For Ted and Jackie Howard-Jones inheriting the family farm in 2005 provided the opportunity to capitalise on its stunning location and practical facilities to establish multiple business ventures.
Nestled in the heart of the Chilterns in Buckinghamshire, Cholsey Grange Farm was once home to Ted’s parents who ran it as a working farm with alternative income streams. “The farm itself has been through many changes with my father in charge. Being a 200-acre farm, it was once a dairy farm, followed by a chicken farm, then pigs, and latterly sheep.
“In addition, before his retirement, my father also ventured into a marquee business for which he used the old chicken houses as storage for all the equipment, converted the piggeries into offices which were rented out, and some of the grain stores hired out for workshops as another source of income.
“When my parents passed away in 2005 we had the choice to either sell up and move on or buy my brother out and take on the farm,” says Ted.
With Jackie working on an agricultural estate and Ted working in sales and marketing their joint skill set meant they had the vision to develop Cholsey Farm into a business that could work for them and their family. So, 2005 saw them move into the main farmhouse with a fresh set of ideas.
“When we took on the farm we were very much starting from scratch. Luckily all the infrastructure was in place but we had to develop the business from the start,” explains Ted.
Of the 200 acres, they made the decision to contract farm half of this, while the remainder has been kept as grass for grazing, shooting and other uses.
“When we were thinking of business ideas it was an advert in the CLA magazine that made us think of caravans, and the rest they say is history.”
Ted and Jackie opened the Caravan and Motorhome Club Certified Location (CL) in 2008 with the bare minimum, offering a fabulous view to visitors but few other facilities other than running water and chemical disposal.
“We have five grass pitches for caravans or motorhomes reserved exclusively for members of the Club, set in one of the fields offering a magnificent 180-degree, 35-mile reaching view.
“With its location and abundance of wildlife, the site should have been selling itself, but after two years we were struggling to gain the return we had hoped for.”
Ted explains that his decision to invest in electricity was ‘the best £5,000 they have ever spent.’
“These days everyone wants access to electricity. Once the electric was in, the bookings started to rise, we started to get good reviews and the business has since gone from strength to strength.
“It is a seasonal business with the site open between the end of March until the end of October but our occupancy rates during this time are up to 90% at the weekends and between 40 and 50% during the week. We are looking to lay hard-standing so we can extend our offering to 12 months of the year which will hopefully make even more of a difference.
“Having been running now for almost 10 years we’re still learning all the time. But it does go to show that when you are considering options for diversifying a farm business it doesn’t always have to be the latest trend. Look at the facilities or skills you have and how you can put these to good use.”
With the success of the site, Ted and Jackie also saw the opportunity for an adjoining business. “Who’d have thought that caravan and motorhome storage would be so sought after? But it most definitely is.
“Often people who own caravans or motorhomes don’t have the space to store them and so these people are crying out for somewhere safe and secure to store their vehicles when not in use. Hence why we now also offer storage for up to 20 caravan and motorhomes.
“We haven’t had to advertise this side of the business at all and we could more than easily sell the plots two or three times over. All people require is hardstanding and a good level of security.
“As we are fortunate to have the space to offer this type of additional service, it has been an easy win for us,” says Ted.
You may also like: Ted’s guidance on setting up a caravanning and motorhome site
As well as the caravan enterprise Jackie and Ted have also established a riding business. “As if we didn’t have enough already going on, we could see that there was capacity on the farm to offer something more. At the time we weren’t sure what this could be so we went along to one of the local Buckinghamshire Business First events to ‘kick’ some ideas around.
“I had initially thought of downhill mountain biking but for this, the riders often want a very long hill, which we don’t have, and also we would have needed to build the infrastructure to get them back up to the top of the hill.
“But we came away from the event with the idea of self-guided rides,” says Ted.
Open to horse owners, Ted and Jackie first offered this to day riders only. “People come and park their lorries for the day, we advise them of the routes on offer, and off they go with a map that we supply for a couple of hours.
“Over the two and half years we’ve been running this business it has evolved. For example, every Wednesday we offer guided rides for those who may not have others to ride with, we have run themed rides such as Christmas rides, where we offer mince pies and mulled wine on their return and we’ve also ventured into offering riding holidays.”
Attracting people from down the road as well as far afield, Ted and Jackie have built a shower and toilet block, fully equipped kitchen and sleeping facilities to accommodate the riders overnight. “We encourage people to either stay in their lorries, or in the facilities provided. The horses can be either stabled or turned out in our paddocks, but we do not mix between the caravan site and the horses.
“’Safe riding’ is a big thing among the industry at the moment, and being able to offer off-road riding trails for all abilities is something a little different that has worked for us.
“It is early days with the riding business and there are still lots of avenues to explore. It’s a captive audience who are always looking for different things to do with their horses,” says Ted.
Farm diversification, diversification ideas, rural business, rural business ideas
Cholsey Grange Farm fact file:
You may also like: