After a 30-year career in the army, I returned to the family farm in north Suffolk, where we realised we had a significant number of redundant and dilapidated buildings to protect.
Our site consists of a Tudor/Victorian threshing barn, a granary barn with attached cattle shed, and two 20th century blockwork buildings. They had variously been used for animals, machinery, workshops and furniture, and all needed repurposing, renovation and masses of TLC to really show off their history and generate revenue. Recognising farming’s uncertain future income stream, we embarked on our scheme to diversify into holiday cottages and a wedding venue. The old hayloft will also be transformed into company offices, and a toilet block will replace the blockwork goose shed!
It is not just the buildings that require work. We replaced our ancient oil-fired heating system with a woodchip biomass boiler using ‘home-grown’ chip that will supply the whole project with heat and hot water. We are replacing the cesspit with a STP that will support the farmhouse and new ventures. At present, we only have parking for the house and in the farmyard, so we designed a whole new outside parking and landscaped area.
There are no maps of water, drainage or foundations of buildings that have been around since Tudor times and, while needing to meet the requirements of planning regulations for making buildings fit for human use, we wanted to retain and enhance their character with a light touch renovation.
We are a working farm with other buildings near to the project, so we had our planning consultants, Durrants, survey the buildings and ground; we then gave them a brief of what we wanted to achieve. The Heritage Officer walked round the buildings with our architect’s plans during a pre-application meeting to highlight potential problems, and we received his many helpful ideas.
Our biggest challenge was cash flow, in the nearly two years it took to get to planning from the first surveyor’s visit. Nothing could be costed until it had passed planning, and once granted, we divided the project into phases. The first phase had to be income-generating to help pay for the next and, due to Covid-19, the cottages phase will now happen after the wedding barn is up-and-running. We have also had to comply with numerous requirements and mitigation measures regarding our resident bat population.
For a project to succeed, you need to know what you want (and can afford) and if it is feasible in your area. We had attended numerous CLA Diversification days and, armed with other people’s experiences, our site was ready for the planners to approve when it went for full planning. Getting it was not a surprise, having had on-site visits from Heritage, Highways, the Planning Department, the local Parish Council (who were just finishing a Neighbourhood Development Plan) and many others. We had addressed every question prior to submission, and we ensured we complied with all suggestions from the Council, to ensure our project got approved.