Development & diversification opportunities for farms & rural enterprises

Discerning and astute landowners and owners of farms are taking a step back to reappraise land and building use. The current economic climate is challenging for all and a different approach doesn’t mean an end to farming or abandoning the work, perhaps of previous generations. Farming methods change and it’s prudent, in indeed essential, to ensure that assets are maximised.

PMA director and lead architect Perry Mears explained “There isn’t just one solution which suits everyone. Be open-minded and imaginative. For some it might be to question the current use of old agricultural farms, perhaps not fully utilised but in a great rural location. With permission to convert for residential or perhaps holiday use, what might be regarded as an incidental barn can become a significant asset. A barn doesn’t necessarily have to be of stone and slate construction.

Permission under Class Q approved for conversion to a dwelling.

With an expert eye and a creative approach, what might have been seen as merely a utility and relatively low specification or modern building can become a contemporary and fashionable dwelling. For others, with larger estates, there could be numerous potential or diversification routes. For some, this can be game-changing.”

A planned approach is essential. There is much to consider but potential benefits can be huge. Perry continued “We are currently undertaking an increasing number of more strategic reviews, providing an overview of farms and estates, highlighting potential for development and income diversification. Findings can be revealing. An integrated approach can reveal so much; an organised vision enables the best informed decisions to be made. Opportunities aren’t always obvious, so taking one step at a time is sensible.

Other possible uses can be highlighted, some the landowners have never considered. Rural locations can be perfect for different types of tourist accommodation, especially in the gorgeous south west – barn conversions, hotel, holiday lodges or campsite. Is there scope for a visitor attraction – farm park, adventure play, training and corporate away days? Wedding venue, farm shop or restaurant. Office accommodation can create some fabulous working spaces. Workshops. Near a river or canal, is there scope for a inland marina?

Our approach looks to open conversations by highlighting potential opportunities and devising a plan for the years ahead.

Our design approach is tailored. We look to reflect farm buildings’ origins, work with the ‘grain’ of the building, not against it. We would look to retain agricultural character, resist inserting new openings into external walls, letting existing form, layout and openings suggest layout. Avoid extensions, combined with using sympathetic materials / construction methods

Gaining planning permission for a leisure or tourism development is always easier once such a use has been established on a site, so start small.  All situations are assessed individually but perhaps a barn conversion or a single barn that is used for holiday letting purposes might be a starting point. Thereafter you might consider, glamping, shepherd’s huts, cabins or lodges, tree houses, floating lodges, earth sheltered lodges. Be creative in terms of what your site has to offer and what else is available in your area – something quirky or unique will stand out.

There is much to consider and often real challenges to be faced. As RIBA Chartered Architects we are there to guide our clients along the way. Good design considers context – the site and setting. Available space and orientation – aspect & prospect. Sun path and daylight. The prevailing weather needs full consideration at the design stage. The local landscape is key – particularly in a rural setting. Characteristics. Trees, ecology, access, visual impact of development. Overlooking / overshadowing. Flood risk. Sustainability and more.

The above are areas we consider daily, so we can keep things in context and advise.

Farms will continue but need to evolve. The important first step should be taken. Take stock of what you have and reach out for advice on possible opportunities. Don’t prejudge things and, above all, open your imagination!

Peregrine Mears Architects