Six luxury log cabins of traditional construction in Leicestershire with outstanding occupancy.
Creating a role for herself at her family’s farm, Laura Turney maximised on a missed opportunity for accommodation in the area and created log cabin accommodation to appeal to range of discerning customers. We talk to Laura about the business’s progression and the boom of bookings Covid-19 has generated.
What’s your back story – your life before glamping?
Westleigh Farm has been in the Turney family since 1957 and is currently run by myself and my mother Bridget Turney. I worked in London for seven years as a chartered surveyor and moved back in August 2011. Having grown up on the farm, I love the countryside and was always escaping London to get back to my country roots.
Tell us about your location and site
Until recently, we’ve always run the farm as an arable holding. Westleigh stretches across 1,000 acres of rolling Leicestershire countryside where we grow a mixture of wheat, barley, rape and winter beans. In the summer months you can catch glimpses of the farmers working hard to bring in the harvest.
In the 80s we planted two small copses of deciduous trees and conifers and these woods now form a thriving natural habitat for all sorts of flora and fauna. There’s also a variety of ponds across the farm that are part of our ongoing conservation efforts.
During a stay at Foxton Locks Lodges, guests are likely to see a huge array of wildlife including a very rare white squirrel (not seen for a while!), one of only 25 in the whole of the UK.
What made you decide to start offering glamping accommodation?
I wanted to move back to the farm but wasn’t sure what my role would be. We have a large tourist attraction on our doorstep (Foxton Locks) so wanted to tap into that market somehow. After lots of research it came to my attention that many people were visiting the area but had nowhere to stay. That is where the idea of Foxton Locks Lodges came from.
My mother lives just a five minute walk from the lodges and I am there every day in the office with Wispa and Bacchus the chocolate cocker spaniels.
How did you research the business before entering it?
My parents made me really research the project and create a business plan. From the initial idea to getting planning to actually moving back it took two years, so I was very ready for the move!
How did you tackle getting planning?
The lodges are classed as temporary buildings (mobile homes) as they are on concrete blocks but I would love to see someone try to move them! We actually got planning for six permanent buildings so we had more flexibility with the build.
Planning was a fairly long process but we had some brilliant advisors to help us along the way. We had no objections from the village and the parish council was behind us.
How did you finance the project?
I started the application process for a grant but halfway through the application, the criteria changed and self-catering accommodation did not apply. I used the money from the sale of my flat in London for the first two lodges as well as a bit of help from the farm. The next two were funded by a loan from the bank, which has now been repaid, and the last two by an EU grant and another loan.
What glamping accommodation do you offer and why did you choose it?
Our lodges are all log cabins so completely constructed from long round logs. They are of a superior quality to any clad buildings and give the feel of being in a real mountain retreat in the Alps. Each log is individually cut and the cabins lovingly assembled log by log, by hand!
They were designed (with lots of ideas and input from us) by a company who are involved from start to finish and can provide everything from bathrooms to the kitchen sink. The logs are all individually selected and cut in Estonia and are sustainably sourced, with each tree being replaced once cut. They are then built by hand when the logs have arrived in the UK.
Each of our cabins have high quality interiors and fixtures and fittings with central and underfloor heating. They are of a traditional design but I have tried to incorporate a contemporary twist with the interiors.
The cabins really do appeal to a wide range of people from couples and families to groups of girls on a girlie weekend. On Google AdWords we use ‘self-catering luxury log cabin in rural Leicestershire with private hot tubs’ (the hot tubs are key!)
How did you work out your brand and how do you publicise yourself?
The name was a fairly easy decision due to our location and I happened to be living with a graphic designer in London when I was setting up the brand and she designed the logo for me. We wanted it to spell luxury and country combined.
I use Google AdWords as my main advertising platform as well as Facebook. Initially I ran a few competitions to win a luxury break and that is where my following began on Facebook. If I put any late deals or availability on Facebook, they are snapped up within hours. I am also very lucky that I have a loyal customer base who recommend and keep revisiting.
At the start I did advertise on some of the larger hospitality websites but I didn’t like the control they had over my business and the charges. I actually lost over 100 5* TripAdvisor reviews from leaving one website. I now have a separate account which I can control and monitor myself.
How would you describe your ethos and unique selling point?
I like to think I offer a personal service to all our guests. I don’t want them to feel like they are staying at a chain with no personality. I am always at the end of the phone to help and will greet all guests on arrival (not at the moment due to Covid, which is heartbreaking for me).
I always find a USP is difficult to find as all businesses want to have one and most are the same, which suddenly makes it not so unique! However, our location next to the canal and Foxton Locks is brilliant along with our ‘unique’ interiors and personal service.
What occupancy levels and price per night do you achieve?
In a normal year (pre-Covid) we were running at about 80 per cent occupancy throughout the year but since we have reopened we are now at 100 per cent, and bookings are up on next year compared to how they would normally be.
Prices vary throughout the year. We either do bookings from Monday to Friday or Friday to Monday, or weeks from either. Low season is £440 for a mini break or £550 for a week, up to £680 for a mini break and £950 for a week in peak season. A lot of people don’t understand how many overheads we have each month (laundry and cleaning being the biggest) and, in order to keep up our standards, repairs and renewals are also very high.
What does the maintenance schedule look like?
These cabins can last well over 100 years. They are used as houses in Eastern Europe as they keep the heat in in the winter and the heat out in the summer. Maintenance wise they are no different to a new build; after the first year some of the doors need a bit of adjustment but the build is designed with that in mind. The hot tubs are the biggest maintenance expense for us!
How do you make your cabins stand out?
People are expecting 5* luxury for our 5* prices. I have designed each cabin individually to make them stand out from each other. I have tried to make them feel like a home away from home. I did not want them to feel like a generic hotel room so have added lots of finishing touches to make them that little bit special.
We have spaced them out from each other so each cabin has a good element of privacy. They all have their own private hot tubs and we also offer lots of added extras like romantic hampers, breakfast baskets and flowers. We can also do a supermarket unpack free of charge and have freelance beauticians and yoga instructors who will come in.
What challenges have you faced?
We have been quite lucky that we have not had too many challenges. We have had a few testing guests but that is all I will say about that. Oh, we did get our hot tubs stolen in the first two weeks of opening, but they were found safe and unharmed!
What measures have you introduced for Covid-19?
We have upped our cleaning regime to take into account the current situation and I no longer personally greet guests so I can limit contact with them. Hopefully this will go back to normal soon. We provide sanitiser for guests and extra cleaning products but as each unit only sleeps four, and the cabins are distanced from one other, we have not been too affected.
What are your plans for next season?
Having survived this year we just want to make a full year uninterrupted! We have no plans yet, but watch this space…
Describe your average day mid-season
This is my worst question to be asked, and I get asked it a lot! My days vary day-to-day. As well as the log cabins I also do all the office work for the farm and have to be on hand if anything is needed there or at the lodges. I also have another business selling handcrafted rugs and bags from India (Le Jaana). Some days I can be working late into the night but some days I am available to see friends and go for lunch! Mondays and Fridays are the busiest days as they are changeover days.
Do you enjoy the business and why?
I love the business! I have freedom to live my life how I want to and I love being my own boss. I also love being part of the family farm, especially as my father passed away three years ago and I am an only child; I want to make him proud.
What are you most proud of?
Taking the leap, leaving my very good job in London and following my dream – cheesy I know!
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We have done one wedding at the cabins and it was a great success. Logistically it is quite difficult as the guests have to hire the cabins for the whole week to account for the set-up of the marquee. I would like to look into this more in the future.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Do your research and make sure you are able to compete in your local market. Be ready to deal with the general public… sometimes they are not very nice! Keep calm and carry on.
Foxton Lock Lodges
Foxton, Market Harborough
Leicestershire LE16 7RF