LOTS of people daydream about swapping their nine-to-five for the good life in the country – few actually do it.
But when Ben Barraclough reached 35 he felt it was now or never so he left his well-paid job in sales and marketing at the Hilton and Marriott hotel chains and he and a friend used their horticultural and branding know-how to set up a high-end garden design and landscape architecture business.
Initially the firm was very lucrative, turning over £750,000 in one year, then the recession hit.
“Suddenly no-one had £100,000 to spend on a garden anymore,” explained Mr Barraclough. “We went from nine employees to two in the space of six months.”
The downturn forced Ben into a re-think and he decided to buy a field instead, becoming the proud owner of 12-acre MiniMeadows Farm near Welford with the intention of breeding chickens.
After a frustrating time trying to raise the necessary money, he approached the First Enterprise Business Agency which gave him a £20,000 loan through its Small Loans for Business initiative. Mr Barraclough said: “Banks are not lending any money or helping anyone, whatever they say, and the frustrating thing is you have to jump through so many hoops to get a ‘no’. The great thing about First Enterprise is they were willing to come and see what we do.”
He now runs a rent-a-hen scheme for local schools. They get to keep a hen for a term so pupils can learn about its upkeep and how to collect the eggs, and at the end of the term the hen goes back to the farm. He also hopes to set up a mini garden centre in the next few years.
“I look back on my days with a pension, company car and expense account now and think ‘wow, not a bad life’,” he said. “But I’ve never regretted it, it’s hard work but it’s great to do something you love.”