Tag Archive: Diversification

Charlton Hall: Playing with the rules

Our Farm Team spend a large portion of their time looking at funding opportunities for farmers, however, thanks to government initiatives; they are now securing financial aid for a more diverse range of rural businesses, such as Charlton Hall.

The vision for the 18th Century Grade II* listed Charlton Hall, was to become an avant-garde, luxury wedding venue in Northumberland, a sister venue to the award winning Doxford Barns. The Georgian building has been transformed from a part-renovated family home, into a truly breath-taking and unique event space boasting 14 luxury bedrooms, retaining the building’s heritage whilst experimenting with quirky and modern design. Charlton Hall certainly doesn’t disappoint, from the moment you embark upon the private driveway, the magical charm offers a luxurious, tongue-in-cheek retreat.

Charlton Hall Northumberland Wedding

The face behind the venture is young entrepreneur, Richard Shell. Richard grew up just a stone’s throw away from Charlton Hall, at Doxford Farm; as a boy, Richard visited the hall and has felt a connection to it ever since. After university, Richard embarked on a career in banking, however, in 2014, he returned home to make his dream of a countryside venture a reality. Within three years of launch, Doxford Barns has won numerous awards, including the ‘Rural Diversification Award’ by the prestigious North East Rural Awards. This, alongside the fact that 16,000 people alone walked through the door in 2017, meant that Richard could expand his dream and create ‘Doxford Barn’s naughty little sister’, Charlton Hall.

Richard contacted George F. White after hearing about our grant work from other rural businesses. David Hume, a Senior Farm Business Consultant, worked with Richard on the project: “Initially, I needed to understand Richard’s aims and objectives for the project and whether it would meet any of the available grant funding priorities. It quickly became apparent that this was the ideal project to fit into the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) Growth Programme, not only was it going to create at least 12 full time jobs, but also provide massive benefits to the rural economy and tourism by encouraging people to prolong their experience within the area.”

Currently, the wedding business in Northumberland contributes an estimated £30m to the local economy and two out of the three couples who get married in the area actually come from outside the region. Given its already very impressive figures, building upon this industry gives real scope for expansion in the local economy.

Renovating Charlton Hall has not been easy; the building is within the top eight per cent of all listed buildings in Britain, meaning that every minor detail had to be signed off to a particular standard as well as ensuring structural work was carried out to retain the building’s original character.

Talking about overcoming the project’s challenges, David said: “Alongside the building being Grade II* listed, one of the biggest challenges was working to a tight deadline; due to the nature of the industry, there was interest building and pre-bookings for weddings taking place prior to the renovation, however, no works could start on the project until the grant funding had been approved. In order to allow the project to begin as soon as grant funding approval was received, we had to work as quickly as possible to obtain all the necessary information and submit the grant application in plenty of time. This meant working closely with Richard and his team to keep the ball rolling and gather all the information we needed.”

The application for a RDPE Growth Programme involves two key stages; before submitting a full application, an Expression of Interest (EOI) must be put forward. You can only move forward with the full application if the EOI has been endorsed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Thanks to David’s hard work and determination, £135,000 was secured in early 2018, meaning that Richard and his team could move forward with the structural and design work required to achieve completion by July 2018.

“We were absolutely thrilled to have helped Richard achieve £135,000 of grant support. It is great to be able to support a local entrepreneur with his exciting ideas for expansion, diversification and growth in Northumberland, within a growing wedding/tourist industry” explains David, “The quirky and flamboyant design of the project made it all the more exciting to be involved in, this wasn’t just a traditional wedding venue that we were dealing with, but something with the potential to attract attention from all over the country.”

Charlton Hall Wedding Photos

The venue has now completed the first stage of development, and we have to say, it looks fantastic. Richard appointed interior designer, Jo Aynsley, to introduce a charismatic personality to the hall with decadent interiors. Jo, originally from Northumberland, has injected Charlton Hall with magic, playfulness, and of course, designer luxury.

“Doxford Barns has been successful thanks to the help we’ve received from local professionals, I couldn’t think about moving forward with Charlton Hall without appointing experts from the area. It is extremely important to me that those involved in a project have a tangible connection to it; being truly invested brings out the best in a team” explains Richard, whilst speaking about the nature of the project; “I really appreciate the amount of work that David has spent with myself and the team to ensure that we get this right. The result is just phenomenal, I couldn’t have wished for anything better.”

Richard continues: “Rural Diversification is absolutely key to supporting and looking after the land, the individuals and the community in your area. It is not always about attracting new people to relocate, for me, it is as much about retaining those that are born and bred in Northumberland. As a rural community, we must look at other revenue streams in order to develop our heritage and create fantastic opportunities; as a business we are over the moon to have introduced 25 new job roles to the area with the promise of 12 more in the next year.”

With phase one under his belt, Richard has already begun work on phase two with our Planning and Development team… watch this space!

Charlton Hall
Images by kind permission of: All you need is love photography
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More income from your farm? Diversification may hold the key

It’s been a tough winter for farmers across the region and Spring is proving challenging given the extreme weather conditions we’ve experienced. Although farmers can’t control such external factors, it does have quite an impact on their farm business – there will be less offspring to sell, potentially poorer crops and larger than usual feed and bedding bills. Consequently, the income of farms across the North will be affected, and it’s important farmers plan appropriately for this, to help sustain the farm.


Cashflow management is critical during testing times and one way to help ensure a consistent and reliable income is by providing alternative revenue streams, such as contract management. This doesn’t just apply to arable farms. We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of livestock contract management agreements being offered, notably the influx of pigs being brought in to Northumberland, as well as cattle rearing agreements, or something outside of the box; there are numerous ways contract management can benefit businesses. These are prime examples of how smaller scale farmers, with limited capital to diversify can achieve mixed farming practices and increase their farming enterprises, or even larger farmers looking at expanding once again.

Diversification also presents a huge opportunity to farmers to increase their cash generation from alternative revenue streams. This could be due to the older generation looking to retire from the farm business and aren’t able to as they rely on the farm’s income. This can put a large burden on the business and its cash availability. There are numerous ways farmers can diversify to, again, spread their enterprises and income streams to compensate for this, whether it be other agricultural enterprises, tourism or a non-farming option. It can all contribute to the greater goal of farm sustainability and cash availability throughout the year.

The same can be said for the younger generation when sons and daughters return home and are looking to be involved in the business. An alternative enterprise or diversification can be the answer. This can then help them to build up something for themselves, and give them a form of responsibility which so many desire.

George F. White works with farmers across the region, advising and supporting them through many different types of income alternatives, whether this be contract farming/management options or diversification projects; including tourism, energy efficiency and farm productivity. We are experienced in guiding farmers through each step of the process, managing the different aspects involved in setting up a new enterprise, including grant support where available. We also provide support in planning applications or cashflow management, if required. Whichever way you’d like to diversify, we’re here to advise and support you on and through the establishment of an alternative revenue stream that will sustain and support the main farm business.

To discuss why diversification might be the right option for you and your farm business, please contact James Oliver on jamesoliver@georgefwhite.co.uk/01665 511 982 or any of the GFW Farm Team.

How Sustainable is your Business?

With the frustrating harvest season now over, it’s a good time to take stock of your farm business. How has your business done this year? What financial support have you had to help sustain and grow your business? What’s the outlook looking like for 2018 and beyond?


Farmers should be thinking about all of these questions and looking at their business from a long-term perspective. They need to consider whether their business is truly efficient and sustainable, especially in the current climate, that is only likely to get tougher once the UK officially leaves the European Union (EU) in 2019.

Although EU subsidies are guaranteed until 2022, under the current government, the picture after that is very unclear. Safeguarding your business therefore really needs to be the ‘top tick’ on your business to do list. Farmers need to weigh up whether the business, as it is, can sustain changes and circumstances outside of their control and whether they will have a healthy cashflow pipeline not only to survive but grow, too.

If you’re unsure what exact shape your business is in, now is the time to understand how sustainable your business is. This may then lead to a diversification or improvement in efficiency of the business.

We are currently working with several farm businesses, helping them with their financial planning, talking them through their funding options and how to manage cash flow better. We’re also providing support in business continuity and recovery, working with banks and accountants to help plan for the future, and meet the challenges the business may face. Cash flow monitoring and forecasting can be a vital management tool and integral part of understanding how a business can progress.

While assessing the health of their business, some farmers realise that, to sustain it, they need to diversify. With many farming businesses now looking at another enterprise that would increase profitability and, crucially, sustainability. There are a number of grant funding opportunities out there to help businesses with capital investment in order to secure another revenue stream.

The key to diversification is to find a service that you can deliver, that is genuinely a passion, and also a niche market that can succeed and provide a second revenue a stream to boost the sustainability of your farm business. Diversification, if done properly, can provide great results.

For more information about business monitoring and sustainability, or a chat about diversification, please contact David Hume on davidhume@georgefwhite.co.uk or on 01665 511986.

How farm diversification can hold the key to long term stability

The UK farming sector is currently experiencing a great period of uncertainty, with market prices volatile against a backdrop of political discussions as we move to exit the European Union. Farmers are working harder than ever, and worried about their future and how economic and political factors will impact their business. We look into a client case study to determine how farm diversification can benefit UK farmers.

Straw Pelleting Plant

“Sustainability is the fundamental goal for all farmers currently”, explains Pip Robson, who owns an arable farm in Chathill, Alnwick with over 1,000 acres and a herd of 80 Aberdeen Angus suckler cows. Alongside the main farm business, Pip also runs a large arable and groundworks contracting business. “There is so much market instability now with beef and grain sales, and I realised just how dependent my business is on external changes outside of my control, especially farm subsidy payments. I needed another enterprise that would increase profitability and, crucially, sustainability as well as help to support an increase in employment in the local area.”

Pip’s enterprise brainwave was to install a straw pelleting plant at the farm. “The idea was to increase the value of a bi product from the arable enterprise; straw,” said Pip. “The processing line works by initially chopping the straw before shredding it further through a hammer mill. This grinds the straw into the required length for pelletising. The straw then goes through a filtration system to remove dust to leave the product completely dust free. The straw then goes through the pelletiser, before being bagged into 500kg or 15kg bags. Predominately, the pellets are marketed for horse and pet bedding, but can also be used for bio-fuel as an alternative to wood pellets.”

To get his new idea off the ground, and diversify his main farm business successfully, Pip worked with land, property and business consultancy George F. White who supported him through the entire process, step-by-step. “Pip came to us with a great idea to diversify his current farm business and we were able to help him in a number of ways. Firstly, we helped Pip secure grant funding. By managing the application process for grant funding from start to finish, which included creating a business plan for Pip, including costings to deliver the project and detailed market research, we were able to secure 40% grant funding for the project from the Government’s LEADER scheme. This also allowed us to assist in approaching his bank for the additional funds required.”

George F. White was very hands on throughout the whole project, preparing necessary budgets and cash flow projections to support the additional funding requirement from the bank. The consultancy also provided guidance and support in the planning application to Northumberland County Council for the project.

“Working closely with George F. White was vital in making this project a reality,” continued Pip. “Not only did they manage the funding process and provide additional financial guidance where needed, they also helped on the other side of the project, with securing planning permission for the straw pelleting plant. A member of the George F. White team even visited Lithuania with me to look at where the straw pelleting plant is manufactured and see how the plants work in operation. At the same time, other members of the team were liaising with the County Council to guide the planning application through to completion. I really needed a ‘one-stop-shop’ service and that’s exactly what George F. White was able to provide.”

For Pip, the new straw pelleting enterprise holds huge potential. There is great interest and demand for straw pellets, especially within the equine industry, both trading in the UK and exporting abroad. It is a renewable product which makes it highly appealing and it’s also cheaper than many other equine and pet products, such as wood pellets and shavings.

“The main aim of farm diversification is to support and increase the core business”, explained David Hume from George F. White. “Therefore, you have to be 100% committed to a project.”

“We can’t make clients diversify”, said David, who is a rural business consultant. “For it to happen, and be successful, farmers need to be willing to invest time and resources into the project, to get it up and running and to grow. This will allow diversification project to achieve what’s required to sustain the rest of the business and increase profitability.”

Sharing his thoughts on how to diversify successfully, Pip added: “Identify your idea, or dream, and get this down on paper. Once you’ve thought it through as fully as you can, speak to a professional who can provide a non-biased perspective and assessment of whether it’s a viable project and how it would work with your existing business and fit in with that, or around it. The opportunities and grant funding to diversify are there, but you need to be fully behind a new project if it’s going to work and create a sustainable new income for you and your main business.”

For more information on farm diversification, or advice on any of the aspects discussed in this article, please contact David Hume on davidhume@georgefwhite.co.uk or 01665 511986.