A young couple have diversified with the help of grant funding to create a luxury bunkhouse in an old barn on their North Yorkshire farm. Kate Chapman reports.
Rachel and Michael Morley bought the 60.7-hectare (150-acre) farm in High Marishes, near Malton, in the Yorkshire Dales, in 2015 using the money they inherited following the deaths of Rachel’s parents and grandparents, which all tragically happened within a few short months.
Determined to take something positive from a terrible time – which also included the suicide of Michael’s father – the couple decided diversification would enable Rachel to stay at home and raise their daughters Scarlett and Lily.
With their own money tied up in the farm – where they rent out grassland as well as keep 15 Aberdeen-Angus crosses and a small flock of South Downs sheep – they took inspiration from neighbouring businesses and applied for a leader grant to help fund their dream of transforming a derelict building into luxury group accommodation.
Peddler’s Den opened at the end of last year and so far former primary teacher Rachel and Michael, who also looks after his family’s 162ha (400-acre) farm and runs bed and breakfast pigs, have been delighted with the response to their venture, which they hope will appeal to cyclists visiting nearby Dalby forest and other groups of friends and families.
“The farm was incredibly run down when we took it on, but it was paradise to us,” says Rachel.
“I didn’t want to go back to teaching after the girls were born but I needed to do something to bring in more money as we were virtually living off fresh air.
“We thought about putting up a hen shed and going into eggs, about growing mushrooms and all sorts of other things.
“It was actually a friend who suggested diversifying by going into accommodation, although we were against the idea to start with as we didn’t want people coming down here.”
However, after further consideration the idea became more favourable and with a derelict granary that would perfectly lend itself to refurbishment as a luxury bunkhouse the couple started researching the project’s viability.
Rachel contacted LEADER funding a couple of days after Lily was born in 2017 and was encouraged to make an application.
“We decided to go down this route because I knew of another local business applying for LEADER funding,” says Rachel.
“We desperately needed the money and that is what it is there for, for people like us.”
After making an expression of interest it took Rachel a year to complete her application, outlining in detail what work was required, the costs and how the business would be run.
The barn was in a poor state and required extensive work to dig out the floor and re-concrete it, remove the roof and re-enforce the joists as well as install a couple of internal stud walls.
Rachel says: “A lot of people get agents to put in their application, but I did it all myself, I have never done anything so difficult as filling out those forms.
“I picked up from an online group that they appreciate people doing it themselves though; it shows you’re prepared to put the work in and that you are prepared to make a go of your business.
“Also, I could not afford to hire anybody. If you can, you probably don’t need the cash you’re applying for.
“You really need to have a detailed plan and we also had to secure planning permission beforehand which was a big risk as that was another cost.
“If we did not get the LEADER grant we could not do the building.
“I played devil’s advocate with one of the questions which asked, ‘what will you do if you do not get the grant?’ I said it would be bulldozed, because it was unsafe – it needed to have the work done.”
Rachel had to supply three identical quotes for every item and piece of work and, as a result, LEADER agreed to fund 40 per cent of the building work, plumbing, installation of a car park and stables, but would not give any grant towards the electrical works or the kitchen.
She says the amount of funding they were awarded was also based on whether the project would create employment, its farm diversification credentials and the impact on local tourism and the economy.
The project to bring the barn back into use went over budget – costing £225,000 – and the remainder was paid for by a bank loan.
“We did go over budget, but we felt like we owed it to the building and the farm to get it right. We wanted to create something special,” adds Rachel.
“We worked with the building to create what we wanted and changed very little of the layout and wherever we could we used people from the local farming community to do the work.
“The dormitory sleeps 12 and there is a double room downstairs. I travelled a lot in my 20s, staying in youth hostels and that is what I wanted to create, an upmarket hostel, something a bit different.
“A lot of places have rooms with double beds, but not everyone wants to share with their friends so that is our unique selling point.”
Rachel charges £60 per person, per night, to stay at Peddler’s Den and has the property listed on Air B&B and Group Accommodation as well as taking direct bookings online.
“We are not big holiday goers ourselves – we have a farm to run. It has all been a huge learning curve to me,” she adds.
“Completing the funding application meant I really knew my business inside out; I have set specific targets and really want to achieve 10 per cent occupancy for the first year, which equates to 36 days.
“So far we have 30 days booked in and we only started taking them in October, so I am really pleased.
“When it comes to advice the thing I would say to anyone else considering diversifying or applying for LEADER funding is complete the forms yourself.
“That way you really get to know your business and research. We spent hours looking up competitors, costings and other things.
“I know where every bunkhouse in the country is and it’s nice to look at what others are doing to get ideas and see what you think might work and also what might not.
“It was a massive step into the unknown for us and yes, we went big, but we’re absolutely delighted with how it has turned out.”
The dormitory sleeps 12 and there is also a double downstairs.