Born with “the hunger to succeed” Guy Hindley, owner of Gisburne Park estate, dove headfirst into diversifying his wedding and park lodge business into events with the UK’s first socially distanced festival.
Returning to his family’s estate in Lancashire from New York, where he was studying for a masters in fine art, Guy Hindley took over Gisburne Park in 2003. “My father sadly passed away at a young age so I took over earlier than planned,” says Guy. The 1,000 acre estate is nestled in the Ribble Valley countryside and is home to a 20 acre holiday park, restaurant and a wedding/events venue in a 10 acre hidden valley. “It is a breathtaking location on the tributary of two rivers, surrounded by cliffs, bridges, lawns and the historic Riverside House, which we use as the bridal house – there’s nowhere else like it.”
As well as a number of redundant farm buildings which needed converting, Guy’s father had obtained planning permission for a caravan park. “Rather than filling it with aluminium ‘static’ caravans I decided on timber clad lodges, and believe we were one of the first businesses to solely focus on them.”
Ribblesdale Park opened in 2004 and now has 45 holiday lodges and 30 privately owned units.
“Quite early on we added hot tubs into the mix. We have always been an innovative business and a combination of intuition and market research suggested this would work and it did. We are now regarded as one of the best places to have a luxury hot tub break.”
The estate has the capacity to sleep 250 guests in the lodge park and a number of cozy cottages and historic houses.
Three years ago Guy added a venue offering for weddings, parties and corporate events. “We have a purpose-built hardstanding marquee area on the tributary of the River Ribble and Stock Beck. It’s one of the most beautiful venues in the UK with water, cliffs and acres of striped lawns. Customers can use our online pricing calculator to build a package to suit from a range of structures, food and drink and interior options.”
A UK first
Following the Covid-19 outbreak, Gisburne Park has been put on the map with its rapid creation of what is billed as the UK’s first socially distanced festival, with coverage in the Telegraph, Times, Metro, Sun and on the BBC.
“Robyn Isherwood, of R J I Consultancy Limited, has transformed our wedding and events business. She had been commuting back and forth from London but moved back to Clitheroe to be with her parents during lockdown,” says Guy. “My wife Amber, Robyn and I put our heads together and got creative around the opportunities Covid-19 might present and came up with the idea for a pop-up beer garden in about mid-April. As a wedding venue, we already had access to tipis and food and drink through our partners Betty’s Tipis and Betty’s Kitchen. Robyn thought we could take it a step further, adding movies and music.
“We are now delivering open air cinema with Pictures in the Park on Wednesday and Thursday nights, music with Party in the Park on Friday and Saturday nights, family friendly events at Picnic in the Park on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons, and a beer garden with Pub in the Park on Sunday evening.”
Gisburne Park Pop-Up, as it is branded, runs from 11 July to 31 August and a total of around 24,000 people are expected to attend its numerous events, each of which are limited to 500.
“It all started to come together in June. Robyn contacted her events friends in London who were doing nothing and said ‘fancy coming to work in Lancashire for the summer?’ We have put them all up in one of the houses here and have managed to get ourselves some incredibly talented hospitality professionals – we even have the head barman of the American Bar from the Savoy!
“Robyn went into overdrive and through another close contact, Mattie Evans of Nocturnal Touring and Rooted Productions, some big named artists signed on such as Jonas Blue, Sam Divine and The Shapeshifters.
“The plan is to execute as many events throughout the summer as possible to make the most use of the stage and venue set up.”
Next came the ingenious idea to keep everyone socially distanced. This happened while Robyn was travelling with her father Phil, who runs Phil Isherwood Turf Care. They were going to paint the NHS logo on the turf at Old Trafford when they realised the line painting robot had a car park option which they could re-program to paint hexagons.
“Robyn’s brother Guy Isherwood (Guy Isherwood Design) is an architect and created a CAD design to space a series of hexagons across the site, adding in VIP areas etc. We used the files to program their father’s machine that marks fields with paint.”
Partners in the venture include long term suppliers to the venue side of the business, Jack and Alice Singleton from Betty’s Tipis and Betty’s Kitchen.
“We also called in graphic designer Will Maher from WM Designs to come up with the branding and website and James Wilthew from Air-Frames for the incredible drone footage we use for marketing.”
Do you know Boris Johnson?!
The concept and infrastructure was in place but Guy still had the problem that ‘legally speaking’ he wasn’t allowed to go ahead.
“We had decided we were going to do this, despite how crazy it all sounded but we still hadn’t permission from the council. When we got in touch it was like a time bomb going off in their office! To give them their due, the Ribble Valley Borough Council never said no but at the time, they couldn’t say yes as the legislation was so fuzzy.
“The government’s ban on live performances was lifted in the statement delivered on the 9 July, with effect from the 11 July – the date of our first event! The head of H&S at the council came down that day to look around and even asked if we had a hot line to Boris Johnson!?
“We know we are going to be scrutinised from every direction so wanted to provide the best of the best given the situation. We approached James Howarth of Simplex Event Safety. He is normally travelling the world doing large scale event safety and he dragged in his equally talented and experienced wife Danni Davies of Eventador, who is now running the operations under the leadership of Joe Worthington. It’s a very professionally run operation.
“I am blown away by the talent we have in the local area. We have also employed 100 extra staff for this enterprise on top of the 50 we already have; all local and it feels great to be providing this opportunity to the area.”
For security, critical for the safety of attendees, Robyn approached international heavyweights Titan Security. “They are used to massive festivals across the world. It is important that we keep people within their hexagons when the events are underway. It’s an odd way to celebrate for festivalgoers but it works and is actually makes for quite a civilised festival experience with waiter service!”
Events run with a capacity of around 500 people and the venue complies with the ‘We are Good to Go’ standard launched by VisitBritain.
Getting it right
Guy ran hard and fast with the pop-up and within four weeks gained 9,000 organic followers on Instagram. “We had amazing press coverage and we have had celebrities, influencers and a lot of press at our early events. We are also well located in terms of catchment as there are lot of people in the towns within a 30 mile radius.
“We also added glamping, which was being run on a 26 day rule, now extended to 56. It comprises 10 bell tents, supplied again by Betty’s Tipis, and we are sold out”.
Guy reports that the Gisburne Park Pop-Up should be a financial success for the estate. “We should do well out of this, obviously good weather will help. It will also set us up for year two – we’ll take the bits that work and replicate them next year – maybe make the ‘pods’ smaller, attract more people and run it over two weekends. We are already sold out for three of the Party in the Park sets so we know that works!”
The right attitude
So what qualities do Guy and the team at Gisburne Park have that gave them the confidence to launch into the unknown world of events in a post-Covid world?
“Mad, naive, brave, creative, obsessive? All of those! I think about my work 24/7 and my wife Amber is massively involved. She has a degree in finance from the SMU Cox School of Business in Texas and brings a wealth of strategy and business acumen to the estate.
“Faced with adversity we could have spun into a circle of negativity but that’s not in my nature. Instead we got innovative and tried to create something that we can build on forever. The world has changed and the quicker we adjust our offering the better. It was the same with the recession of 2007/8. Others were scaling back but we recognised with the park business that staycations would be on the up so pushed ahead aggressively.”
Guy has been using the lockdown period to fine tune other areas of the business and is aiming high. “We have optimised staffing levels and done all the cottages up. My ambition is to create a Soho Farmhouse of the north. We have 1,000 acres to build it in and an estate which is breathtakingly beautiful. I now have an incredible team which makes me believe anything is possible.
“I am most proud of building a business that works and has longevity. Tourism will always be around and this area is so beautiful that, well run, our enterprises should flourish.”