Fully insulated safari lodges sleeping up to six in Nottinghamshire countryside.
A property development background put husband and wife team Peter and Holly Hinchley in good stead as they embarked on a low impact glamping enterprise on a 15 acre woodland site. We talk to Holly about how they created stays akin to a hotel room in a field, complete with underfloor heating and all mod cons.
What’s your back story – your life before glamping?
Both of us are from farming backgrounds and prior to starting Birdholme we have had various ventures dealing in antique furniture and then property development. I have a dog grooming business which I set up 12 years ago and our daughter Megan has now taken that over as well as helping out at Birdholme on changeover days.
What made you decide to start offering glamping accommodation?
After my husband Peter’s parents sold their farm they retained 15 acres on which his father had planted around 7,000 trees. We thought it was a waste not to share the beauty and wildlife and started looking into glamping options, opening Birdholme in October 2019. About 25 years ago we applied for log cabins and got turned down straight away by the planners, now planning policies have changed and we approached them again.
How did you research the business before entering it?
We spent a lot of time looking into other sites and what type of glamping attracted us, staying at other places and deciding what we would want. We wanted to be open all year round and with this we needed to consider all weathers to ensure luxury, comfort and warmth.
Tell us about your location and site
We’re based at Stanton-on-the-Wolds in the south of Nottinghamshire. We are located in the countryside with beautiful views, but you can be in the centre of Nottingham within 15 minutes. There is easy access to the motorway and we are only two and a half hours from London.
We have five unique lodges (three are dog friendly), each with a fully fitted kitchen and bathroom, two bedrooms (one king room and one with two singles) and then we have a mezzanine bedroom with a double mattress on the floor. This is in the eaves of the lodge and is ideal for children. We provide all bedding and towels and guests are kept warm and toasty whatever the weather with underfloor heating and a log burner. There’s a Smart TV and the latest superfast Wi-Fi. Outside each cabin, there’s a large veranda including an electric hot tub and a walkway to a fire pit area which has a BBQ plate for alfresco dining.
We looked at off-grid solutions but for what we wanted it made sense to put in all the services. We had to buy a transformer, phone/broadband connections and water connections and supply. Each lodge also has its own LPG boiler which runs off one central gas tank.
How did you tackle getting planning?
The first thing we did was to arrange a meeting with our planning department. We explained what we would like to create and asked them for their input. We are in green belt so certain conditions needed to be met in order not to impact on the countryside. Because the lodge tents are temporary structures we were allowed them, although we had to apply for change of use on the land from agricultural to commercial use.
The planners were very accommodating and in favour of us creating something special to boost tourism to Nottingham and create new jobs. Our biggest challenge was local residents being in uproar over the whole idea, thinking we were wanting to create a hen/stag rave/party venue. Since opening we’ve had neighbours having family stay and realise that what we’ve created isn’t threatening in any way.
How did you finance the project?
We applied for an EU Leader grant which took a lot of time but was definitely worth it. We then financed the remainder of the funds with loans.
What glamping accommodation do you offer and why did you choose it?
We chose safari tents (which we purchased from Clear Sky) because we could adapt them to how we wanted and accommodate a family or friends sharing. We fully insulated the lodges in the floor, wall and ceiling and put underfloor heating in, double glazed windows, doors and proper partitioning panels for each room. The inside of the lodges is like a hotel apartment but in the middle of a field in the countryside.
Fortunately, with our property development background, we had the right tradesman to work with and our design was made up as we went along. After staying in a safari tent we could easily define exactly what we would/wouldn’t want and, especially with the English weather, warmth, comfort and luxury were at the top of our list.
What occupancy levels and price per night do you achieve?
It’s very hard to get a true picture of occupancy levels as the first lockdown started five months after we opened. We were allowed to re-open in July 2020 and were 100% fully booked right up to the end of that year but had to shut at the end of October as the second lockdown happened. We re-opened again in April 2021 and were again 100% fully booked until November/December where we had a handful of mid-week stays available.
Our forecast for 2022 is looking at 80% occupancy but bookings seem to be slow at the moment due to global circumstances. Depending on the time of year the guests wish to stay our prices for a three-night weekend stay from Friday to Monday is between £684-£860 or a four-night mid-week stay from Monday to Friday between £640-£971.
How did you work out your brand and how do you publicise yourself?
We have a great marketing company called Peaky Digital that helped brand us, created our website and does all our social media posts. We use Supercontrol for our booking platform and a lot of work has gone into looking where to advertise ourselves and finding the right platforms as we are more top end. We are with Canopy & Stars, Coolstays, Cool Places and The Wanderlist.
How would you describe your ethos and unique selling point?
Unique, luxury accommodation with all the home comforts in the middle of a field offering beautiful views.
How did you choose your interior decoration?
I chose the décor myself and had bespoke sofas made.
What challenges have you faced?
Research is a big factor, which takes a lot of time. From the research we then took what we liked/wanted, added fresh ideas and put together our business profile.
What are your plans for next season?
Our plan is to try and re-coup from Covid. We are still feeling it now despite having been booked for the majority of last year, as a lot of those bookings were rebooks from previously cancelled stays. Last Christmas, and even this Easter, we had rebooks from people we took payment from well over a year ago. Luckily we did get a little help from the government.
Our next phase is to dig a natural swimming lake and potentially add more lodges
Describe your average day mid-season
We have two changeovers per week on a Monday and Friday which are pretty manic. We have a great team of staff that know their jobs inside and out which helps!
Our self-check-in policy and trying to think of everything that our guests need makes things very self-sufficient as we don’t live on site. We check the hot tubs every day and do low level maintenance like mowing etc. We hire in our laundry and towels, otherwise I would be washing and ironing constantly.
Do you enjoy the business?
We both love the business and both of our children want to eventually join us in the venture.
What are you most proud of?
Seeing all our ideas come together and seeing our guests loving their experience.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Do a massive amount of research, have a firm idea of what you want to create and get the planners onside at the very beginning. Have a good business plan and be unique! Make sure you run the site; don’t let it run you!
Clear Sky www.safaritents.net
Storm Interiors www.interiorstorm.co.uk
Canopy & Stars www.canopyandstars.co.uk
Cool Places www.coolplaces.co.uk
Cool Stays www.coolstays.com
The Wanderlist www.thewanderlist.uk
BRANDING & PR
Peaky Digital www.peakydigital.co.uk
WOOD BURNING STOVES
Welsh Dragon www.welshdragonstoves.co.uk
Nottinghamshire NG12 5BQ