WITH the effects of foot and mouth still being felt 10 years on and the onset of the recession, Chris and Emma Padmore knew they had to shake up the farming business they had been running for the last 28 years.
Dairy farming alone was not going to sustain their livelihoods or indeed the future of Bank House Farm at Glaisdale, in the heart of the North York Moors.
So they set about a new venture after seeing a gap in the market for the emerging trend of bunk barns – hostel type accommodation but with home comforts.
There are only three others in the area but as many as 40 dotted across the Yorkshire Dales.
And now, the Bunk Barn at Bank House has been open for its first full summer season and saw solid bookings for every weekend between March and October with many dates snapped up in between. It is a far cry from looking after pigs, beef cattle, sheep and chickens and while the couple still have 25 cattle and 60 sheep to look after, the workload is more managing the admin than milking.
Emma said: “It is a really nice business to have. You meet people and so far they have all been really nice too. We had tried lots of things, but foot and mouth was a big challenge for everybody. It made people question what they were doing and a lot of dairy farmers stopped being dairy farmers.
“Before foot and mouth we had been selling our own organic meat from the farm and at farmers’ markets. We didn’t want to tread on the toes of the very good butcher in the village so it was mostly when family came to visit that they would stock up or people that were ex-vegetarians.”
But the recession hit and there was a decline in meat sales and interest as people started to cut out ‘luxury items’.
Chris added: “There was less money and people were thinking ‘shall I buy organic or Sainsbury’s Basics’ – I know that is what I went for. Everybody is in the same position and trying to save a little bit of money.”
That also extended to the ‘staycation’ trend with people choosing to holiday in the UK rather than abroad but with the holiday cottage market being saturated, Emma and Chris had to come up with something else.
Emma said: “We did not want to go down the holiday cottage route as there are so many. There must be more holiday cottages in Glaisdale than there are homes. We couldn’t afford to stop in one and wanted to provide something a bit more affordable.”
Chris visited similar and established schemes in the Yorkshire Dales taking the best bits and adapting them. For example, some were bare stone walls while they wanted heating so it could be used all year round.
But, the project wasn’t always happy camping. After 20 years in hill farming the couple had little in the way of savings so had to lend the £100,000 needed to get the project off the ground.
The building they converted had for years been used to keep pigs and horses in, so before anything else could happen six trailer loads of pig muck had to be carted out of the barn.
Then workmen uncovered and damaged a cast iron water pipe, part of the main supply network, so with neighbours in the dale at risk of contaminated water Chris dug through the night to fix it.
It didn’t help either when they were landed with a £4,000 bill for business rates and just 10 weeks to pay it but they managed to get that down as they use three rooms of their farmhouse for B&B yet it is still a far cry from the £200 a year they paid when they first took over the farm.
They got there in the end though and now the Bunk Barn has underfloor and central heating which can be isolated from the main house, three private toilets, two shower cubicles converted from a garden shed and space for 11 people, cooking facilities and a TV.
The new and old businesses complement each other as guests can use the 50 acres of land for camping and barbecue areas as well as having beef and lamb from the farm.
Emma added: “We are lucky there aren’t that many around here. There is one in Whitby, Westerdale and Goathland. If people know they can come here for that kind of thing it will bring more people in.”
The farm business, run separately because it is VAT registered just about breaks even, while the Bunk Barn makes a modest profit after covering bank loan payments and running costs but it is hoped that within 15 years it will be the couple’s pension plan.
Not ones to rest on their laurels though, Emma and Chris are now investigating the possibility of going green and installing a biomass heating system and hosting drystone walling courses from the Bunk Barn in order to keep the business appealing.