Holiday retreat looks forward to welcoming back guests
- Credit: Archant
Are staycations the new normal? As the hospitality and holiday industry re-opens from today, Gina Long talks to Hannah and Jeff Hibbs, from Forest Lodge Holidays.
“Diversification has been the only way many farmers have survived over the years. Adapting to ever-changing climates and economic challenges.”
As the hospitality and tourism industries tentatively reopen for its new normal, it’s fair to say Covid-19 has presented more “economic challenges” than anything we have seen before.
But one popular holiday retreat is preparing to promote its unique staycation in the heart of Thetford Forest.
A British Horse Society approved location, Forest Lodge Holidays has run a popular horse holiday business for more than two decades.
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Log cabins, a horse livery yard and caravan site have proved incredibly popular alongside a campsite for the High Lodge music concerts and their newest venture – outdoor woodland weddings.
While so much of this work was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is this diversification that has left owners Hannah and Jeff Hibbs hopeful for the future.
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Hannah explained: “To say it’s been a tough start to our busy season is, of course, an understatement as having to close our holiday and wedding business has been the most challenging of times.
“But if this pandemic has proved anything, it is to, where possible, try not to have all your eggs in one basket.
“My advice would always be to have as many business avenues as possible within your main structure. An example of this is although our main focus is equine, we also offer caravan site and camping on occasion.
“Variety has saved us during this time, adapting and changing how we work and looking forward and planning new things for the future.”
While the pandemic has brought every business sector across the world into sharp focus, one area that is likely to become even more popular and important are staycations.
Hannah said: “We saw how popular staycations were over two decades ago but with the current climate tourism in the UK they will be even more popular than ever before.
“Horses are very much the heart of our business, from running a large livery yard to offering our ‘bring your horse on holiday’ staycation.
“We are so lucky to live in the most stunning spot in the middle of the forest its literally an ideal destination for horse lovers.
“Another way we have morphed our business during this pandemic is our ‘park and ride’ facility.
“As soon as we were given the green light that horses could travel, my husband and I quickly came up with a plan to offer our farm as a base for equine owners to park safely whilst social distancing.
“They also then have the freedom of the forest as well as the added bonus of our river frontage – during the hot weather we have seen so many horses and riders enjoying a splash and a cooldown.”
Pre-lockdown, the business was preparing for a hugely successful year ahead with lodges booked solidly between March and November.
But Hannah praised the reaction of customers as she set about trying to rebook almost 100 holidays.
She said: “We are so thankful that our wonderful horsey client base loves Little Lodge Farm so much, that they were almost all very happy to re-schedule to 2021.
“We also had eight weddings postponed to next year, which is heart-breaking for our couples.
“Our wedding business Forest Lodge Weddings has just announced an open weekend on August 29 and 30, which will adhere to all social distancing guidelines, where couples can view our stunning outdoor woodland venue and see the tipi’s set up in our beautiful rural setting.
“I have always loved the idea of a wedding in the woods. Owning a private wood in the middle of the forest it seemed the perfect idea for yet another string to our bow and another source of income to keep the business network evolving and less vulnerable.
“I like to think our businesses can meet in the middle from time-to-time and last year saw two of our brides have their horse at their wedding, one actually rode down the aisle on her equine pal.”
Forest Lodge’s idyllic location has allowed the business to support the hugely popular High Lodge music events, by becoming the main campsite for the concerts alongside a mobile bar and barbecue on site.
While the concerts were understandably cancelled this year, the business is already planning for a busy 2021.
In the short term, Hannah and Jeff are looking forward to welcoming equine lovers back to Forest Lodge Holidays – to bring the picturesque setting to life once again.
Hannah said: “Living in such a one-off stunning location, our work/social life has always merged well.
“Socialising with our customers is something we love and we see it as a bonus to our job. We have made some lifelong friends over the years. You will often find me and Jeff having a glass of fizz watching the sunset by the river with our fellow ‘Little Lodgers’.
“Our customers always say how lucky we are, it would be their dream to live here. We know how lucky we are, but it comes with a lot of hard work – and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My daughter, Savannah, is nine years old this year, for her to grow up in such a unique setting is a dream come true for me.
“We are hoping she may want to follow in our footsteps and in time take over the business, until then, it’s is all fun and action for her.”
For more information about Forest Lodge Holidays go to forestlodgeholidays.co.uk and for weddings go to forestlodgeweddings.co.uk.
Facebook: Little Lodge Farm/ Forest lodge weddings