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Revamping Fresh Start Academies to boost entry into the farming industry

As Fresh Start Academies enter a new era, Danusia Osiowy discovers what the future holds 10 years on from the start of the initiative which aims to promote farming as a career and create opportunities for new entrants.

The Fresh Start initiative has come a long way since its launch at the Smithfield Show in December 2004 by Sir Don Curry.


Following the publication of his report in January 2002, his conclusions voiced concern about how the farming sector was promoted as a career, and highlighted the need to bring new entrants together with existing farmers to create opportunities for them.


With this in mind, Sir Don helped bring together industry leaders to develop Fresh Start, an interactive programme designed to help equip younger people to enter farming, develop the business skills required to run a farm, promote an entrepreneurial culture and offer practical support for continual professional development.

Fresh Start Academies – what are they?

Common core elements to all academies are:

  • Open to anyone over 18 - there is no upper age limit
  • Open to those from farming and non-farming backgrounds, but at a stage where they are looking to go into business or develop/diversify an existing one
  • Workshops help develop business skills and are not practical/technical
  • The programme is usually delivered over a three to four month period with meetings held about every two weeks
  • Each academy takes a generic Fresh Start programme for the sector concerned and then a local steering group of professionals, local organisations and representatives is created, along with local farmers, to help shape the programme for the target audience and its requirements
  • The initiative is funded by the Princes Countryside Fund, The Elizabeth Creak Charitable Trust and NFU Mutual


Over the past 10 years, more than 700 people have been through Fresh Start and in the last four years, specialist sector specific academies for the pig, dairy and upland sectors have been developed - with great success.


There are now six new pig businesses running or going into production and new dairy joint ventures have been set up. In the last year alone, four members of the uplands academies have secured tenancies where previously they had been unsuccessful.


The Fresh Start Land Enterprise Centre now runs as a new Community Interest Company (CIC) and works with new organisations, although its core foundation is the Fresh Start initiative.


Back in 2011, it helped to write and produce the Land Partnerships Handbook, which was launched at the Oxford Farming Conference the year after.


The landbook will once again be re-printed this autumn and distributed throughout 2015 via all workshops, for those looking for innovative ways of approaching a new or existing farm business.

Fresh Start Academies – what to expect

A typical Fresh Start Academy includes:

  • Typical issues covered by the academies include business planning, financing your business, accounts and record keeping, supply chains, markets local, national and international influences, communication skills, presenting business case, negotiation, innovative approaches, joint ventures and different business models
  • Where possible, farmer and business case studies attend the sessions to share experiences.
  • Fresh Start is currently having its core programmes assessed by SFEDI (Small Firms Enterprise Development Initiative), supported by the Government. n All programmes running from this autumn will have SFEDI recognition, along with the SFEDI accredited mentoring scheme and academy members will receive certificates jointly badged for attending the academies
  • There is a small charge for academy members to attend and an application process
  • The group’s size is normally a maximum of 20. If group size is larger than this, a second academy will run in parallel or a follow-on academy will be offered

This year, Fresh Start was combined with Land Partnerships to create a new CIC which could deliver a more comprehensive programme on a wider scale.


The core ethos of the initiative remains unchanged and is still based on business knowledge, networking, mentoring and match-making.


National project manager for Fresh Start, Alison Rickett, who is also one of four directors in the newly established CIC, says the change was needed.


She says: “Like all businesses we should never sit still and listened to the feedback from academy members and the industry as whole. It was time to reinvigorate it.


“We are still working with those seeking to start their own business and with operators who may want to step back from day-to-day management, and helping identify innovative routes to tackle succession and new entrant start-ups.


“What we have noticed over the last few years is the passion of people wanting to work or own businesses in the industry. It is only going one way - upwards - and it is an incredibly positive time.


“But we still have a great deal to do in sharing the knowledge and information we have and getting others to think differently.


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“By bringing the work of Land Partnerships together with the academies and offering a more comprehensive mentoring and matching service, we feel we have a far stronger delivery mode and can help generate new ways of thinking and create opportunities.”


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