SUCCESS IN any field of endeavour rarely comes quickly. It”s true of Fishers Farm Park, too, which has grown from small beginnings to becoming one of the biggest farm attractions in this part of the country.
The story starts in 1985, when Tim and Trina Rollings bought 10ha (27 acres) of grazing land and some derelict buildings at Wisborough Green, near Billingshurst. Tim comes from a local farming family, but branched out into contracting and landscape gardening.
Having bought the land, they started offering holiday lets and PYO fruit, but spotted a demand from visitors for more than just fruit and accommodation.
“We noticed that people enjoyed the walk and seeing the few animals we had about and often asked if there was anywhere they could get a cup of tea,” says Tim.
To meet the demand, they converted a barn into a tea-room, installed two play frames and officially opened the attraction in 1990. That year they had 6000 visitors, a figure that almost doubled annually for the first four years before levelling out (though it still goes up a bit each year) at 180,000 visitors a year.
Meanwhile, more barns were converted, more buildings built and improvements made. Livestock numbers built up to 13 horses, 10 cows, 12 calves, 40 sheep, 20 goats and numerous donkeys. Unlike some farm attractions where animals have gradually been replaced by adventure-park type features, Fishers Farm Park has kept the livestock as its main focus, and kept faith with the 2-10-year-olds that make up the core customer base.
Having said that, there is a tremendous range of things for children to do. As well as lots of farm animals, there are mini-tractor rides and pony rides, a climbing wall, quad-bike track, combine rides, bumper boats, a real beach in summer and an indoor play area when the weather is not so good.
Many of those you might find on other farm attractions (though rarely as well designed and well looked after). But Tim and Trina have a policy of constantly providing new features for visitors. Their 200-seat theatre hosts a farm show, an animal show and a magic show each day and their most recent feature involves a ghost-train-type experience that uses animated figures to teach children about the benefits of things like good diet and teeth cleaning.
Manager Melanie Ware is convinced that their policy of constantly offering new features is the right one. “People like seeing new things.” She says. “It doesn”t always have to be something big; it could just be a new dish on the menu in the restaurant.
” The running costs of operating a farm park with a 1.3m turnover are huge, adds Tim, with profits having to be ploughed back into new projects and refurbishments.
Running an attraction like this is not everyone”s cup of tea, Tim points out. “The public”s expectations are high and rising; you have to work ever harder to meet them.”