How a wedding barn business has breathed new life into this traditional East Yorkshire farm

Regeneration of a rural economy by making alternative use of existing farm buildings has breathed life, spirit and positive air into a former traditional East Yorkshire mixed farm.

The business has breathed life into the village

Ed Sweeting of Beeches Farm in Faxfleet comes from a farming family that saw his grandfather farm at the hamlet of Cotness. Ed’s father and brothers farmed together, Ed studied agriculture at Newcastle University, worked on the family farm and spent many years working as a farm consultant.

Four years ago he and his wife Kate started The Barns, a wedding venue that is based around offering a relaxed, rustic, authentic experience in open countryside and a riverside location at the confluence of the Ouse, Trent and Humber.

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Ed said their inspiration came from holidaying abroad and looking at the tourism and events sector.

Ed Sweeting on the family farm

“Kate and I had seen agri-tourism in Italy, Spain and Ibiza and on a Nuffield Farming Scholarship I had visited agri-tourism ventures in the United States. It all showed what could be done on sites that are off the beaten track. It made us appreciate what those from an urban environment would see in somewhere like Faxfleet, having fun in a rural setting, yet also not too far away either.

“There is a movement towards informality in special occasions such as weddings and people always enjoy being in places where they feel more relaxed.

“Our location ticks all the boxes. We are far enough removed from main roads, but at the same time only five minutes from the M62, we have a wonderful riverside setting and we’re in a rural area, all of which are proving popular.”

Providing the right geographic location is one element, the other is the facilities. Ed said he and Kate looked first at what they had.

One of the wedding barns

“We had two buildings that had been used as grain stores and either cattle sheds or pig barns over the past hundred years and they were in a bad state of repair. We considered taking them down completely but feedback we received when we began looking at hosting events was that people wanted authenticity. Somewhere unique and with character.”

Ed said that the wedding venue has brought much more feelgood spirit to the village of Faxfleet and the local community than he had imagined.

“In our case we like having people around, the social aspect and the life that a wedding barn brings to a site. It’s a very positive thing.

“When I see our old 1954 Nuffield tractor draped with brides and bridesmaids or grooms and their best men it gives me a special feeling. If my dad was still around he would love to have seen that and I’m sure he’d be smiling.

“Our first thoughts when we started had been would it make a profit, could we take on sufficient events and would it prove beneficial not only to ourselves but to our local area.

“Everyone has been very supportive of what we have done, probably more so than we anticipated. We now employ a number of local people part-time who make up our team and the local pubs and those with accommodation such as Saltmarshe Hall and Cave Castle Hotel have also seen a benefit.

“We have a really great bar team which includes several from Faxfleet village, which when you understand how sparsely populated it is around here is a real achievement.”

Ed and Kate also have a holiday cottage at Beeches Farm that sleeps up to six and a campsite, available for those attending weddings, with up to 20 pitches. They have planted thousands of trees and have taken a couple of acres out of arable production. Ed said his and Kate’s leisure and tourism activities now operate over five acres.

Prior to the pandemic Ed and Kate’s business was going along well. He admits the past year has been a tough one.

“It has been a real challenge. Fortunately, for us we haven’t had the same issues as those who have invested heavily and had a huge staff. We’ve been able to concentrate our efforts on keeping our custom and delivering that biggest and best day of their lives, managing expectations during Covid and working with them.

“We really enjoy this sector but have also realised we may need to spread our risk in future while maintaining our business. It’s great when it is going well, but Covid has shown us the ups and downs.

“We have a really unique, authentic, rustic site with a nice geographic feature of being on the riverside, particularly next to three rivers coming together. The Barns is just 50 metres away from it and a bird sanctuary.

“We were at capacity prior to the pandemic and with our bookings now being taken into 2023 and 2024 we look likely to be at capacity for a long time.”