Following on from our interview with Lucy Tile in Part 1 of our ‘Women in Agriculture’ mini blog series, we caught up with Louise Nicoll, co-owner of Newton Farm Holidays with her husband Graeme, near Forfar in Angus.
Newton Farm Holidays offer rural breaks, farm tours and alpaca experiences and are proud winners of 2 of Visit Scotland's Regional Thistle Awards for the Most Hospitable B&B/Guesthouse and the Best Outdoor Experience.
Up to and beyond winning those awards, Louise and Graeme work hard to create a great rural experience for their visitors, but how long ago did they start diversifying their farm business into agritourism?
“We initially started offering B&B in 2006 which would be our first diversification although I don't believe we really had an agritourism business until 2012”.
From our own experience, we know there can be challenges in building up an agritourism business. We asked Louise what the most difficult part of starting something new was and what was difficult about bringing the public onto the farm...
“The hardest part about bringing the public onto the farm was our own misgivings I think. It was all too easy to blame the farm, the estate, insurance, health and safety, environmental health as causative factors which would prevent us. In the end it was all pretty straight forward and everyone was really supportive
I think seeking advice is my number one [recommendation for people looking to diversify], don't go in blind and there are many people out there who have valuable experience that they can offer.”
Newton Farm Holidays, like Jacksons at Jedburgh, are members of Go Rural Scotland, a community of farmers across Scotland who are all passionate about promoting rural tourism and produce, and engagement with farming life. The group offers support and guidance to members along the way as we all hope to see greater awareness of what farmers and rural communities can offer. Go Rural includes lots of fantastic women, like Louise, who have been born into farming or have married into farming and are now significantly adding to what agriculture can offer.
We asked Louise who her female business or agriculture role model is and why she feels, in comparison to other areas in agriculture, there is such a strong female presence in diversification projects on farms...
“My role model was my Mum. Clear and simple, she had a difficult time in an abusive marriage and ended up as a single parent in the mid 70's, juggling to look after a baby and both her parents who had strokes and in those days there were no benefits to help you.
She took advantage of the new VAT system, retrained herself and started a bookkeeping business. From here she met my dad (I'm part adopted) and once they were married there was no stopping her entrepreneurial streak.
They set up and ran several different businesses over many years, always ahead of their time, including a kitchen and sauna business, an old folks home, several video rental shops and finally a B&B, which she is still running at the age of 79.
[In terms of the success of women in agriculture diversification], I think it can depend on where the women may have started from. For me, my parents grew up on farms and my dad had been a farmer but I never actually had that experience growing up so I came with a different skill set to offer. Often in my experience, the "farmer" who has grown up on the farm is entrenched in a way of life that may be difficult to see past. The reality for our own situation was, I wanted to help and prove myself as an asset to the family but didn’t have a place to fit into the farm to begin with. I took over the accounts first and once I had my twins I needed to do something more and it grew from there.
My main driver is my family and the desire to support them but also I care about the customer experience. I love to see people happy, relaxed and enjoying themselves. It is great to hear positive feedback and I thrive on that”.
If you’d like to visit Newton Farm Holidays throughout the year, visit their website now for more information on how to book! https://newtonfarmholidays.co.uk/