Farming’s Fresh Start Academies are a hotbed of ideas, say graduates from the second Academy to be set up, which has become a model for others to follow.

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Celebrating the success of the Academy at Hadlow College in Kent, which was established in September 2006, soon after Plumpton led the way in West Sussex, south-east Fresh Start Academy co-ordinator Douglas Jackson applauded its pathfinding role, setting standards other Academies have since emulated.

“Together with the other three Academies in the south-east we have worked with 100 Academy members, running 40 sessions, supporting a dozen new business start-ups and really providing support to foster the entrepreneurial spirit the industry needs.”

So far 22 Academies are operating across the UK, helping a wide range of people develop business skills in the farming sector over an 18-month course programme.

He hoped four new Academies would be established in the south east once funding decisions had been made in May. Those would include one focusing on the training of migrant workers as managers within the horticulture sector.

Alongside formal training, which ranges from business planning to marketing, Academy are highly effective talking shops for sharing ideas.

“We get together once a month and the discussions we have after the sessions are really useful,” said Ed Lovejoy, who with wife Gemma has established a 250-ewe sheep enterprise from scratch.

“It has really helped me develop my own business, particularly around the financial and business management side of things. I try to encourage other people to get involved, it is such a help if you want to grow your business.”

James Edgar, who works on the 200ha arable and dairy Chavening Estate in Kent, agreed. “It definitely keeps you thinking about your own business, which is important when you are trying to expand.”

Simon Pierson is a self-employed contractor with his own flock of 50 sheep. He is keen to take on a farm tenancy or a farm manager role and reckons the Academy has helped develop his skills. “The great thing is that everyone is enthusiastic, no matter what their age. It’s a great atmosphere.”

The Academy is just one aspect of the reinvigoration of Hadlow College, noted finance and resources director Mark Lumsdon-Taylor.

“Higher and further education students studying core agriculture are up from 15 in 2003 to 70 this year.” The college has embarked upon a multi-million pound building programme and hosts a range of land-based organisations. Fresh Start 2 starts at Hadlow in September.