Farmers go up the aisle

Farmers go up the aisle to diversify

10 February 2010

The promise of a stunning new wedding venue to be completed this
autumn is the result of a long-term diversification plan by Ian and
Yta Batchelor, who farm 120 acres at Sutton near Cullompton.

When they first planned to move to Devon from Somerset five
years ago, it was always with the idea of developing a business
that did not rely completely on agricultural income. So when they
first saw the potential of the glorious Grade 2 listed barns at
Sutton Barton Farm, they knew they had found the right place.

And now work has just started on a 30-week project, with the
help of a Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) grant that
was gained with the support of Business Link’s South West Rural
Enterprise Gateway (SWREG) and Devon County Council.

According to Ian Batchelor, the project aims to retain the
hitherto redundant barns’ original character while giving them a
newly important and valuable place in the community. As he says,
“We first planned to convert them into office use, but then we
realised that we didn’t want the original architecture to be hidden
by creating a number of different small units. This way, too, we
are more than just landlords – we are creating a vibrant new
business that is really ours.”

It was when attending a reception in a barn two years ago that
Ian and Yta overcame any worries that a wedding venue might overly
disrupt their family and working lives. “The owners told us what
great fun it was, and how well it fits in with their farming
lives,” Ian continues.

“At the moment, we are a producer for Stonegate Farmers, which
supplies organic, free range eggs to Waitrose. We also produce
organic lamb, beef and pork, as well as some cereal and fodder
crops, but we can now see how the new venture will add variety and
enjoyment as well as a new income stream.”

A huge boost was given to the project in early 2009 when
Exeter-based land agent Stags told the couple that the project
might be eligible for an RDPE grant. “They put us in touch with
Graham Woolcock at SWREG, who spent time with us looking at the
site and listening to our ideas,” say Ian. “He advised that we were
eligible, and put us in touch with Sarah Woollacott, the RDPE
Project Officer at Devon County Council. She was very helpful in
advising us on how best to put our case, and we eventually received
a grant worth over a third of the project’s costs from the South
West RDA.”

Ian is extremely grateful for the help they received. “Having
that expertise to hand was extremely reassuring, and the grant is
now helping us get up-and-running far sooner than we originally
planned – without it, I believe it would have taken us well over 10
years to do the work as and when we could afford it.”

Now, Ian and Yta are very excited at the prospect of having the
site ready for autumn 2010. “To look at it now, it’s hard to tell
what going to be like, but we’re expecting it to be very beautiful.
The main barn, called the Corn Barn, runs for about 40 metres along
one side of a courtyard. The second barn, the Linhay is smaller,
with an open frontage on to the courtyard, which we will plant and
landscape. Seeing work begin is a special moment for us.”

According to Graham Woolcock at SWREG, “Helping businesses with
the admin challenge of applying for an RDPE grant is one of the
main services we provide – and this was a particularly rewarding
project to be involved with. “Sutton Barton Farm was already a
highly successful organic enterprise, based on Ian and Yta’s hard
work, and this will be the finishing touch to a fully sustainable
and productive business that they can be extremely proud of. As
well as helping two such nice people, it’s been a privilege to play
a role in ensuring a long-term future for these wonderful
buildings, which will now come to mean a great deal to many, many
couples, their families and friends for years to come.”

Anyone wishing to find out more about Business Link’s SWREG
service, including how it can help with RDPE applications, should
call 0845 600 9966 or visit www.businesslink.gov.uk/southwest/rural.
More information on Yta and Ian’s wedding venue are available at
www.thecornbarn.com/.

Ends

All initial press enquiries should be addressed to:

Ron Dyson, The Aurora Partnership – 01308 485707, or David
Wilford, The Aurora Partnership – 01672 564 529 / 07790 774 284

Issued on behalf of the South West Rural Enterprise Gateway and
Business Link by The Aurora Partnership.

Notes to Editors

REG Services

Delivered by a dedicated network of Project Officers, Advisers
and approved independent consultants, these comprise a range of
support activities including:

  • Group Support – provides groups of farming and land-based
    businesses that work together collaboratively with action-planning
    advice and access to grant-funding for consultancy, training and
    networking opportunities;
  • 1to1 Support – involves a part-funded (up to 70%) one-day visit
    by a REG-approved consultant to an individual farming business for
    an overall business review and the opportunity to discuss issues
    and ideas;
  • Grant Funding and Brokerage – REG is the main south west
    contact point for farm businesses seeking grant funding, with a
    focus on RDPE funding. Applicants can be put in touch with
    professional support services to help develop firm proposals;
  • Other services – include access to the latest knowledge,
    research and information via Knowledge Transfer resources and the
    REG website which acts as an online portal (www.regsw.org.uk/).