Roger, Richard, Robert and David Nicholson

When Roger Nicholson approached his bank to fund an open farm project, he was told in no uncertain terms he would never be able to make it viable.

Undeterred, he approached another bank, secured the required funding and went on to reinvest the subsequent profits year on year to grow the business into what it is today with the support and help of his family.

Today, Cannon Hall Farm welcomes more than one million visitors across its multi-functional site, comprising a working farm, adventure playgrounds, a farm shop, two gift shops and three restaurants.

Key investments have been into a new farmyard, built in 2013, which allows the public to view the farm from purpose-built galleries while allowing farm work to go on unhindered by visitors.

An indoor play area, The Hungry Llama, opened in 2015, and is one of the largest and best equipped in the region.

Covid-19 provided a huge turning point for the business, and they embraced their already strong social media presence to staggering new heights. Determined to adapt what they could control, brother Robert broadcast
on Facebook Live to thousands of people every morning at 7.30am throughout lockdown for more than 150 days, showcasing the happenings on-farm and providing a lifeline of communication for thousands of people stuck in their homes.

At the peak of its popularity, the Facebook page had a reach of 24m people each month. Their efforts were rewarded and included receipt of The Prime Minister’s Point of Light Award, which offered the family a renewed sense of purpose, raised their profile and drove future sales.

Social media activity continues to thrive, and a weekly live cooking demo and subscription service have now been introduced.

Richard says: “If the last few years  have taught us anything, it is that you cannot forsee the future. We are, however, proud of the way we have coped with those challenges and emerged on the other side, a more diverse and adaptive business.

“We continue to review performance  in different areas of the business and that will help to guide our way forward. Our approach has always been to think on our feet and adapt, and we will continue to do so."

Chris, Sue & Thomas Heseltine

Chris, Sue and Thomas Heseltine have ensured their diversification goes beyond the traditional realms of a farm park.

What began as a small diversification within the 1,000-strong livestock farm has now become the main enterprise, with visitor numbers in excess of 60,000 from February to October.

The farm diversification provides an educational, hands on opportunity for families and schoolchildren to learn about food production and farming.

Visitors can expect to see and interact with a large number of animals and activities, from egg collection and feeding lambs to brushing pigs and seeing chicks hatch.

There is a significant outdoor area for families to play and picnic in, although the on-site shop is also open.

Education is fundamental throughout the park, with information points and boards displayed across many areas about the animals and the farm.

The family hosts daily visits for primary schoolchildren, with many groups travelling from urban cities of Leeds and Bradford.

Each school is divided into structured groups of 20 children, which are rotated every 30 minutes, taking part in five different activities with members of staff, who comprise four full-time and 37 part-time workers.

Although initially the family relied on leaflet distribution and media, word of mouth has ensured new and loyal customers along with a growing presence on social media.

Sue, who says they always introduce new additions to the farm park each year to keep it vibrant and varied, says: “Both the farm businesses and the diversification rely on each other to maintain the farming link and ensure the business is successful.

“With visitor expectations continuing to rise, we must ensure our attraction continues to be an interesting, high-quality visit, without steering away from our core principles of farming, education and the countryside within the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

What the Judges said

Thomas has proved that with determination, anything is possible. Utilising a tenancy farm to develop such an educating, successful farm park shows true grit. The work they have put in to develop the business is evident and they are a great inspiration to others on what is possible with farm diversification.”

David Rawlings

Leading the team at Priory Farm is David Rawlings, who, through innovation and strategic adaption to market conditions, has successfully diversified into multiple enterprises.

The introduction of a wedding venue, glamping pods and a vodka production business have all added to the core arable farming business and boosted profitability, while supporting its future longevity.

Opening in 2010, the Priory Barn and Cottages have proved a huge success, offering a unique location for weddings and events, comprising a converted barn, a marquee and seven cottages centered around a private  courtyard.

Six years later, work began on the production of vodka, borne from the potatoes grown on-farm and distilled on-site. As potato supplier to some large retailers and restaurants, David was keen to utilise the surplus  produce and sought inspiration from his fellow worker Eric, who had moved from Poland to work and live on the farm with his family.

It was a happy coincidence that Eric had made vodka with his grandfather at home, and with his help, David took to developing a product over a period of two years. It quickly earned some impressive accolades within a
short space of time, including gold awards at the Vodka Masters in 2017.

Environmentally friendly credentials also feature heavily, with the used potatoes being fed to the livestock, the distilling tower being powered through solar and waste kept to an absolute minimum.

Wighill Park Glamping is the latest diversification, which opened in 2020 and is aimed at visitors wanting to experience farm life in comfort and style, offering 12 sustainable, wooden glamping pods and an adults-only shepherd’s hut.

The different diversifications have not only ensured the farm has expanded its revenue streams, but also created new jobs for younger members of the family and enabled the employment of local staff, with David ensuring all training can be provided on-site and all that is needed is a can-do attitude.

David says: “We have always thought there was something special about using the produce we have grown and sharing the unique location of where we are. The farm remains at the core of all diversified businesses and we try to ensure they all support and interact with each other as much as possible. We are committed to providing quality and excellence across our businesses, so our customers have exceptional experiences.”

Emily and Charlie Woodall

During Covid-19, Emily and Charlie Woodall saw an opportunity to transform their 405-hectare (1,000- acre) arable farm on the cusp of greater London into a multifaceted hub whichbrings together food and drink, fitness,
camping and unique event experiences.

Their reimagination of how traditional farm settings can enrich community living has now successfully transformed a previously secluded business into a thriving diversification, where local people gather together connecting the urban and rural world.

Converting their old dairy by filling a  few skips and applying a fresh layer of screed to the floor, Emily left her job as a personal trainer in London to establish her own gym. The business now delivers more than 40 hours of classes by 11 instructors, with nearly 100 unlimited members.

What started as a pop-up event in a tipi for a month to host baby classes on-site has gone on to develop and now operate as a cafe, open seven days a week and serving more than 1,000 coffees a week to walkers and cyclists, employing two full-time employees and two extra part-time weekend staff.

The tipi also enabled the couple to try an evening food event for the first time, and once again through Covid-19, they grew their numbers, welcomed top, local chefs and utilised their World War Two blister hanger to create a unique event space.

To date, they have welcomed  wedding receptions, numerous kids’ parties, monthly full-moon ceremonies and weekly summer yoga classes. Since January 1 this year, they have had more than 100 enquiries for weddings alone.

Completing the business is the  campsite which runs three bell tents, two shepherd’s huts and a range of bring-your-own tent pitches, which are booked up in advance through summer.

Reflecting on their growth, Charlie says: “ We have done all of this with zero investment and through minimal savings. Through making the most of the 56/28-day rule and Class R Permitted Development, we have been able to grow organically and not had the risk or pressure of trying to make a return on something we know would not work. Word of mouth has been our primary marketing tool.”

Looking ahead, Charlie and Emily will continue to tap into new markets and have started running networking mornings for local businesses with possible team building days in the pipeline. A revamp of their events and wedding offerings from 2025 will become more refined for those wishing to use the space, as well as those managing it.