CLA Next Generation Conference: Doing business your own way

Valuing tradition, trusting change. We summarise the fascinating topics that were discussed by future land managers at the 2024 CLA Next Generation Conference
Next gen 2024
Left to right - Rebecca Wilson, Molly Biddell, Seb Murray, Neil Davy & Jonathan Roberts

More than 100 rural business entrepreneurs and members shared stories, discussed challenges and debated new ideas at the second annual CLA Next Generation Conference and Dinner.

Taking place at Crumplebury, a dedicated events space within the Whitbourne Estate, the home of CLA Vice President Joe Evans and his family, the dinner and conference attracted members who were either new to landownership and land management or are likely to be taking over the family business in the future.

Delegates enjoyed networking and making new connections over a two-course dinner, followed by an after-dinner address from CLA President Victoria Vyvyan and ‘The Raging Bull’ Phil Vickery MBE DL. Phil shared anecdotes from growing up on the family farm in Cornwall and stories from his varied career as an English rugby union tighthead prop, including being part of the winning England team in the 2003 World Cup. Concluding his illuminating talk, Phil urged attendees to focus on doing something that they truly enjoy and have a passion for.

Following an opening address from Victoria, the conference the next day started by exploring the opportunities in emerging markets. Discussing the wedding venue industry, Angus Hastie, CEO of Artemis, said that the company has 14 sites across England and hosts 2,000 weddings a year. He said that the popularity of technology and the rise of Gen Z has altered its operating model, particularly regarding how to engage with clients, with more focus on the customer’s online journey.

Ed Mansel Lewis, Head of Viticulture at Knight Frank, looked at the development of the UK wine industry, which has moved from producing predominantly still wines to sparkling varieties due to the increase in growing temperature. With more than 1,000 vineyards and 220 wineries in the UK, Ed explained that there is opportunity in this sector, with land values doubling since 2011, and that there is a growing consumer appetite for UK wine; 22 million bottles were produced in 2023.

Looking at natural capital markets, Alex Robinson, Commercial Director at Zulu Ecosystems set out how delegates could find and unlock natural capital opportunities on their land with different types of site analysis offered by Zulu Ecosystem’s platform to determine where habitat interventions could have the most impact.

Concluding the first session, Bradley Smith, Associate agri-finance at Knight Frank set out the opportunities for business diversification, with key considerations including identifying a need, researching, and testing the market with the concept, cost, projected revenues, time and expansion potential. He also shared what banks are looking for when financing such projects.

The second panel session focused on stories from the next generation. Neil Davy, CEO of Family Business UK, said that family businesses have unique attributes, including putting people first, investing more in the local community and the next generation is at the heart of the business. Looking at business succession, Neil said starting the succession process is complex, difficult and emotional and needs to begin with constructive conversation; he advised those starting their succession planning to “go in with an open mind and open eyes”.

Delegates then heard from rural businesses in Devon, Sussex, Surrey and North Yorkshire, with the panel comprising Molly Biddell from Hampton Estate, Surrey and Knepp Estate in West Sussex, Rebecca Wilson from Hundayfield Farm in North Yorkshire and Seb Murray from Pennywell Farm in Devon.

Following lunch, delegates were taken on a walking tour of Whitbourne, including Longlands Care Farm, the estate’s approach to woodland management, the farm and a tour of Whitbourne Hall, the family’s previous ancestral home.

The CLA thanks headline partner Knight Frank and partners Zulu Ecosystems and Merit Advantage for supporting the event, and with the success of this year’s conference, looks forward to managing future events for the Next Generation Network.

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