Innovative holiday let business that partners with farmers has been a huge success in Yorkshire

Contemporary holiday cabins business partners with farmers in Yorkshire with great success

Lightbulb moments often happen when people are on holiday and their brains are free from the stresses and strains of work and everyday life. Pete Barrett was on a roadtrip in America when his “moment” came and a brilliant idea for a new business entered his head.

Struggling to find somewhere to stay in one of the US towns he visited, his only option was a former shipping container that had been converted into rudimentary accommodation in someone’s garden.

“It was very rustic and dark inside, so it wasn’t great but I was taken aback by how obviously versatile it could be and the views over the mountain and down to the city below were amazing,” he says.

The converted shipping container is now a contemporary holiday let on the farm at High Marishes

While converting the steel containers has become more common, especially in America, Germany and Sweden, Pete’s business plan for them was radically different and his first venture is now in operation here in Yorkshire. His new company, The Box BNB, turns the huge steel boxes into luxurious, contemporary cabins.

They are filled with light and views thanks to floor-to-ceiling, triple glazed windows and have a separate double bedroom, a shower room with power shower and flushing toilet, plus a living space with a double sofa bed, log burner and a kitchenette.

Pete then partners with a landowner who agrees to take a minimum of three cabins to run as holiday lets and these are then transported on low loaders and craned onto site. There are then two options. The first is that Pete owns the cabins, fits them out and delivers them, while the landowner/farmer provides the site, which has to include a connection to water, a waste treatment facility and electricity plus the all important wifi.

Pete is in charge of marketing, including social media, and the dedicated The Box BNB website that takes bookings. The landowner is responsible for cleaning and maintaining the cabins and looking after guests. The former containers are let for between £125 and £170 per night and profits are then shared between the landowner and The Box BNB.

A night time shot of the cabin at High Marishes underneath the stars

The second option is to buy three or more converted containers outright at a cost of £160,000 to £200,000, while Pete does the marketing and bookings. “We are looking to do both models, one where I pay for and own the cabins, but also the franchise model, where the landowner owns the cabins. We feel it may work better for the landowner/farmer if they go down the franchise model as they will be able to make more from the partnership and have more ownership of the business,” says Pete.

Gaining planning permission to site the portable cabins is less arduous as they are not classed as permanent structures and can be moved, so only change of use for the land is required.

Location is absolutely key to the success of the venture and picturesque and private with great, uninterrupted views is key, which is why he launched his search for partners in the Farmers Guardian.

“Farms are often in lovely rural places and having these cabins offers a chance for farmers to diversify and use unproductive land without having the outlay of building holiday properties,” he says.

Inside one of the cabins

From the responses he got, he chose young farmers Rachel and Mike Morley to pilot the business. Their arable and pig farm is in an idyllic spot in High Marishes, close to the North York Moors National Park and the market town of Malton.

They had already converted a farm building into Peddler’s Den, a luxurious 12-bedroom bunk barn so had experience on how to look after guests. Rachel says: “We were keen to diversify further because of losing the single farm payment but we spent a lot on Peddler’s Den and couldn’t afford another holiday let. When we saw Pete’s advert, it sounded like a perfect solution and when we met him, we were really impressed and decided to go ahead.”

The couple identified an old pony paddock as the ideal spot and, to cut costs, Mike did all the groundwork himself, laying drains and installing a water tank and septic tank. They named the cabins The Duck Box, The Pig Box and The Rabbit Box.

“We opened in September 2021 and it’s been great. We have been blown away with how proactive Pete is with marketing and getting bookings,” says Rachel. “I didn’t expect any guests in winter but we got them and they were happy despite the weather. The views are really good, there’s lots of wildlife to see and the cabin interiors are so cool, so all that helped.”

One of the cabins with verandah and views over the fields

Pete adds: “A lot of people are looking for somewhere different to stay, something to put on Instagram and tell friends and family about and the cabins offer that. They will all be in beautiful locations and, along with holidays, I can also see people renting them to go and work from now that working from home is more common.”

Reviews so far for the cabins at High Marishes are outstanding. One visitor wrote: “We felt really close to nature; enjoying the stars at night and waking up to green fields as far as we could see – all from the comfort of lavish accommodation. Beats camping! Lots of lovely walks and/or friendly pubs in Malton. The container is very well finished and uses the space very efficiently. The views in the morning over the farm and distant fields are stunning.”

*The Box BNB visit

Large areas of glazing mean more lovely views
The shower room
Bedroom with a view
The three former shipping containers, now holiday lets, at the farm in High Marishes