Robust income for racing stable from holiday lets
Published: 31 May 2021
Based in the Yorkshire Dales, Sun Hill Farm occupies 50 acres, featuring a racing stable, horse rehabilitation centre and luxury holiday lets. Owner, racehorse trainer and President of the National Trainers’ Federation, Ann Duffield, explains how diversification has boosted Sun Hill Farm and how the business coped during Covid-19 with support from AMC.
Racing can be an incredibly volatile business, with high costs and risks, which is why Ann opted to diversify into luxury holiday lets as a way to create a new income stream and boost cash flow, while still allowing her to work on-site with the horses.
Searching for a new income stream
“I needed something on-site as the horses remained a priority,” she says. “We’re lucky enough to live in this amazing place in the Yorkshire Dales, which has really opened up to tourism in recent years. We had the acreage available, so building holiday lodges was an obvious choice.”
In 2013, Ann built four high-end cabins, which proved an immediate success with holidaymakers, and were swiftly followed by a further four units. Then in 2018, when plans for further expansion were turned down by her incumbent lender, Ann approached AMC to help finance the building of further lodges and a £1 million loan over 25 years was agreed.
“AMC were fantastic,” says Ann. “They were professional, helpful, on the ball and – seven weeks after the first phone call to them – I had the money in the bank.
“Jo Lampkowski, our Regional Agricultural Manager, has been working with us since day one of our relationship with AMC and she is amazing. She’s got to know the business really well and instinctively knows what we need.
“AMC’s whole outlook is so optimistic; they genuinely want to help businesses find the right solutions for them and succeed.”
Flexibility and support during lockdown
Fast-forward to 2020 and Sun Hill Farm boasted 15 rental units, including a farmhouse, cottages and lodges, and business was booming with an average 92% occupancy rate.
However, in March, when the UK’s first Covid-19 lockdown was announced and it was clear holiday accommodation would be forced to close, Ann found herself in need of some further support.
“When lockdown was announced I contacted AMC immediately,” says Ann. “Straightaway they suggested I switch to interest-only repayments for three months which was a huge relief. Then they were happy to extend this support throughout 2020, which really helped take the pressure off as we were only able to open for around 18 weeks out of 52.
“Communication was great, lockdown made absolutely no difference to the level of service we received, and someone was always at the other end of the phone if we needed them.
“Without AMC’s support it would have been impossible for us to carry on.”
Looking to the future
With holiday accommodation in England now reopening as part of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, Ann is looking forward to a busy 2021.
“Our bookings moving forward are really strong – we’re almost at 100% occupancy rate,” she says. “During lockdown we were able to make some improvements and carry out some maintenance jobs which means we’re in a good position for the rest of the year. But we were only able to make these investments due to the flexibility AMC offered us.”
Ann also has plans for further expansion, both at Sun Hill Farm and another site.
“It’s early days,” says Ann. “But we’d like to build more lodges and grow this side of the business in the coming years, and when we do we’ll definitely be speaking to AMC.”
“Hopefully, the future’s looking rosy,” Ann continues. “And if anything changes, we’ve got peace of mind that AMC will support us all the way.”