SME and Business

Adventure farm set for post Covid-19 return

Piglets Adventure Farm at Towthorpe Grange near York is looking forward to offering fantastic family days out later this summer thanks to support from Yorkshire Bank, owned by Virgin Money UK.

The family-run business closed its gates on Friday 20 March to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, in line with the UK lockdown. The closure has meant that the business missed seasonal peak footfall over Easter and half term, which would have brought thousands of families from across Yorkshire and beyond, as well as hundreds of school visits.

Piglets Adventure Farm is a haven for children and families, offering a play barn, maize maze, tractor rides and farm animal feeding, as well as an educational programme to promote farming life to the next generation.

The peak holiday period usually generates a turnover of around £800,000 for the 30-acre farm, rather than the £50,000 to date.

Owner and manager, Ed Sykes had to furlough 50 employees and extend overdrafts to pay wages until Government funding was secured. He contacted Yorkshire Bank immediately to seek solutions to the sudden cash flow problems. Yorkshire Bank arranged a capital repayment holiday on the business’s variable rate loan and increased its overdraft to cover the £50,000 staff costs pending the HMRC payment.

Ed, who recently purchased the business from his parents using funds secured through Yorkshire Bank, is optimistic about returning to business, despite the financial challenges.

He said: “It has been a significant year of change for us, as my parents, who opened Piglets in 2011, retired, so we could take on and develop the business. No-one could have predicted a pandemic, so all we could do was turn to the bank for support, who within a matter of days arranged a capital repayment holiday and overdraft.

“We needed solutions, and we needed them quickly. Not only did we have staff salaries to honour, but even closing the farm completely still requires us to cover overheads, including feeding our menagerie of 60-odd animals as they can’t be furloughed.”

Darren Smith, regional agricultural manager at Yorkshire Bank, said: “We have a legacy relationship with Piglets Adventure Farm and we have developed a strong financial relationship with the team over time. I supported them through the purchase of the farm and the transition period.

“The impact of Covid-19 is another chapter in their story, albeit unplanned. We helped them through the initial crisis to pay staff and since then I have worked with them on sustainable solutions by securing a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan (CBILS), a government support scheme to keep the business afloat throughout the crisis and pay off the overdraft in the short term. This should give them a cushion until Piglets can open again.”

The business plans to reopen to the public in mid-July, subject to Government guidelines. Safety measures will be put in place, visitor numbers may be impacted, and some areas may be restricted, such as indoor activities, the trailer rides and feeding of the animals.

Ed added: “We have a strong business model, which puts us in a good position for recovery and future growth. We are using this time positively to look at streamlining everything, reviewing profitability and perhaps even restructuring.”