Farm of the Week: Mine plans move couple on to greater things

There’s something about being greeted with a chocolate cake that never fails to impress.

Kevin Roche of Foulsyke Farm.

It’s a little trick of the holiday accommodation trade learned along the way by Sylvia Roche and one that she’s carried on when moving with her cattle farming husband Kevin from Dove’s Nest Farm in Sneaton to Foulsyke Farm near Fylingdales last year, complete with its panoramic views of sea and land.

Fifteen years of building up their farm and holiday enterprise at Sneaton came to an end when they were one of a number of landowners approached by a company looking to mine polyhalite, a type of potash found deep underground. Sylvia’s son Andrew works at Boulby Mine, run by another potash mining company further up the coast, so they understood the long-term employment benefits to the area.

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“We attended a meeting at The Flask Inn and we were very supportive of it,” says Sylvia. “We have grandchildren who will need jobs in the future so we talked further and once Sirius Minerals purchased the farm we set our plans in action to move here. Foulsyke Farm had been on the market for a while and had ready-made holiday accommodation. We bought it in October last year and moved in during November.”

The couple have worked hard to achieve what they have since they married in 1973.

Kevin’s grandfather on his mother’s side farmed but his dad worked for British Steel at Skinningrove. Nonetheless, Kevin feels he was destined for farming from an early age. “It was always what I wanted to do. I used to work for my granddad back in the 60s when he had suckler cows and sheep.

“Sylvia and I moved away to Barton near Darlington where I worked on a farm with a large suckler herd for a short while before coming back nearer home when she started carrying our first child Tracy. At that time I went to look after the dairy cows and drive tractors for Major Petch at Liverton and then worked on the Mulgrave Estate.”

Eden House on the Guisborough Moor road became their rented home for 23 years and it proved the beginning of their move towards being a full-on farming business, although it still involved other work.

Kevin worked at the Boulby Mine for a year and set up as an agricultural contractor in the 70s. In 1976 he started working for North Yorkshire County Council cutting grass verges, something he has kept up ever since, and he does hedge cutting for Scarborough Borough Council.

“We had no acreage at Eden House but managed to rent some land that allowed us to start with our suckler herd. We started with just two cows and today we have nearly 200. It’s taken a long time getting to this point. The first main move forward was when we managed to get hold of around 50 acres of rented land from Alan Howard up on Dove’s Nest Farm.”

They were offered the farmhouse and a further 40 acres of the farmland next to their existing plot in 1998. Kevin and Sylvia moved to Dove’s Nest Farm that year and later purchased the rented land when Alan passed away. The final piece of the jigsaw was completed in November 2004 when they purchased more adjoining land, bringing their owned acreage to 120 along with 60 acres they were renting from the National Trust in Staintondale.

Kevin tells of how their latest move has enabled greater growth: “I have a herd of 40 sucklers and also get calves from Jeffrey Herbert of High Normanby. We’re breeding Limousin X by using pedigree Limousin bulls on to Belgian Blue cows. The cattle that we buy elsewhere include a mixture of crosses and I take everything through to being big beasts.”

Kevin knows that without his contracting business, Andrew’s help on the farm as well as his work at Boulby, and Sylvia’s career running both her own company and as well as being a general practice director in the health sector, that the farming business would have been impossible.

“We have bettered ourselves and we have taken another step, but all the time we have had both Dove’s Nest and now Foulsyke I’ve never taken any money out of it. It’s my work for the councils and Sylvia’s work away from the farm that has kept us going.”

Sylvia ran her own machine knitwear and design business for 10 years before realising another ambition. “I was wearing out my shoulders producing three sweaters a day. Then I saw this job advertised as a practice manager for a GP’s surgery. I was taken with it but had no NHS experience and no real qualifications.”

She studied for an Open University degree, took a job within the NHS as a secretary and in 1994 became a practice manager in Scarborough. In 2009 she and others made a successful bid to run a government championed equitable access (walk-in) centre and she was one of its directors until taking early retirement in 2013 - only to return part-time this year to provide maternity cover.

The Roches now have a farming operation that runs to around 410 acres of which more than 200 acres are owned. Kevin’s farming operation is all set to include growing oats for the first time next year to provide greater self-sufficiency for his cattle and he has plenty of other plans afoot.

The four holiday cottages known as Holpen Barns are full throughout the summer and Sylvia is delighted that her ‘friends’ who have visited for many years at Dove’s Nest have transferred over to Foulsyke. She even has two of her grandchildren helping with the cottages.

“Our slogan on our website is ‘arrive as guests, leave as friends’ and that’s how it goes. I started making the chocolate cakes for those who come because I just wanted them to have something as a welcome that was a bit different when they arrive.”