Diversification could be key for rural businesses amid Brexit uncertainty

George Unwin (left) of Baythorne Hall and Tom Blofeld of BeWILDerwood at the CLA's diversification s

George Unwin (left) of Baythorne Hall and Tom Blofeld of BeWILDerwood at the CLA's diversification seminar. Picture: Lee Murphy / CLA - Credit: Lee Murphy / CLA

Diversification to find new income streams should be a key consideration for East Anglia's rural businesses amid the uncertainties of Brexit, a seminar was told.

More than 100 landowners and rural businesses from across the region attended the Diversification Demystified seminar held by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) at The Granary Estates near Newmarket.

Among the speakers were CLA East regional director Ben Underwood, who said farms and countryside businesses should assess ways to 'broaden their horizons' and explore other avenues of income for their land and estates – particularly in the light of looming changes to subsidies and trading relationships after Brexit.

'There is uncertainty in terms of a future trade deal [with the EU] and what support there will be for landowners and rural businesses moving forward,' he said. 'People are having to look at their assets and income in other ways and for some it may mean putting their eggs in more than just the commodity basket.'

The event included four first-hand accounts of diversification projects on farms, rural estates and businesses.

Tom Raynham, chief executive of the Raynham Estate, near Fakenham, discussed the diverse range of projects at his estate, including a brownfield site that has been converted into one of the largest solar farms in the country.

'Everyone has different assets and different locations so when considering diversification you should look at what you have, and try and gauge the businesses you want to develop on the strengths you hold,' he said. 'This is a better approach than looking at a wish list from what everyone else is doing.'

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Guy Taylor, owner and managing director of The Granary Estates, described how he transformed redundant farm buildings into a luxury wedding and events venue on the Suffolk-Cambridgeshire border.

'My advice for diversification is don't be afraid about it,' he said. 'You can think about it many times but if you've got an idea you should crack on with it.'

Other speakers at the event included Tom Blofeld, owner and chief executive of BeWILDerwood, a family adventure park set in Norfolk woodland, and George Unwin, director of Baythorne Hall, near Haverhill, where redundant farm buildings have been developed into a cookery school, wine shop and café.

The event was chaired by CLA deputy president Mark Bridgeman and also included a presentation from Doug Field, joint chief executive of the East of England Co-op and chairman of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership who discussed grant funding opportunities.