Is the current pandemic distracting farming businesses from looking at other rural enterprises? It shouldn’t – apart from the black clouds gathering over the future of the Single Farm Payment and the need to look for alternative income, the farm is arguably one of the best environments to weather the current health situation.
It’s very disappointing, but not wholly unexpected. Due to the latest wave of Covid-19 restrictions, the Farm Business Innovation Show, scheduled for November at the NEC in Birmingham, has been postponed until next year. A must-have-a-stand event for FOLK2FOLK, it’s an opportunity for all who attend to see a huge array of diversification ideas.
The hospitality sector has taken a massive hit
In the last six months the sector has been severely knocked by closures, cancellations and the weight of new social distancing and hygiene rules. In normal times, the sector contributes a total of £84bn to the UK economy. Conference and meetings £18.3bn, exhibitions £11bn, corporate outdoor events £0.7bn and weddings £14bn (though I do question this sum attributed to weddings, after paying for my daughter’s wedding I think the sum is much higher!). I’m not suggesting you build another NEC on your farm, but realistically the individual items I have highlighted could take place on a farm.
For me, the greatest attraction for attending an event held on a farm, apart from having a look around the farm, is space. I can park a car, I don’t need a taxi for the last leg of the journey, I can find a local farmhouse B&B which is always exceptional value. Now add into that mix enough space for social distancing, a safer outdoor environment and less reliance on packed public transport.
I think we’ll see hospitality events migrate from the urban to the rural
For example, next week, as a Liveryman of the Farmers’ Company, I should be in London for an Installation Service and Lunch. This is not possible due to social distancing, so we gained permission to re-locate the event to a very large tithe barn on a farm in Cambridgeshire. The most recent government restrictions mean we still can’t go ahead but whatever happens going forward we will be able to the use the barn long before we can be back in London.
Make no mistake: Covid-19 is a game changer. We will not go back to ‘normal’, however, the ‘new-normal’ will create some wonderful rural business opportunities. Stop wondering what to do with the old barn before it collapses, make it work, make it earn an income. Don’t just look at the view, make the view work and earn its keep.
At FOLK2FOLK we have extensive experience of providing funding for farm diversifications. Use your existing assets to secure the finance you need. Let us help your business grow, develop or diversify.
By Ian Bell, Head of Farming & Rural Engagement
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