2011 FW Awards winner: Diversification Farmer

John and Rosemary Barnes

Packlington Moor Farm, Staffordshire

Winning ways

• Secured an exciting business future
• Clear areas of family responsibility, according to interests
• Blends big business thinking and personal touch

The Barnes have done something very rare – they’ve combined the charm, individuality and customer service often associated with a small family business with progressive, ambitious, commercial thinking.

This unique approach makes them stand out in a fiercely competitive market – running an events business and cafe-cum-farmshop. At the heart of the team are mum and dad, Rosemary and John, plus daughter Grace, son Henry and his fiancée, Jo.

Their thriving diversifications have secured an exciting future for the 283ha (700-acre) sheep and PYO fruit farm, allowed a new generation to be integrated into the business and breathed new life into a traditional courtyard of buildings on this unit near Lichfield.

Inside the beautifully converted brick-and-tile buildings is a venue that can seat up to 160 guests (and hold 250), with a licensed bar and kitchen. It could host as many as 120 events (most of which will be weddings) in 2011.

Nearby, in the footprint of an old poultry building, is a 2,000sq ft farm shop and café – the turnover of which could reach £700,000 in 2011-12.

It was the volatility of potato production, plus uncertainty surrounding cereals and the single farm payment, that prompted the search for alternative revenue sources.

As tenants, however, the Barnes’ options were limited, so in 2002 they bought the farm. This meant downsizing from 440ha to 283ha (1,100 to 700 acres), but it marked a big a turning point for this family, whose connections with the place date back nearly a century to when John’s grandfather arrived as a tenant.

By 2006 they had obtained a civil licence and converted “the oat barn”, allowing ceremonies to take place inside and all-year-round, having previously been hosting some weddings in a marquee in the garden.

Nowadays, brides and grooms come from all over the country, impressed by the “homely but professional and exclusive” setting and the appeal of a family venue.

Additional buildings have been converted to provide accommodation for up to 10 guests during events.

It’s a similar ethos in the farm shop and café, where good value, great quality and homemade are the bywords. Daughter Grace is the driving force behind this area of the business (the current shop opened in 2009) having come back from a spell in London, keen to carve out a future here.

“We wanted to make the overall identity as sophisticated and professional as possible in order to be competitive, while still honouring our values and beliefs as a family farm,” says Grace.

Their packed timetable means they’ve become big employers, with 25-plus staff, prompting them to retain the services of an external HR company.

The farming side also has a bright future, with Henry now taking a lead in the arable enterprise (his fianceé, Jo, manages the wedding venue). They’re planning to develop this, perhaps take on more land. “It’s our true passion,” says John.

Farm Facts

• Wedding/events
• Farm shop-cum-cafe with projected turnover of £700,000
• 283ha mixed farm

Sponsor’s ViewFirestone logo

“Diversification is big business these days and can be critical to the survival of a farm. We’re proud to be associated with these awards, which showcase imaginative and fantastically run diversifications”
Barry Coleman, Agricultural Product Manager

2011 Farmers Weekly Awards