Sep 22, 2017 Last Updated 11:00 PM, Sep 10, 2017

Diversifying a farm attraction can be effective for struggling farmers

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Timberplay explains how play is being used to differentiate farm attractions in a competitive market.

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Farm attractions are a growing part of the UK’s leisure market, with an estimated 300 currently operating and that number is growing all the time. As farmers struggle with diminished incomes and other agricultural pressures, diversifying as a farm attraction can be an effective way of combatting these issues and also growing a separate profitable business.

It is easy to see why the farm attraction market is growing. David Leon, from the National Farm Attractions Network, explains the appeal: “People love meeting animals. As children, we are introduced to farm animals from a very young age, through the nursery rhymes our parents sing, the stories that are read to us, picture books, TV characters and the toys we play with. A connection with farm animals is deeply rooted in our psyche.

“As more and more of us live in towns and cities, we become increasingly disconnected from the land, from farming and from farm animals. Farm parks enable parents to give their children the opportunity to actually meet the animals they have heard so much about.“

Farm attractions vary greatly in size and offer, from farm shops with a few animals through to large businesses attracting up to half a million visitors per year. There are several elements that are key to this business model; access to animals, food and refreshments, retail outlets and play.

Over recent years, Timberplay has worked with several farm attractions that wanted to create stand-out play facilities that drive repeat business and improve the visitor experience.

When approaching an investment in play, it is important to think carefully about what you are wanting to achieve and how your offering will complement the overall site. With experience of play space delivery from a commissioner’s, user’s and provider’s perspective, Beth Cooper, Creative Play Consultant at Timberplay, is very passionate about the effective and quality delivery of spaces that support children’s play.

She comments: “The countryside and the farm setting have lots of natural play opportunities, for example, trees to climb, slopes to run down, streams to paddle in and meadows to swish through. It is, therefore, baffling when the decision is made to strip all this away, clear a site, flatten it, cover with wet pour, surround with a fence and add a brightly coloured swing and climbing set. The real play value here is outside the fence and the real challenge should be to replicate and enhance this natural play value. A play area that has been designed with more sympathy for the natural environment will also harmonise better within a farm attraction.

“In order to maintain interest in the play space, it is very important that children can find many levels of challenge within both the equipment and the landscape. Products that are limited in their appeal will quickly become boring, whereas open-ended, more risky equipment will be far more stimulating across a wider age range.”

Commonly the key demographic for farm attractions is young families and toddlers. However, several farm attractions have significantly increased their appeal by including more risky and challenging equipment.

Cannon Hall Farm in Yorkshire has invested heavily in play over the years but was looking for something which would appeal specifically to older children. It worked with Timberplay on two play spaces. Two immense pyramid towers dominate one of these spaces, linked with a metal crawl tunnel and two lengthy slides, one spanning 48ft, transport children down to the lower playground in breathtaking style. Alongside this play area, Cannon Hall Farm also selected a climbing forest of gigantic proportions. Generous oak timbers, Hercules steel core ropes, platforms and a climbing structure create a challenging play area for older children.

Farm Manager at Cannon Hall Farm, Robert Nicholson, comments: “Play has always been important to us and our visitors and we now feel that we have taken this to the next level. I was very impressed with the Timberplay product range and moreover their whole approach to play. It was this ethos that drove me to choose Timberplay to create an adventure playground which we believe to be one of the county’s best.”

The unavoidable problem for UK attractions is the weather, outdoor sites can often suffer in the peak season as a result of the rain. To counteract this, new farm attraction Hasty’s Adventure Park has constructed its play area under a large roundhouse cattle shed. With open sides, the play area still feels as if it is outdoors, fresh air can flow around the build and children can run in and out as they wish and Hasty’s is an all-weather attraction, with shade from the sun and protection from the rain. The growth of farm attractions represents a real innovation from the farming industry utilising its assets to create local attractions which appeal to the family market. Visitors benefit from a more cost-effective day out, and one which can be typically accessed in short drive times, generating higher visitor satisfaction levels. Implementing high-quality, challenging play equipment enables farm attractions to raise the bar higher still, increasing dwell time and encouraging repeat visits.

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