This Cheshire-based family farm has diversified into an award-winning sustainable events venue, catering for everything from christenings to car launches.
Owned by Mick and Margaret Heath, this venue business started with a conversation at a charity concert in a cow shed. 20 years on and the farm has created purpose-built facilities supported by a dedicated events team and its own on-site catering business. We talk to Mick and Margaret’s daughter, Sarah.
When did you start your venue business and what is its history?
Here at Heaton House Farm, we’ve been hosting weddings and events for just over 20 years. A family farm since the late 1800s (seven generations ago) we have created a beautiful venue but still farm our 182 acres.
The venue diversification started in the 1990s when the cattle barn was transformed into a music venue in the summer months, hosting charity concerts when the cows were out in the fields. At one of these events, a couple approached my dad to see if they could hold their wedding reception there and in 1999 we held our first wedding.
By 2003, we were hosting several weddings a year, so we took the difficult decision to sell the dairy cows. Although it was a sad day to see them go, we still kept the beef herd and sheep and had plenty on our hands to look forward to.
We set about converting our existing barns and outhouses to better accommodate wedding parties and transform the buildings into a luxurious events venue. With the money raised from selling the cows, and with our own on-site stone and oak craftsmen, we turned our attention to every building on the farm and, one-by-one, made each of them a wonderful place for an event.
Steeles Barn was built in 2007 and we added permanent marquee linings along with all the latest sound and lighting equipment. The Old Stableyard breakfast room was converted in 2014 from the milking parlour and we added award-winning toilets (outstanding quality is important everywhere!) along with purpose-built accommodation and step-free disabled access.
More recently we added a beautiful bridal preparation room that overlooks our countryside views, and last year we launched a brand new company, Stable Yard Catering. Our very own on-site caterers, we’ve developed this company to allow us to reduce costs for our customers, allowing us to cater for midweek corporate events and smaller, intimate weddings. We are also growing our own crops to use for the meals, developing our menus around seasonal produce.
Tell us about your location and site
Driving to the venue you are surrounded by the beautiful countryside views over Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire. We’re very lucky to be in such a tranquil area away from busy city life.
You arrive in our courtyard to find a farm façade and enter our beautiful barns, all with their own unique features. From a rustic oak beamed barn covered with twinkling lights, to our indoor night sky area to dance the night away, each barn has been developed with weddings in mind, making the farm the perfect venue to host events from 20 guests up to 600!
Our smaller, oak beamed barn features old stonework and is perfect for ceremonies and smaller events. The doors open up to a patio with amazing views. Steele’s Barn is much larger, fully insulated and features underfloor heating and gorgeous drapes for the perfect cosy experience on even the coldest day.
These spaces work brilliantly for corporate events too. Steele’s Barn is very flexible, perfect for large conferences, gala dinners or even a car launch. The Old Stableyard is an excellent meeting room, perfect for smaller events including seminars, board gatherings, or meetings for up to 60 delegates. We also have several quirky areas for breakouts and brainstorming.
What facilities do you offer?
We also have 15 bedrooms available for guests to stopover. These vary from double rooms to family rooms which have been converted from redundant farm buildings.
What services do you offer?
The idea of getting married outside, surrounded by beautiful countryside views, is one that many couples dream of, especially when getting married in the summer. With this in mind, we created our Oak Pagoda, a beautiful wooden structure which can be used for the ceremony.
We’re not just all about weddings however as we also host other events such as charity balls, Christmas parties (where we welcome over 900 guests over three nights), christenings, private dining and corporate events.
One of our fields is also used as an activity centre, which can be open to the public or used to host corporate events with zorbing, segways, archery, skybow and other team building activities. This works really well with our dining options and meeting spaces here at the venue.
Stable Yard Catering provides the food for all of our events, from sharing bowls to food stalls, with options for all dietary requirements.
We’re proud to be one of the most popular Asian wedding venues in Cheshire and the North West. Our expert team is experienced in understanding the requirements of Muslim and Hindu weddings, along with a number of other faiths. Easily accommodating up to 600 guests, we can also arrange for arrivals by white horse or helicopter.
The flexibility of the site allows for a civil ceremony and religious ceremony to be held on the same day, with the combination of three interlinking barns. We can even provide two separate entrances for each side of the family for grand entrances! We have a license to hold a small fire on our grounds for Hindu celebrations and for a Mandap to be set up in the same or different area from the civil ceremony.
We offer flexible segregation options for Muslim events, with stewards meeting guests at their cars, allowing men and women to enter two separate barns from two separate entrances, and our extensive range of preferred suppliers includes halal catering, venue dressers, florists and entertainment.
We hold many Jewish weddings too and have our own modern Chuppah, which can be used for the ceremony, along with a circular stage and white aisle carpet. We also have a fully licensed kosher bar.
Describe how you researched and sourced your structures
A lot of research is conducted before creating the plans for new barns and structures, each barn has been made fit for purpose. Photos from the history of the farm have been used to recreate some of the architectural structures, in keeping with the style of the farm.
How do you work with your customers to make their event unique?
Every event here is very different, one day we could have a wedding for 50 guests, and the next day could be a conference for 300 delegates. We are here to support our clients throughout their planning stages and where clients can’t come to the venue, we can accommodate Skype or over the phone meetings. We are also open seven days a week where our awarding-winning team can help guide and answer any questions.
How do you publicise yourself?
Word of mouth has always been incredibly important to us. People look to their friends and family for recommendations, and they are our most passionate advocates. We have also spent a lot of time and effort on our new website and our online presence. They’ve proved essential in helping us to attract interest. Social media – especially Facebook and Instagram – is great for us to show off our venue.
How would you describe your style or unique selling point?
We are a beautiful countryside venue, with breathtaking views certain to wow anyone who comes for a Heaton House Farm experience.
We are also one of the most environmentally-friendly venues in the area. We do everything we can to take care of the environment we live in and are striving to eliminate our carbon footprint.
We’ve been recycling at Heaton House Farm for decades and were one of the first places in the area to set up our own recycling station on-site and commission our own recycling companies to collect full skips (and stop wasting fuel on half-full bins!). We separate everything and even use external companies like Refood to recycle all waste food.
Our barn roofs were also one of the first places in the region to host solar panels, with 125 installed by 2011. Today we have 250, generating up to 60kWh of energy every day. To take advantage of this green energy, we have low energy LED lamps, our laundry team alter their hours based on the season; working longer hours in the summer and shorter hours in the winter to make use of the power created during daylight hours. In 2014, we rebuilt the old horse and cart barn and installed a brand new biomass boiler and a specialist insulated water storage unit; it heats water and stores it for our guests to use later – it uses waste from the venue, our agricultural work and sustainable woodland to heat our whole venue.
Our other commitments include reducing the frequency of our waste recycling and our deliveries, sourcing our food as locally as possible with a field-to-fork mantra, off-setting carbon emissions and replacing used wood with the planting of new trees every year.
What challenges have you faced?
Over the years we have seen many venues pop up over the county giving people more choice but more competition for ourselves.
Have you worked with any industry bodies or consultants?
We haven’t used consultants, we’ve just used a lot of common sense and practical experience. We’ve been hosting weddings for 20 years but we’ve been hosting charity events for a lot longer.
What are your plans for next season?
2020 is our busiest year to date, so our plan is to stay organised and ensure smooth transitions day today while making sure each customer feels unique and valued.
Describe your average day mid-season
Each day is very different at the venue but it tends to begin with serving up a delicious breakfast for our overnight guests in The Old Stableyard restaurant, then back across to show a newly engaged couple around the venue.
Then it’s wedding time! From guest arrival, ceremony, canapes and reception drinks all the way through to the wedding breakfast and guest departure. We aim to ensure guests have had a fantastic experience here at the venue and special memories to take away with them.
What do you enjoy about the business and why?
We have a large team, some that join us just for a season. It’s very exciting to watch as they grow and develop their skills to take away with them for their future careers. As well as seasonal staff, we have many team members who have been with us for years, progressing through the company as they develop with the business.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We have a campsite for any keen campers or caravanners who fancy a night under the stars. This works perfectly with our summer weddings as alternative accommodation, and it’s right here at the venue in one of our fields.
What are you most proud of?
We are most proud of how far we have come, from a family farm to an award-winning venue. We’re very proud to have won titles at The Wedding Industry Awards for the past three years, including ‘Best Events Team’ and ‘Best Countryside Venue’ in the North West, and our brilliant team deserves every one.
It’s been a fantastic development from cow sheds to the venue we see today. And the best part? We’ve enjoyed every minute!
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
You can’t do everything. It’s easy to think you have to be involved in every little job, but that’s just not sustainable. Bring on staff as soon as you can – they will be your biggest asset. And outsource to specialists where you can too. They know what they’re doing – they’re the experts. It will make your job a whole lot easier.
Heaton House Farm