Holiday home business breathes new life into Suffolk farm
PUBLISHED: 13:37 07 March 2018 | UPDATED: 15:19 07 March 2018
Tourism professional Andrew Bryce returned to the family farm in Hintlesham, near Ipswich a few years ago and started up The Suffolk Escape. Last year, he expanded his holiday home business with the opening of a new luxury ‘big barn’.
Andrew, the youngest of four, grew up on Northlands Farm at Hintlesham, near Ipswich, and studied tourism at university. Making a living running the small 280-acre farm enterprise was never really on the cards despite his love of farming, so he developed a very successful career outside of agriculture, which took him around the world, visiting tourism sites and creating motivation and incentive programmes for large UK organisations.
While he didn’t become a fully-fledged farmer, he likes to think he and his siblings inherited the entrepreneurial spirit of their trailblazing grandad, Tommy, who came down from Scotland in the 1940s and established the business.
Andrew’s father, Brian, 74, was still running the arable side of the business until about two years ago. Now the land is contract farmed by a neighbouring cousin, but Andrew is also giving the farm business a new lease of life as a tourism destination.
He and wife, Sarah, launched The Suffolk Escape six years ago with four purpose-built luxury adults-only, pet-free log cabins set around a newly-created lake.
The latest venture, a new luxury barn conversion, Sheepyard Barn, which sleeps up to 12 guests, is set in a converted livestock barn away from the cabins and is something of a departure. It is open to children, allows pets, and contains an all-in-one holiday experience, from its own swimming pool with counter-current machine. to a sunken trampoline, a games room, a hot tub and a pizza oven - not to mention stunning views and walks over the farm, which includes woodland and various other wildlife conservation areas. It’s aimed at gatherings of families and friends, and is already a big hit.
The Bryces have also reinstated rare breed pigs, cattle and sheep on the farm which means guests get the full farm experience.
Andrew, a true tourism professional, looked at hundreds of other properties and tried to pull all the best elements he saw to put into one “truly unique” property when creating the barn.
He admits that when he first started out, he did worry about Trip Advisor, but the reality is that the reviews on the accommodation were all very good, meaning it has acted as a major draw.
“The business has annual occupancy over 90% and over half of the guests being returning guests or via word of mouth. The business is very unique in that it has all but one 5/5 scores with Trip Advisor feedback from past guests. We have heard that this is one of the few business in the UK with this incredible level of feedback,” he said.
Some operators like to maximise returns by packing in the homes, but Andrew was after something unique. The farm offers spa treatments or a private chef to guests to make the stay special.
“Here we want to keep it small, quite exclusive, and give the best experience for our guests,” he explained.
“Standards are constantly rising, which is great, but we have got to do something different.”
The emphasis from the start has been on quality, and high standards. Andrew has permission for another two log cabins, but his philosophy is ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
With two young children, Annabell, five, and William, three, it has been wonderful to be able to return to the farm, make a living and bring up a family, he said.
The key to success, learnt in his previous role, is to focus on the customer’s journey and experience, he added. “It’s a lot of work, but I could be sitting on a busy train going to London.”