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Refinancing helps estate fulfil development plans

Published: 17 July 2017

Iscoyd Park on the Welsh side of the Shropshire border dates back to 1737. It has been in the Godsal family for seven generations, with Philip Godsal inheriting the estate in 1982. His father had restored the front of the house as it had been uninhabitable since the park was used as a hospital in WWII, but it still needed reroofing when Philip inherited the estate and the back of the house was partly derelict.

Originally 2,000 acres, Iscoyd Park had been reduced to 750 acres when Philip inherited the estate. This included 350 acres farmed in hand, a tenant farm and 14 cottages, but this could not sustainably support Iscoyd Park’s future. With Philip employed off-site as a land agent and his son Phil working as an art-dealer in London, there had originally been limited time and opportunity to put a full re-development and updated business plan in place.

AMC Agricultural Manager with the Godsals

Safeguarding the estate

However, Phil and his wife decided to move back to Iscoyd Park and developed plans to start a wedding business which would restore the estate and safeguard it for future generations.

“A lot of the house hadn’t been touched since the 1920s,” says Philip. “Our plan was a huge undertaking – there was a lot of asbestos, while the plumbing, wiring and drainage all needed to be re-done.”

The family approached a private bank for the funding needed for the massive renovation programme, after their incumbent bank declined.

Rolling programme of renovation

Despite ongoing building work, Phil managed to sell 25 weddings in the first year. “That gave us the confidence to go beyond the initial plan of just hosting the wedding ceremony and seek additional funds for accommodation, including a bridal suite,” he explains.

Godsals bedroom

The age of Iscoyd Park means maintenance and repairs are ongoing. But as Phil adds: “although the more weddings we do, the higher the repair bill, it does motivate us to reinvest in quality and renovate new areas to expand the business.”

Refinancing for the next phase

The next stage of development is to bring catering in-house. This includes overhauling a walled kitchen garden to increase the amount of produce grown. With their previous bank beginning to step back to refocus on its core market, Philip decided to approach AMC in late 2015 to fund their development plans and refinance the entire estate.

“As a land agent with Carter Jonas, who have been AMC agents for a number of years, and having acted as a valuer for AMC, I knew our plan for Iscoyd Park was their specialism. They were also able to fund over the long-term and that offered us the opportunity to just get on with managing and growing the business.”

Lend the funds and leave them to it

AMC Regional Agricultural Manager, Andrew Connah says that the principle of lending the funds and then leaving the business to get on with doing what it does best is central to AMC’s proposition.

“As soon as I saw Iscoyd Park, it was clear that this was a fantastic business. Everything about it; the house, the standard of renovation, the staff’s professionalism and the solidity of the bookings, made the decision to lend very straightforward.”

“The process of refinancing with AMC was painless,” adds Phil. “Everything was in place very quickly and since then, they have been tremendous in terms of their flexibility to support what it takes to keep our business going.”

Making a success of diversification

Despite a number of challenges – the scope of the building work, financing the project, securing permissions and gaining support from the community – Iscoyd Park has emerged as a real success story.

“Overall, we employ about 60 people directly at Iscoyd Park, including seven or eight full-time. That will grow as we move the catering in-house,” explains Phil. “There are also benefits for the wider community, and a number of B&Bs have opened locally to meet demand for accommodation from wedding guests.”

“Iscoyd Park is a good example of how landed estates can diversify successfully,” says Andrew.

Diversification is an increasingly important option for many estates and farms, especially given the volatility of the sector and post-Brexit uncertainty.

“It’s important to assess their assets, consider what the local market needs and then maximise these assets to meet that need. Iscoyd Park has achieved that in exemplary fashion.”

The Godsals have also gone a long way to meeting their original objective. “The project has been done properly because the motivation has always been on restoring the house. Reinvesting has been crucial for that,” says Phil.

Godsals sitting room

“Overseeing massive building work, starting a business from scratch and bringing up a young family has been immensely challenging, but this is a lifestyle commitment and through that we’ve been able to bring the estate back to life. We’ve also created its future, as well as those for the people it employs and its surrounding community.”

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