A farming couple has created a new countryside fitness and wellbeing centre - complete with cafés and private-hire gyms and saunas.

Will and Sarah Edwards wanted to harness their strong professional background in physiotherapy and launch a farm diversification with a difference.

Be Well Barn at Wash Farm, Redlingfield, near Eye, was opened on May 29.

The striking new eco-conscious structures - designed by Tom McKechnie of Gorniak & McKechnie of Eye - lie in a corner of an eight and a half hectare crop field beside a public footpath.

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The aim is for the entire campus to become carbon neutral with the addition of solar panels as part of the next phase.

The barn - all with disabled access - houses a large fitness studio downstairs and a yoga, pilates and tai chi area above.

It includes café areas upstairs and downstairs along with café terraces on both floors - all run by The Suffolk Jungle Room, a fast-growing catering enterprise which started out at The Old Mill at Metfield which is run by Tony Prince and Sam Coe. 

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Beyond the main barn are two stand-alone private-hire gyms and two further luxury sauna and hot-tub rooms which are housed in four mini-barns.

These look out over a raised beetlebank created to encourage beneficial insects and a recently-harvested 6ha oilseed rape field.

The complex was built over 15 months and cost a significant sum, raised from a mixture of EU LEADER grant, bank loan and self-funding.

In the main communal downstairs gym area, the Edwards hire fitness instructors to run a series of classes such as Barn Strength, Barn Spin, Burn and Build, Tabata Spin and Kintsugi Fitness. Membership and pay-as-go options are both available.

Wellness classes in the upstairs studio include courses in Earth Dance, yoga, pilates and Beyond Birth Conditioning.

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The farm's latest diversification business is run separately from a successful private-hire swimming pool enterprise - Wash Farm Barn - set in an ancient Listed barn on the farm.

It was launched in 2001 by Will's parents, Trevor and Anita, as a means of saving and restoring the then-crumbling building and has run successfully ever since.

"The business is now well-established and has given us the confidence to undertake another project that if done well enough people would come out and use us," said Will.

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Inspired by the previous generation, Will and Sarah surveyed the pool's users as part of their business plan research - looking at whether there was enough demand for a fitness centre like the one they dreamed of creating.

The answer was a resounding 'yes', which encouraged them to pursue the idea - and become bolder in their ambition.

The result is an eye-catching rural fitness and leisure focal point which is already attracting users in their droves.

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The Edwards family has been based on the farm for more than 100 years and owns about 300 acres of land across Wash Farm and Kiln Farm, which lies a mile away at the other end of the village.

Overall, the family farms about 1,000 acres through a mixture of tenancies, contracts and agreements with neighbours - including 200 acres in Framlingham. Across the piece, they grow winter crops - oilseed rape, wheat, barley and beans.

They were part of the original Countryside Stewardship schemes and have been in Higher Level and Entry Level Stewardship. They are now in a mid-tier Countryside Stewardship scheme and in the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI).

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Barn owls, turtle doves and skylarks are among the wildlife benefiting from their hedgerows, wild bird seed and pollen nectar mixes and wildflower and grass margins - as well as a winter feeding programme.

They also have a turkey breeding business started by Will's grandad, Geoffrey, about 50 years ago, who partnered up with turkey magnate Bernard Matthews to provide turkey eggs. 

The breeding unit contains 8,000 birds - making it a "reasonable" size, said Will. It accounts for about half the business.

Both Will and Sarah have a strong family background in agriculture - but garnered skills outside of it before returning to learn the trade.

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Sarah spent about 10 years providing physiotherapy services at Ipswich Hospital, while Will spent three or four years working with Allied Health Professionals Suffolk - a social enterprise supporting the NHS through its physio work - before returning to the farm.

They moved on site in 2014 as they assumed more responsibility for running the nine-strong farm operation.

Will and his siblings were encouraged to pursue other careers and he chose physiotherapy. He met Sarah while they were studying for their masters at the University of East Anglia.

Sarah is the daughter of prominent farmer John Wall - a former Suffolk Show president - and his late wife Sue. John farmed for 45 years in Framlingham - covering up to 1400 acres - until his retirement two years ago.

Both Sarah and Will were busy pursuing their chosen careers when Trevor and Anita decided they wanted to take a step back and hand over the running of the farm to the next generation.

Will - a middle child - has two brothers. The eldest is an investment banker and the youngest is a civil engineer working for Sizewell B nuclear power station. Both now live on the farm although they are not involved in its day-to-day management.

"A number of years ago when dad reached 65 there was a discussion on the way forward and I was the one wanting to take the farm on," explained Will. 

So Sarah, 37, and Will, 39, became partners in the farm business in 2012 - and learnt the ropes while starting a family. They now have three children - Noah, eight, Isabelle, six, and Lexi, four.

Luckily, there were plenty of experienced hands around them to help in their transition. Sarah took on the book-keeping and administration while Will became a hands-on farmer.

"There was a slow progression for a few years," explained Will. Meanwhile their plans for the wellness centre accelerated during the pandemic, when they started to put some flesh on the bones.

"It was the right time for us to think about something that was new. We wanted to offer something that was sympathetic to our surroundings," said Will.

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Their ideas grew bigger and bolder and before they knew it they ended up with something far more "meaningful and impressive" than they had envisaged. Planners at Mid Suffolk District Countil were "quite supportive", they said.

"We wanted to offer the complete package," explained Will. However, just as they were beginning work, Russia invaded Ukraine, sending costs spiralling and materials shot up by 30%. It has meant delaying the solar panels by a few years to meet budget.

However, overall they are delighted with the result. As well as local architects, contractors included NBC Design, Manage & Construct Ltd and The Suffolk Building Company.

"We are thrilled. We have not yet stopped to take breath. We have been working constantly since April. We followed from finishing the building to opening it and it's all been a bit of a blur," said Will.

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