A relaxed seasonal glampsite nestled in a valley of the West Pennine Moors.
After a 12 month planning battle Charlotte Hanley’s glampsite now opens for six months of the year in a variety of structures on her family’s working farm. Expanding season on season, she also offers exclusive use of the site for weddings and is about to launch corporate days to fill mid-weeks in the low season. We talk to Charlotte.
What’s your back story – your life before glamping?
I have lived on the farm for over 20 years. My background is predominantly in sales. My mum Carol had a part time job in accounts and my step dad Andrew is a stonemason.
What made you decide to start offering glamping accommodation?
We were approached by our local music festival, Head for the Hills, which was starting out at our local cricket club. It is a weekend festival and they wanted to offer camping accommodation for the guests. The cricket club put our name forward as an idea as my mum Carol is the secretary and they knew we were just a short walk away. We got a couple of portaloos and a gazebo set up to use as a cafe, and we were away.
We had a great weekend talking to everyone and said we would see them all again next year. The phone kept ringing asking if we could accommodate people for a camping weekend, so really the rest is history. We went along to the Glamping Show and purchased two yurts and a bell tent.
Within the first season we had to purchase another two bell tents as we couldn’t keep up with the demand. After the first season we purchased our first Landpods and upgraded our basic bell tents to the Nomadic style bell tents, giving more room and more of a glamping feel. We now have four yurts, a safari tent and two sets of Landpods.
How did you research the business before entering it?
We went to various sites for weekends and did lots of online research. We were already keen campers so we knew what we would like to offer and hopefully we have achieved that.
Tell us about your location and site
We are located on our farm, just a 15 minute walk to former mill town Ramsbottom which is filled with beautiful eateries, bars and little shops. We have lots of history, so great for walkers exploring the trails and we have a good sculpture trail along with the Rossendale shoe trail. We are nestled in a valley in the moors which offer over 120 mountain bike trails, so you can have great fun.
We are also just off the M66 motorway, which is ideal for people to get to from Manchester. The only downside to our site is that if the weather is bad you can hear the traffic from the motorway. Unfortunately there isn’t much we can do about that, it is what it is.
How did you tackle getting planning?
We had a challenge with the planning; it took us around 12 months from start to finish. We used our 28 days within this period to host our annual festival camping and we set up the first of our glamping units for our photoshoot and got our images for the website and marketing materials. We compromised on the number of pitches we were allowed and had to say no to campervans, which is still an issue as people book a pitch and then turn up in a VW van. Unfortunately we can’t allow these on site, it’s such a shame.
How did you finance the project?
We started with a £15,000 budget, which we financed ourselves.
What glamping accommodation do you offer?
We are seasonal, just due to the fact that we use the field for the farm animals over winter and we are ready for a rest come October. At the moment we use BCT for our yurts and safari tent, and Landpods. We could use the accommodation over winter as we have log burners installed in all the units apart from the Landpods.
What occupancy levels and price per night do you achieve?
We charge a minimum of £185 for two nights’ accommodation mid-week. Our occupancy for last year for the three months we were open on average was 87 per cent – it was a very busy three months.
How did you work out your brand and how do you publicise yourself?
We worked with a local business and came up with the branding. We had a couple of family wedding receptions at The Paddock in some tipis, everyone around would comment on how wonderful they were are started referring to us as “the place that had the tipis” so the tipi in the logo has originated from that.
We have been very privileged to be published in the Cool Camping guide a couple of times. They usually include us in the newspaper articles, which has then meant we have been picked up by other local newspapers and magazines. We use all the social media platforms, lots of #s to spread the word and we have just started with LinkedIn. Our main and best publicity is of course word of mouth and returning customers; we have families who have been staying with us since we first opened our gates, which is lovely.
How would you describe your ethos and unique selling point?
Our selling point is that we are close to Ramsbottom town centre. We are right next to the East Lancashire Railway, which is fabulous for train enthusiasts and children, lots of walks and trails to explore and just 20 minutes from Manchester city centre. The majority of our guests come from within a 40 minute radius.
How did you choose your interior decoration?
Each of our glamping units are a little bit different. I usually start with the name, for example the safari tent has a jungle theme and we have a yurt that is called Jasmine, so that has a morrocan vibe going on. My daughter thought of the name after she had watched Aladdin on loop for two weeks!
In general if I see some nice bedding while out shopping I’ll pick up a few sets and then get the accessories to go with it for the season.
What challenges have you faced?
The weather, you just never know what you’re going to get. The rain soon turns the pretty field into a mud bath and this results in mud in places it shouldn’t ever be.
Disrespectful guests, partying all night with no thought of the people around them. We have an emergency number that can be called at any time of the night and we will get the situation sorted out straight away, however the guests that have been disturbed don’t like to call you, but then will call when they have returned home to complain. On the other hand we have had the phone ringing all night just because some other people were talking in their tent!
How have you coped through Covid-19?
We have coped. Once we had got our head around everything and had done our first Covid changeover, it was fine. We have hand sanitising stations everywhere, you can’t really go anywhere without hand sanitising. As we are only a small site we have just four toilets and two showers, so it would be impossible for us to have a member of staff stood outside 24 hours a day. We have cleaning products inside and outside the showers and toilets and a sign asking people to clean before and after they use them, which has generally been adhered to, plus anyone that doesn’t do the cleaning always gets reported, which is quite funny. It is important though – if people don’t do the cleaning we could have a positive covid test and be forced to close.
We have also removed the soft furnishings from our units, which is a shame, however it was more to clean and if the weather wasn’t good it then meant that cushions would stay damp from cleaning. As we were unsure how the season would go, we wanted to remove anything that we couldn’t be certain had been properly cleaned. We also asked guests to bring their own bedding; everyone was fine with that and we are continuing with this for the 2021 season.
We have found a great way of cleaning the cushions now with a Covid-reg spray, so I’m hoping to get those back this year – they make it feel more like glamping in my opinion.
What are your plans for next season?
While we have been closed we have been looking at how we can expand our brand and are jumping feet first into the corporate world, offering days and stays. As we are so close to Manchester we have a huge market right on our doorstep. We had a couple of days last year and we are just in the setting up stage now, but hoping these will fill up any mid-week, low season days.
We have also been looking at opening other sites, keeping them small like ours. We believe we have a good few years of knowledge under our belts, tried and tested products, we know what works and what doesn’t so lets see how it goes. These things take time so maybe in the next couple of years we shall have a couple more little Paddocks popping up.
Describe your average day mid-season
Our day starts around 6am. First of all we pop up the lane and do a toilet/shower block clean and check the rubbish situation, then head back to the farm to feed the horses and tend to the sheep etc. The daily arrival sheets just need to be checked again to make sure nothing has changed from the night before when the sheets have been printed off. If anyone has requested BBQ packs as an extra this will have been ordered already from the local butchers and farm shop to be delivered. We then have time for a sit down and a cup of tea and make a plan of action for any maintenance jobs that might need to be done eg. is the grass being cut that day etc.
Checkout time is 11am. We will have the cleaning trailer fully stocked and ready to go. Toilets and showers are cleaned by us everytime we go to the site, so that’s always the first job – it could be every hour or every couple of hours; it really depends on how many people we have on site.
The mad rush changeover commences… we have four hours to do the changeover, cut the grass if it’s needed and be ready for our next set of guests to arrive. We pray for sunshine on changeover days, this makes everything much easier. We air all the glamping units and make sure everyone has the extras required.
As we operate a contactless check in, we have all the information ready for each guest on arrival and tend to be on site all afternoon to make sure everyone is happy.
What are you most proud of?
We are most proud of the fact that our guests return year after year.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We hire out the whole site to people for birthdays, wedding receptions and general gatherings. The wedding receptions we do have are the more relaxed type – a few gazebos, straw bales and acoustic music, followed by a big BBQ. They go down the best as they have all the glamping units and also the tent pitches for anyone camping. Couples decorate the site beautifully with lights and bunting, it really does look nice.
We have also started with corporate events. They generally hire out the site and only use it for the day, so no changeovers really required as such. We have a local forest school leader who will come in and does all sorts of activities with the groups.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Ask for help. There are so many groups on Facebook that if you need to know anything at all there’s lots of free help and advice.
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Lancashire BL0 0ND