SOLDIERING TO SURVIVAL
Chris Watts is a big gun in the field of corporate
entertainment, as Mike Charity found when he visited
Aldwick Court Farm
DEDICATED ramblers or even casual strollers skirting Aldwick Court Farm in the sleepy village of Wrington, near Bristol, could be forgiven for thinking they have on occasions wandered onto the film set of Private Ryan – Part Two. The 121.5ha (300-acre) working farm also doubles in a big way as a venture playground for big boys, producing army half tracks not heifers and Chieftain tanks instead of tups, on its rolling Avon county meadows.
Ten years ago, long before the decline in farming, 34-year-old action man Chris Watts – who had backpacked throughout America, the Far East, Australasia and Africa, after attending agricultural college at Chippenham – decided to diversify into the corporate entertainment market.
A modest start with clay pigeon shoots, followed by quad bikes and dune buggies, has developed a decade later into a big gun business, with enough military hardware on the farm to make a banana republic envious.
Now household-name companies troop members of their staff (over 20,000 recruits during the past 10 years) to the farm in the belief the many incentive courses on offer will improve employee morale, develop organisational skills and impart leadership motivation into their businesses. Others reward sales teams with a day of fun.
* Highly popular
Whatever the reason, the visits are hugely popular. After all, who in their right minds would not enjoy driving a full blown Chieftain tank through a quagmire, or mud plugging an off-road 4×4 to your hearts content? Those who do not have James Bond fantasies, can try their hand at the more gentle arts of fly fishing or falconry, as well as TV style team brainstorming attempts to build a bridge from three planks and a coil of binder twine.
Alongside all this gung-ho activity, the farm, which has been in the family four generations, still has a serious agricultural side rearing over 3000 pigs, and producing grass which is processed through two drying plants for the horse feed market. "When we first diversified in 1988, farming was still at a peak but as the decline accelerated so we put more effort into the hospitality aspect of the business," said Chris. "This has really paid off now with over 20 full and part time staff, including the farm employees. We have achieved the status of leading outdoor pursuits company in the south- west and one of the top 20 in the country.
"The military tank aspect developed from my personal interest in army hardware and we now have over £100,000 of equipment including Chieftain tanks, armoured personnel carriers, half tracks, snow-cats and various other forms of attack transport.
* Farming in blood
"Although this is now big business with turnover from the corporate activities approaching 50% of the joint farm enterprises, farming is still very much in my blood and I hope it will always be that way. I see no reason why the two faces, farming and fun time, cannot work side by side."
Like some latter day Monty, Chris is already poring over plans for his next move. By spring 2000 he hopes to be flying blue chip clients to Capetown, where the adventure seekers can experience the excitement of white water rafting, bush treks, whale watching and the ultimate thrill – shark diving.
In military law, attack, has always been considered the best form of defence. Chris Watts is proving the maxim with a salvo of enthusiasm that will surely lift the hearts of besieged farmers everywhere.
Chris Watts –
ready for home
after a day on
the farms battlefields.