28 June 2021
A new ‘glamping’ pod venture has helped secure the future of a 200 acre upland farm in South Wales, which is now set to stay in the family for the fourth generation.
When Linda Davies’s late husband John lost his battle with cancer back in 2011, it was a devastating time for her and the couple’s two teenage children as they struggled to come to terms with their loss.
“I just didn’t know whether it would be possible to remain in the family farmhouse which meant so much to us all and cope with running the farm on my own, which comprised both sheep and an equine livery business.”
Ty Isaf Farm is located close to Caerphilly mountain. Although it appears secluded and has spectacular views for miles, it is only minutes away from the M4 and A470. Ty Isaf had been in John’s family since the early 1900’s and his determination that the historic holding should be retained for the next generation was the reason he gave up his profession as a civil engineer more than 40 years ago to become a full-time farmer.
Having always planned to retire at 65, around 15 years ago, John let out half the acreage to a near neighbour and friend, who needed grazing for his herd of Welsh Black cattle, and at the same time downsized the sheep flock of 2,000 mainly Welsh Mountain and Suffolk cross ewes to around 80. The original letting arrangement is still in place with the neighbour who also manages the day-to-day husbandry of the sheep for Linda. The thriving livery business is managed by an equestrian manager, who has also become a valued friend.
By today, no doubt thanks in part to Linda’s tenacious and courageous spirit, her two children Lydia, now 31 and Ed, 28, are the fourth generation involved with Ty Isaf. Both are equally determined to honour their late dad’s wish that the farm would always stay within the family. Lydia and Ed are both graduates who have mapped out their own careers as neither wanted to commit to being full-time farmers. Lydia, a keen horsewoman, is an IT expert for a leading publishing company and Ed is working on a sponsored PhD on UK rail travel.
Both Lydia and Ed love rural life and their mum says that in recent years, they have spent many hours debating options for a new sustainable diversification venture that would ensure their continued involvement with the farm, while also giving them the time and freedom to pursue their own careers.
In 2018, the family attended a fully-funded Farming Connect succession planning workshop, soon followed by a marketing and diversification surgery and then a planning process workshop. These were the first critical steps in a process that has led them to where they are today, with Lydia and Ed now joint owners of a new diversified, eco-friendly ‘glamping’ pod enterprise.
“Attending those events alerted us to not only all the issues we needed to consider, but our local Farming Connect development officer Hannah Wright also signposted us to the various services which would help us,” says Ed. This included accessing Farming Connect’s subsidised business planning advice and applying for training which ranged from business and financial management courses to driving tractors.
“Most importantly, early on in the process, we applied for fully funded one-to-one mentoring advice on succession planning, and that’s really why Lydia and Ed are now the proud joint owners of a new glamping pod venture which welcomed its first visitors when lockdown lifted this month,” says mum Linda.
In early 2019, Pembrokeshire-based Sian Bushell, one of Farming Connect’s approved succession planning mentors, facilitated a family meeting which brought the family together to each talk honestly about their aspirations. Sian also guided them through producing their own action plan which set out exactly what they needed to do in terms of financing and managing the enterprise, with their respective roles and timelines clearly set out.
“We met Sian twice, and her fully-funded support and guidance has been absolutely critical to the success of what we have now achieved as a family,” says Linda.
Sian explains that it’s hugely beneficial to ‘start the conversation’ to safeguard the future of a family farm before there is any urgency about this, which often happens someone wants or needs to step back from the business or when ill-health strikes.
“My role is to encourage open discussion on all the relevant issues, to empower each person in the family to take their own decisions and help them find their own solutions.
“Not all families feel ready to encourage the next generation to pick up the reins, to take over responsibility or set up their own new venture, so a realistic action plan with time-lines needs to be agreed, so that everyone knows what they are working towards,” said Sian, who has worked with more than 90 Farming Connect-registered families to help them address this sensitive issue.
Lydia handles all visitor bookings through social media channels. She’s optimistic that with the summer season already filling up fast, the return on their investment looks assured.
Linda is delighted and if all goes to plan, thinks Lydia and Ed might use their planning permission for another pod.
“Their dad would be hugely proud of them both, if only he was still here to see what they’ve achieved,” says Linda.
“I just count my blessings that they are both so hard-working and that thanks to Farming Connect they had all the support, guidance and additional skills they needed to give them the confidence to work together to start up this exciting new enterprise at the farm where they grew up.”
It sounds as if the future of this family farm is assured in the very competent hands of these enterprising siblings and their very supportive mum.
For further information on support, guidance and training available through Farming Connect either call your local development officer or click here. You can also request a copy of ‘Succession planning…start the conversation’ a useful guide book to help start the process.
Farming Connect is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.