“FARMING Connect gave me and my family the confidence, skills and new networks to help us create our ambitious new tourism enterprise, taking us from zero to a staggering £150,000 of turnover in our first year of operating.”
These are the words of Edith Farnworth, a former police constable, now a full-time tourism operator and one of the driving forces of a new family-run farm diversification project in mid Wales.
The Farnworth family’s ‘eco friendly’ and ingenious approach to providing family holidays in Hay on Wye, one of the most picturesque market towns in rural Wales, has taken upmarket glamping to a whole new level – literally.
‘By the Wye’ offers a holiday with a difference with luxury ‘safari’ tents nestling amidst the treetops of a reclaimed woodland on the banks of the famous river. Each tent is perched on a platform which floats above the woodland floor, the supports disappearing into sustainable ground screws that can be moved at will, leaving no damage.
They all come with luxury beds, sumptuous sofas, hot running water, flushing loos and hampers laden with top quality local produce.
Located on the Offa’s Dyke path, the secluded campsite is just a ten-minute walk away from bustling Hay, famous for its internationally acclaimed literature festival.
Today, this award-winning new business – Wales Tourism & Leisure Start-up of the Year 2021 – ticks a lot of boxes not just for holiday makers seeking a rural getaway, but for the far-sighted Welsh family who bought the adjacent woodland and extra acreage to turn their smallholding into what is now firmly established as a top Welsh holiday destination.
Numerous national newspapers and magazines, tv channels and broadcasting pundits including Adam Henson and Paul Merton have all visited and sung its praises.
Dad Steve is the design visionary who project-manages the site and all building works, mum Dawn has a background in business and manages all the finances. Tree surgeon son Dan manages the woodland, and is the creative genius behind the ‘green’ children’s play area.
He also runs family bushcraft sessions and is ‘the meet and greet man’, welcoming guests with a wheelbarrow to transport their luggage down an 800-yard path. Dan’s wife Edith has become the family’s marketing and social media guru. She credits Farming Connect with enabling her to get the marketing mix ‘just right’!
“We’ve each carved out our own role, but the reality is that we all muck in and help with everything,” says Edith.
Together, this family have transformed what was once an ancient, overgrown broadleaf woods on the banks of the Wye into one of Wales’ most unusual environmentally ‘green’ tourism enterprises.
They acknowledge that Farming Connect, its Agrisgôp personal development programme and the wide range of strategic awareness events and subsidised training which they’ve each utilised, helped them get the business off to a flying start when they first opened for bookings in the spring of 2020.
While mum, dad and Dan were project managing the siteworks back in 2019, Edith (then mum to two small children – the third Farnworth addition arrived in March) spent every spare minute researching organisations that could offer support and guidance for the family’s first major diversification project.
“My first real breakthrough was joining an all-women Agrisgôp group, which was focused on ensuring we learned how to promote and market farm tourism enterprises in-house,” says Edith.
Led by local farmer Gareth Davies, the friendship and support of all the group members – who he describes as ‘all exceptionally focused and able’ – resulted in every one of them acquiring the skills to manage all their own marketing and social media channels.
“We were all determined to retain every penny of income from our respective ventures and keep outgoings to the absolute minimum,” says Edith.
Because of Covid, the group only met once physically, and then after remotely, but Gareth introduced them to farm tourism, diversification and social media experts, who Edith credits with giving her and other group members the skills to promote their business ventures effectively.
“Once we were introduced to specialists who had considerable experience of online marketing, we soon overcame our initial reticence to use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter on a business rather than merely a personal basis and immediately realised how valuable these channels can be.
“What I hadn’t appreciated is how much of a confidence boost it was to speak to other women involved in farm diversification projects, because we all had the same sense of purpose and determination to learn and support each other.”
Edith contacted her local Farming Connect development officer Gwen Price, who signposted the family to a range of Farming Connect strategic awareness events, one-to-one surgeries and subsidised training courses. Gwen also persuaded them to utilise Storfa Sgiliau, Farming Connect’s online data storage tool, which helped each of them identify what training would benefit most.
“Accessing courses for ICT training, website development and search engine optimisation, emergency first aid and food safety have given me a new skillset I utilise every day.”
Dan, who also undertook a number of Farming Connect technical training courses (“traditional hedge-laying is next on my list!”), has created a natural children’s play area made entirely from the fallen or decaying trees, which brought much-needed light to the site during the original woodland regeneration exercise.
There are optional activities for all the family, including subtle lessons on the importance of the ecosystem through bug hotels and wormeries, bird and butterfly spotting excursions and Steve’s popular ‘foraging for supper’ walks, where he teaches grown-ups and children how to search for edible treats, including wild funghi, garlic and nettles, and the tiny wild strawberries that grow prolifically on the woodland floor.
“We wanted to ensure our guests can truly immerse themselves in every aspect of rural life and all that this area has to offer walkers, cyclists, canoeists and horse-riders without the distractions of television or WiFi,” says Edith.
With glowing customer reviews and a raft of prestigious awards, the future looks bright for two and in all likelihood three, generations of this entrepreneurial farming family.
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.