Temporary Structures: County Durham farmers talk about their multiple diversifications and their journey of growth

In part two of our articles looking at obtaining planning for temporary structures, Sarah Todd speaks to Northumberland farmers Joanne and Michael Souter about their multiple diversifications and their journey of growth.

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Temporary Structures: County Durham farmers talk about their multiple diversifications and their journey of growth

In part two of our articles looking at obtaining planning for temporary structures, Sarah Todd speaks to Northumberland farmers Joanne and Michael Souter about their multiple diversifications and their journey of growth.

In her own words, Joanne Souter says she and husband Michael are normal, hard-working farmers, like hundreds of others trying to do their best.

The couple are tenant farmers of 65-hectare (160-acre) Bail Hill Farm, in Teesdale, Co Durham, and although it had been farmed by Joannes grandfather, a generation of succession had been missed and so the couple had to formally apply before taking over the reins with a new style Farm Business Tenancy.

Joanne and Michael are supported on-farm when possible by their children Joseph, 29; Danny, 25; and Megan, 21.

The children work as an agricultural engineer, farrier and trainee accountant, respectively.

The family are passionate breeders of Beef Shorthorn cattle, calving 40-45 a year. They also run about 180 breeding ewes, moving over more each year from Swaledales to North Country Cheviots and Mashams.

But in an unexpected move, their local pub, the Moorcock Inn, in the village of Eggleston, came up for auction

10 years ago and offered a new dimension to their business.

Joanne says: It had been a popular pub in its day, but it had been closed for a while.

We owned it as part of a partnership for a year or two with tenants running it Like lots of rural village pubs it was hard to make it pay.

Were a bit off the beaten track and Teesdale seems to be a forgotten dale, unlike the Yorkshire Dales or the Lakes.

After a year or two we bought our partner out and started running it ourselves.

We were determined to keep it open and one idea to make it viable was to turn the bit of land at the back of the pub into a glamping site to try and get some people coming into the area.

We decided on timber pods, so they would blend in with the area, but getting planning permission wasnt easy.

As members of the CLA for more than 10 years, the couple asked for help after their planning application for the 12-pod site hit complications.

Joanne says: The first lot of plans we submitted were knocked back and it was really useful to have access to an adviser to talk to.

They provided us with a letter of support and at the next attempt we got permission. Sometimes you need somebody to take a look at a project with a fresh pair of eyes.

Development

The Hill Top Huts site opened in October 2019, followed by The Hill Top Shop which opened in December 2020.

Joanne says: We knew there would be a market from the glamping customers, but because of the Covid-19 pandemic it turned out that it became a really useful village shop for locals.

We stocked all the essentials to save people having to leave the village. Our proudest achievement is the meat counter, selling our home-grown beef and lamb.

The village had been without a shop following the closure of its post office and shop in 2005 and residents have really got behind the new venture.

The family has an on-site cutting room and the butchery is something Michael has got very involved in.

Joanne says: Its amazing to think the meat from our farm is being sold direct to customers in our own shop as well as being used for the meals in our pub.

The diversifications have brought us a lot of hard work, especially at busy times on the farm, such as lambing and calving.

There are letting rooms in the pub plus the glamping pods, so as well as people having meals in the pub and coming into the shop, thats a lot of customers to keep happy.

Were very hands-on, working shifts in the pub as well as looking after the animals on-farm.

Well always be farmers first and foremost, but diversifying was definitely the right thing to do.

It all ties in, selling meat from the farm through the shop and using it on the menu at the pub.

Its not just our farm which has benefited.

The extra visitors have created jobs and brought many more people to Teesdale, which has been a real boost for the local economy.

If we hadnt got the planning permission for the glamping, we wouldnt have done the shop and the pub wouldnt have become so busy.

Getting the glamping site really did transform things for us.

CLA ADVICE ON TEMPORARY BUILDINGS

The CLAs professionally qualified advisers have the expertise to provide impartial advice on all the matters which will need to be considered if you are thinking about using temporary structures in your business.

This will include advice on whether permitted development rights are the correct approach by considering the various conditions and limitations which must be complied with.

On the other hand, if it is considered that planning permission is required, advice will be provided on the various material planning considerations which will need to be taken into account to achieve a successful outcome.

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Knowing the ropes

With the benefit of hindsight, Robert Ropner knows embarking on a diversification can be an uphill struggle and advises farmers to leave nothing to chance.

Robert and his wife Jo first opened the gates of their family estate to the public back in 1996.

Since then they have welcomed more than a million people to 121-hectare (300-acre) Camp Hill Estate, near Bedale, in North Yorkshire.

Although he is quick to say his local planning authority has been amenable, Robert is aware that if he was starting out his diversification of the estate now it could well be more of an uphill struggle.

Robert says: We started on this curve of diversification a long time ago and we were one of the very first to enter the glamping market.

The days of putting up a temporary style building and hoping for the best are long gone.

My advice to all farmers and landowners is to be upfront and proactive, rather than burying your head in the sand and going ahead regardless, thinking you can always put in a retrospective planning application.

Robert says he is very much an ideas person and will identify new schemes for diversifying the family estate.

Support

At the times he has needed sensible advice, his CLA membership has helped him balance this enthusiasm with some sensible advice.

Robert says: Its easy to get in a bit of a tunnel when thinking about a new idea.

Its so important to take a step back, bounce ideas around and talk it through with others.

As well as its glamping business, Camp Hill hosts festivals and corporate events.

It is home to an adventure park and organises team-building, educational and many other events and activities.

Robert says: Thankfully, it has always been to our advantage that Camp Hill isnt really visible to anyone from outside.

For those in more sensitive areas there are more obstacles to growing and diversifying a business. In that instance, you cant really start getting advice soon enough."

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