Meet the East Yorkshire farmers who gave their cow shed, hay loft and shepherd's hut to key workers

Providing key workers with a safe and secure environment while away from home has proved a lifeline for Iain and Katie Ogilvie of Highfield Farm in Ottringham, near Hull.

Iain and Katie Ogilvie with their shepherd's hut
Iain and Katie Ogilvie with their shepherd's hut

Having converted the cow shed, stables which originally housed Shire horses, and a hay loft into eight rooms, Iain said the bookings have been a blessing for the business.

“As we are only small and the rooms are self-contained it reduces the risk for key workers.”

He said it had fostered a real community spirit among the guests.

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    Ruth Ogilvie on the family farm

    “The key workers nominate who cooks for everyone each night and there is a very warm and positive feeling,” Iain said, adding that those who stay for any length of time become more like friends than customers.

    “We received a small business grant and added a communal kitchen in June for guests to use.

    "Where workers are from the same company, they often have a designated person who cooks for everyone each night.”

    The rooms were converted from their original purpose on Katie’s family farm more than 20 years ago by her parents, Tim and Sylvia.

    Iain and Katie returned to Highfield Farm seven years ago from Iain’s home county of Northumberland to help out when Tim and Sylvia were wanting to retire. Iain said it wasn’t in their original plan.

    “We weren’t thinking of coming back. It was to help Katie’s parents retire but I also felt my job as an external funding manager for Northumberland County Council was at risk.”

    Coming from a non-agricultural background, Iain said he had not especially wanted to farm.

    “Katie’s uncle, Bob Smales, looks after the farming side which runs to 274 acres of Holderness heavy clay. Bob grows wheat and barley, while I handle the financial side of the farm and run the holiday accommodation.”

    But Iain said he is happy to jump on a tractor if needed and is very aware of the farm’s future. His particular concern is its sustainability.

    “The removal of subsidies and looking at how you will be able to make it work are all important. It’s about recognising opportunities for development of the farm and tourism.

    “We planted two thousand native trees through the Woodland Trust in 2018, which has improved the wildlife, but it was also about dealing with an area of wet land that needed draining as the field next to it was heavy land to work.”

    There has also been the reintroduction of livestock to Highfield Farm with the arrival of alpacas in 2019.

    Iain said their presence is about offering guests something different.

    “People are amazed by animals, wildlife and the countryside and the alpacas are really popular.”