New Hunts award for farm diversity

THE poor soil on a 62-hectare Huntingdonshire farm has not stood in the way of the couple that run it becoming award-winners—yet again.

THE poor soil on a 62-hectare Huntingdonshire farm has not stood in the way of the couple that run it becoming award-winners—yet again.

Not content with winning the AA’s coveted Campsite of the Year in 2008 and taking two awards last year in The Hunts Post Food and Drink Awards, David and Jayne Newman have now been awarded a diversity award for their farm in Pidley.

They first started to diversify at their Stroud Hill Park farm 15 years ago, when it became obvious that the poor soil on a comparatively small farm ruled out arable use and could not generate a living.

The starting point was paint-balling. They gave over 15 acres of woodland to a company that arranged paintballing events. But they were not satisfied with the quality of the visitors’ experience, so they took the activity in-house, improved the standard and it is still delivering a healthy return.

It demonstrated that investment in farm diversity required great care, and that quality was paramount, Mrs Newman told The Hunts Post.

That philosophy translated into the award-winning caravan park, which opened seven years ago, and the award-winning restaurant, six years ago.

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Now, it has delivered the Farmers’ Weekly Diversification Farmer of the Year Award 2010.

The judge, Peter Pragg, said: “David and Jayne Newman have shown huge energy in converting a farm into a property offering quality recreation and conservation.”

And conservation underpins the Newmans’ next planned diversification. They were recently granted planning consent to build two eco-lodges in woodland on the farm as they branch out into green tourism.

Planning applications for all these ventures have been exhaustively scrutinised. In normal circumstances, many applications are determined by council planners without the need to refer them to councillors unless there is particular controversy or the planners disagree with a parish council recommendation about acceptance or rejection.

But every application from the Newmans must be considered by a full meeting of Huntingdonshire District Council’s development management panel to show that everything is above board – because David Newman’s father Mike, also a Pidley farmer, is the only councillor to have been a member of Huntingdonshire District Council since its creation in 1974.

Notwithstanding the paint-balling, the caravans and the extremely successful restaurant, Stroud Hill Park remains a working farm, with a pedigree herd of Herefords, a small flock of Suffolk sheep and the family favourite pet pig whose offspring provide pork for the restaurant.

“It’s a relatively small farm and we’ve diversified in ways that complement each other,” Mrs Newman said. “The restaurant exists because of the livestock, and they exist because we have an outlet in the restaurant. The caravan park exists because we have the land.

“Often, when people ring to book in their caravans [it is an adults-only site] they also want to book tables in the restaurant. Sometimes they won’t book the site if the restaurant is full,” she added.

“We have diversified sympathetically for the size of the farm, and we don’t shy away from investing heavily in everything we do to get the best possible standard. People want to be sure they are getting the best possible value at the same time as an exceptional experience. You don’t get that in a muddy field.”