An enviable location in the Garden of England, this shepherds hut glampsite is entirely hand built
Anna Eastwood and her husband Nick diversified into glamping during the financial crisis. We talk to Anna about how the couple reused farmyard junk to create 10 beautiful huts in East Sussex and how the business has enabled the regeneration of the farm’s eco systems. Although, depending on the day you ask her, she might say running a glampsite is not worth the effort!
What’s your back story – your life before glamping?
About 10 years ago we found ourselves in quite an uncomfortable position. I was about to start my maternity leave expecting our second child, and our small marquee business had been hit very hard by the financial down turn. The only thing keeping us going was our holiday cottage in Camber. Although this was working hard for us it was not enough to support a family. We needed something else but had nothing available to finance further property investment, especially with the mortgage situation being as difficult as it was.
My father in law farms in Bodiam, the land flanks the river Rother and looks out across to Bodiam Castle. We were aware that the ‘staycation’ was becoming increasing popular and felt we had a site that would suit that type of holiday well.
How did you research the business before entering it?
We didn’t really do any research. It was a very young and evolving industry, and everyone said we were mad and not to do it. But we didn’t have any money really and couldn’t think of anything else to do.
Tell us about your location and site
We are so lucky with so many elements of our site. The farm runs right up to Bodiam Castle, an amazingly beautiful medieval castle and The National Trust’s third most visited site in the country. Also, The Kent and Sussex steam railway runs into the farm, where it terminates. The river Rother runs through the bottom where one can hop on a tiny ferry down to the next village, or sit and fish on its secluded banks through the farm. If you are a foodie, we have four pubs within walking distance.
We also have The Lighthouse Bakery, an artisan bakery school, in the lane opposite and Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard a short walk across the fields. A little further afield there are the historic towns of Rye, Hastings, Battle and Tenterden, all within eight miles, and the amazing beach at Camber. Yep, we’re very lucky!
The glamping element is split into two sites of five shepherds huts, including one that houses the loos, showers and washing up facilities.
How did you tackle getting planning?
We needed to gain a full consent as we were changing the use of the land from agriculture to leisure. The huts being mobile was irrelevant. We had to have flood and environmental studies done and were supported by a planning consultant. The whole process was incredibly expensive.
We didn’t make any compromises on planning as we always wanted to build a business which had no detrimental effect on the environment. However, it would be easier to have proper loos and electricity.
How did you finance the project?
We financed the build ourselves as the banks weren’t lending and we didn’t have a business plan anyway! We were making everything ourselves largely from recycled materials, which didn’t sit well with any agencies; they wanted detailed plans and technical drawings which we couldn’t supply as we were problem solving along the way. Also, the whole process of application for grants takes so long; we needed to get on once we had the planning so we just knuckled down.
Given the sustainable approach we have taken to offering tourism on the farm, we have been lucky enough to gain the support of The High Weald AONB unit as well as the Our Land project, and have received grant aid to enable us to replant wild flowers and hedges to offer further diversity to the eco system.
What glamping accommodation do you offer and why did you choose it?
We offer shepherds huts as sheep farming is something the family has always done and these huts are very much part of English agricultural heritage. On a small working family farm we feel that the huts are in keeping. Also, we could build them ourselves. You would have to buy a yurt or something else and we didn’t have any money. We made them as warm and serviceable as possible so they could run for all the 10 months planning would allow us. No point in having them and not using them!
What makes our huts unique is that (in true agricultural fashion) they are built using reclaimed, recycled and locally sourced materials wherever possible. The aim of this is to make them of the lowest possible environmental impact. The huts are constructed using recycled chassis from clapped out old touring caravans (this also makes them considerably more manoeuvrable than those on traditional iron wheels), the roofs are made from an old corn bin which would have been left in a farmyard to rust away, and the timber for the work tops and seat covers is sourced from sustainable woods on the farm.
The remaining timber used in the construction is all from responsibly farmed forests. The paint is ‘Farrow and Ball’ which is dyed using natural pigments. The 12 volt lighting system is powered via a solar panel on the roof. Storage is supplied using redundant wooden apple boxes. The huts are fitted with tiny little wood burning stoves (handmade in Dorset) fuelled, while supply allows, with prunings from our own orchards that previously would have been a waste product. All these factors reduced our build cost and continue to reduce the running costs, as well as reusing otherwise redundant materials.
How did you work out your brand and how do you publicise yourself?
The huts aren’t traditional shepherds huts as we have moved the door so they are pretty original. I got an old friend who is a great doodler to draw them one evening – that is our logo. We do most of our marketing online as we have a very small budget.
How would you describe your ethos and unique selling point?
Comfortable and sustainable.
How did you choose your interior decoration?
It chose itself really. The huts are English and traditional; they are lined in wood which we painted and there are ginghams and pretty floral fabrics for the soft furnishings.
What challenges have you faced?
Making a living and being able to outsource/off-load some of the work. Booking systems, managing guests’ behaviour and expectations in a communal space, and dogs all offer big challenges. We have decided to give up on the dogs.
Waste also needs to be managed. We encourage guests to recycle as much as possible and offer obvious choices such as glass and paper recycling facilities. We also have a worm farm on site to help us process the organic matter into compost.
What are your plans for next season?
One of our key objectives is to increase midweek and off season occupancy.
Do you enjoy the business?
On some days I say yes, and I do enjoy the opportunity of providing sustainable accommodation to guests. The enterprise has also allowed us to carry out essential forestry work in the wooded areas of the farm where the shepherd huts are sited.
On other days it’d have to be a no – it is relentless and people can be very demanding!
What are you most proud of?
The sustainable ethos and positive effects the business has had on the wildlife both in the woods and on the farm.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We are running a festival this year, and have a café/shop on site which is also a base for several other small businesses running activities and courses. This enables us to be on site to meet and greet guests, improve their user experience by increasing the activities available to them and support guests traveling by public transport by having a food offering. We can also now do the bookings on site, offer Wi-Fi and do the laundry, which previously I did from my shed at home.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Well, with how I am feeling today, I’d say don’t bother! Get a nice job with paid leave and keep your weekends and holidays sacred. Or rent my business so I can get them back…
The Original Hut Company