FW Awards 2011: Diversification Farmer of the Year finalists – John and Rosemary Barnes

John and Rosemary Barnes

Packington Moor Farm, Staffordshire

Drawing on the wide range of skills, experiences and interests of the different members of the family has been key to making the Barnes’s diversifications such a success.

At the heart of the team who run an events venue and farm shop-cum-café are mum and dad Rosemary and John, daughter Grace and son Henry.

These thriving diversifications have secured an exciting future for the 700-acre mixed 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 which can seat up to 160 guests (and hold 250), with a licenced 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 which 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 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’d 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.

“The wedding industry does not seem to have been hit by the recession and we feel our timing was just right – partly through judgment, partly through luck,” says David.

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, having come back from a spell in London, keen to carve out a future here.

There had been an old farm shop operating since 1986, but this was generating “meagre” profits so the Barnes family opened the new unit, which includes a butchery and a café, in 2009.

“Despite the presence of all the major supermarket chains within a 10-mile radius, we felt we could fill a niche in the market,” says Grace.

“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.”

Recently, they had one of their busiest ever spells – with eight weddings in nine days, followed by a food festival attracting 4,000 visitors in little more than a week.

“You’ve got to be of the right mindset to go down this route,” points out Rosemary. “The service industry is hard – especially when you operate it from your home. These businesses are such that there isn’t an hour of the day when one of them isn’t running. We never stop.”

This packed timetable means they’ve become big employers, with 25-plus staff. This prompted them to retain the services of an external HR company as staffing levels grew and advice was needed. “It’s some of the best money we’ve ever spent,” reckons Grace.

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

Whatever direction the business evolves in, though, the family will remain at its heart – this family with its wide range of skills’ as diverse as cookery, marketing and agriculture.

As Grace says: “We have different age groups, different experiences and different views – but it just works.”

Business facts

* Lichfield, Staffordshire

* Weddings/events and farm shop-cum-café

* 283ha (700-acre) family farm

The judges liked

* Focus on quality

* Identify clear niches

* Progressive approach to staff management


2011 Farmers Weekly Awards

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