Mark, and everything else is a team effort.
By-products of the distilling process are fed to pedigree cattle and free range chickens and straw from the barley is used for their bedding, and also used in the packaging to keep bottles safe in transit.
Further assistance comes in the form of Tom Fitzpatrick who takes the pressure off the family to travel and attends all hired events. But even with the extra support, there is still plenty to do at the Brindle Distillery.
Alice said: “We are a family unit and even if it means posting social media posts, taking photographs or filling in awards applications forms, we all chip in and that’s part of our USP.”
She hopes the diversification will mean Holmes Farm can remain in the Singleton family for another 80 years or more.
“Developing the Cuckoo gin brand has meant we can continue to rear our pedigree Hereford and Aberdeen Angus cattle without having to rely on this solely for income,” Alice said.
“The land is once again being worked, which it hasn’t been in all my life time, and it’s providing employment for local people, and providing a community spirit – no pun intended – for those living in Brindle and the surrounding areas.”