2020 winners follow-up: Andrew and Jenny Jones, Rackery Retreat, Wrexham

For Andrew and Jenny Jones, winning the Diversification of the Year (small to medium) category at the British Farming Awards 2020 was recognition of a great team effort and its achievement in a relatively short period of time. Clemmie Gleeson reports.

A diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease in 2018 led Andrew Jones to reassess his farming business and lifestyle.

At the time, he and wife Jenny ran a herd of pedigree Holsteins on their farm in Burton, on the Wales side of the border with Cheshire, and like most dairy farmers, their life revolved around the routine of daily milking, as Andrew says.

“Cows were very much intertwined with our business and social lives – for both of us and our three daughters, Vicky, Gemma and Larissa.”

However, by 2018 Andrew was finding it a struggle to manage the cows.

He says: “I hadn’t realised why I was finding it difficult until the diagnosis, and that then forced my hand.”

The decision was made to sell the dairy cows and instead to diversify the business by setting up a glamping site. His naturally positive outlook meant he was able to look at the upside and find other opportunities outside of dairying.

He says: “In life you need to turn a negative into a positive to move forward.”

After some research, they settled on the idea of safari tents and invested in high-end facilities with each of the three tents being fully equipped with a fitted  kitchen, woodburner, hot tub and comfortable beds.

Social media

Being just seven miles from Chester makes the farm an ideal location for a glamping site, particularly for people wanting short breaks, says Andrew.

Gemma and Larissa both work in sales and marketing and were able to help the couple set up a website and social media accounts to promote the business and
this has proven invaluable. In particular, working with social media influencers was a particular eye-opener for Andrew and something he was initially a bit sceptical of.

He says: “For a 60-year-old farmer to give away a night or two in our glamping site felt a bit controversial.”

But he was soon won over when he saw the impact it could have on bookings. In the glamping site’s first autumn when the weather was a bit bleak and bookings were few and far between, a weekend visit from a Chester influencer and her subsequent posts on social media led to a flurry of bookings.

He says: “By the Saturday morning we started getting bookings and we had 11 by Monday morning.”

That led on to a joint venture with other businesses in Chester, including a restaurant with which they did cross-promotions, which also proved very successful.

He says: “Two-and-a-half years later, we had 20,000 followers on our own Facebook page and Instagram.”

Andrew says most of the glampsite visitors are under 45 years old, and most have found the business through social media platforms.

Understanding how his target market access information and want to make bookings has also been a learning curve.

He says: “They want the information given to them very easily. We have an availability calendar on the website, but most customers still message via Instagram or Facebook.”

Although there is undoubtedly commercial opportunity to expand, Andrew is keen to keep the site small and exclusive.

He says: “We have the three tents on an eight-acre field and know we could put a lot more on there. All of my farming friends and the ex-dairy farmer in me thinks we should have more. The margins in farming are diminishing all the time, so we have to expand to hold our position, but we moved into glamping to make my life easier.

“I don’t want to get onto a hamster wheel of putting up another row of tents and then making things too difficult.”

This is especially pertinent given the new projects on-farm. Andrew and Jenny’s daughter and son-in-law Vicky and Dave Matthews have recently set up a 40-cow dairy herd on the farm, which they will be running alongside their full-time day jobs.

The family also has a planning application in for a farm shop on an outlying field, an ideal site as it is close to a main road. The farm shop, which will hopefully be up-and-running this year, will offer a range of local produce and possibly vending machines with milk from the dairy herd.

The rest of the farm is used for growing maize for other local farmers and grazing for Jenny’s small herd of pedigree Hereford cattle, says Andrew.

He says: “We are still farming, but in a less intensive way than before. The thing about dairy cows is they run your life with milking twice-a-day and often calvings in the evenings.

“When you stop it is quite liberating, but it did take a couple of years to get used to that blank canvas. When you are in it you don’t have time to stop and think about what you want to do – cows generate your agenda. When you do suddenly have that time it is a bit scary.”

Glamping was the obvious choice when looking for a diversification project, he says.

“We have a nice view across to Chester city and people always comment about that. A friend then said it would be a spectacular venue for a caravan site, but I knew we didn’t want the masses.

“We wanted a more exclusive site. Initially we thought about yurts, but then spotted these safari tents at a glamping event. With roll top baths and fitted kitchens, they are very good. People are always surprised with the standard when they arrive.

“I find it very rewarding, but you do need to be a people person that’s for sure. You have to get your head around allowing people into your lives, which is a bit alien to many farmers who usually work in remote locations, but I enjoy the interaction with people.”


Receiving payment from customers before they arrive is also alien to anyone in agriculture, but is a definite perk of a diversification like this, says Andrew.

The Covid-19 pandemic interrupted the business in 2020, but the surge in interest in staycations and local holidays has been a massive plus.

Andrew says: “We were closed for various periods, but when we opened we had back to back bookings. Because we are mostly two-night stays we are turning round the three tents every other day, but the returns versus anything in agriculture mean it more than compensates for the extra costs involved.”

Those costs include additional cleaning and other measures to ensure Covid-19 safety.

He says: “A lot of positives came out of a disaster. We were already up-and-running before the pandemic, but if anyone else is thinking of investing, this is the year to do it.”

Winning the award was a great moment, says Andrew. “It gives us some authenticity. We had only been going two years at that point, so it was mind-blowing. I was really surprised to win.

“As a lifelong Farmers Guardian reader, I have often thought about the awards night and how good it looks. It was a shame we missed out on that.”

However, he still enjoyed attending the online ceremony, hosted by Vernon Kay, particularly when comments from the judges of the diversification category
were read out. These highlighted how much team effort had gone into establishing and promoting the business.

Andrew says: “They said everybody knew their role in the team. If you had asked me as a parent and business owner what I would like to be recognised for, it was that. Our daughters choose to be involved, so it has really good to have their involvement recognised too.

“If our story gives other farmers some inspiration and shows there is life after dairy cows, that is brilliant. Farmers are not very good at waving their own flag, so
I would say that if you know of a neighbour or friend who is doing a good job of farming or with a diversification then go ahead and nominate them.”