12 March 1999

Never too far from town

DO not be discouraged from diversifying just because you are a long way from a town or city.

That was the message Frank Cartwright gave visitors at the National Farm Attractions Network conference at Kettering, Northants.

"We had three separate consultants tell us that we were too far away from a major conurbation," says Mr Cartwright, who runs Rays Farm Country Matters visitor centre.

But the outfit near Bridgnorth – nearly 30 miles from Wolverhampton – now has 25,000 visitors a year pass through its doors. "Experts dont know it all. If you have the conviction, the enthusiasm and the energy, you will succeed."

One of the keys, said Mr Cartwright, is providing something unique. Rays Farm Country Matters – close to the West Midlands Safari Park and Alton Towers – is set in an historic site. It has traditional buildings, woodland and streams – not to mention 300-plus animals and birds. "We dont have flashing lights and noisy displays. Our strength is natural beauty. Its a niche market not a broad market."

For farmers setting up a diversification enterprise, carrying out a regular risk assessment is important, he says. Potential risks may be "high" such as barbed wire fencing or "low" like excessively hot water in wash basins.

Decide what you are going to do about the risk and set yourself a timescale to do it, says Mr Cartwright. And keeping a written record of this, while not required by law, is a helpful discipline. "It would also help you should you ever face litigation."

According to Keith Sanders, National Farm Attractions Network chairman, ever-more people are looking to new enterprises in the face of falling agricultural incomes. "Every day we get calls from farmers."

Visit existing sites and take as much advice as possible, says Mr Sanders. "Do not copy everyone else. Do something you are good at."

Tim Relf