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Hassle free - a recipe for farming success

23rd May 2011 Print

A new business venture combining caravans, camping and coast to coast cycling is proving a sound investment for farmers Robert and Julie Pickthall from Cumbria.

After buying the Mains Farm from his father in 1988, Robert and Julie ran the family business at Kirkoswald near Penrith for 20 years as a dairy farm supplemented with sheep.

In 2007, the decision was made to come out of milk production and with the support of Barclays Business, the couple decided to diversify their 300 acre farm by introducing a small touring caravan site.

"The time was right to exit milk production and we took the decision to increase our sheep numbers and secure planning permission initially for five caravans on the land adjacent to the farmhouse", said Robert.

"Before long, the popularity of the caravan site led us to try camping and we introduced an eight tent site. Not surprisingly, many of our customers were cyclists tackling the coast to coast cycle route and one issue which came up time and time again was the hassle getting to the start or from the finish, collecting cars and equipment, organising meals and so on."

The Mains Farm is located 63 miles from Whitehaven and at the base of the ‘slog' over the Pennines, making it the ideal stopping point for first night cyclists attempting the route.

Robert continued, "To tackle the issue we decided to launch C2C Hassle Free where we act as a personal concierge handling everything from getting cyclists to the start, collecting them at the end of each daily stage, organising meals and accommodation in between and the final pick up from the finish line."

It is this most recent venture which has really taken off and advance bookings this year include teams from British Gas and Travis Perkins wanting to challenge themselves.

"Investing in a new business in the current financial climate was a major financial commitment but something we had to do", said Robert.

"As well as increasing the size of the caravan site, we've since invested in new bunkhouses for guests, a minibus to transport our cyclists and created five part-time jobs. Julie now spends 40 hours a week just on the administration side which thankfully as an ex-hotel manager she was quite prepared to take on.

"We are an evolving business with plans to expand our accommodation still further and I'm delighted we have been able to combine our farming activity with the diversification into the hospitality and tourism industry."

"Over the years, Barclays has been very supportive of our requirements. I have been particularly impressed by our Barclays Agricultural Manager Huw Mainwaring who has demonstrated a clear understanding of our business and was a great help when we decided to come out of milk. We want a bank for the long-term that provides us with strong support and who understands our needs. We are confident that Barclays Business can deliver for us now and in the future."

The family's enterprise has been praised by Barclays Business Agricultural Manager Huw Mainwaring.

"This is a great example of someone using a wealth of personal experience to spot a business opportunity. Barclays research identifies the significant role "entrepreneurs" play in the rural economy and is committed to supporting such propositions", said Huw.

He continued, "Takings from the C2C venture doubled last year and they already have advance booking for nearly 200 cyclists already this year. This is all down to Robert and Julie's hard work and unstinting belief in their project together with support from Barclays and I wish the business every success for the future."

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