Woodbridge: Ex-pig farmer’s farm diversification comes full circle

Second-generation farmer Robbie Gawthrop of East Green, pictured with son, Jack, has rarely looked b

Second-generation farmer Robbie Gawthrop of East Green, pictured with son, Jack, has rarely looked back since closing down his sow breeding unit in 1997. Since then, he and his wife Claire, have developed two �his and hers� businesses - Credit: Archant

An ex-pig farmer who diversified by setting up a renewable energy firm is celebrating after securing a prized customer - his wife.

Sixteen years after he began his diversification journey, second generation farm Robbie Gawthrop, of Woodbridge, has sold a biomass boiler system to wife, Claire, who runs her own holiday business, East Green Farm Cottages, on their 13-acre farm.

Since closing down the sow breeding unit, the two have been busy developing their own separate businesses.

His diversifiation, which he runs with business partner Linda Grave, will install the boiler to heat the family home, five holiday cottages and swimming pool.

In 1995, with a young family to support, Robbie had to supplement the struggling farm income by working round the clock, and used his plumbing skills to provide maintenance work for a property-letting agency .

He started to build energy efficient houses in the local area, which sparked an interest in heating systems. A commission to install a ground source heat pump at a nearby organic farm led him into the renewable energy business. By 2006, East Green Maintenance had become East Green Energy.

“Our electricity usage at home and in the cottages has been reduced following the installation of a pv system some time ago which also generates FiT income, a biomass boiler will cover our heating and hot water needs,” he said. “While it is major investment we will, like many of our East Green Energy customers, get a good return in the years to come from renewable heat incentives as well as much lower running costs.”

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In 1998, a Government Stewardship Grant helped the Gawthrops transform their smallholding from 40 years of intensive pig farming, and the slurry pit is now an ecologically balanced pond.

In 1999, grant aid from the East of England Development Agency (EEDA), helped to kick-start the conversion of redundant farm buildings into holiday cottages. Today, there are five cottages and an office.

A tennis court has also been installed and the swimming pool, which Robbie’s father put about 40 years ago with an air source heat pump, has been refurbished.

In 2008, another outbuilding was converted into a party barn.