Posted: Fri 7th May 2021
A decade after launching Ark Farm, Fraser Bairstow - like so many small business owners up and down the land - was faced with a crisis of almost biblical proportions.
But, after successfully applying for a Salesforce small business grant, he was able to not only boost his mobile farm's cash reserves, but to purchase a gazebo and a trailer - allowing more children to enjoy more of the farm's animals.
Here's Fraser's story.
Fraser, why did you decide to launch a mobile farm?
"We started Ark Farm as a family business in 2010, with both myself and my wife as co-founders. At that time I had been made redundant from a marketing role and Tam was looking to get back into teaching, as our youngest children were then at school full time.
"The idea of a mobile farm wasn't new - several existed in the south west - however, it was a new concept for the schools and nurseries in and around Bedfordshire, where we are based.
"We liked the idea of the travelling farm as it would allow us to manage our own days and time - or so we thought in 2010! - and would allow Tam to work with children in a different way to that of a classroom."
Where was the business at the start of 2020, in the run up to the first lockdown?
"A significant number of schools book their summer visits at start of the year during January and February. Our best year to date had been 2019; by the end of February we had 220 bookings in our diary for the summer.
"By comparison, 2020 was shaping up to be even better. During the same period, before the first lockdown, we had 260 bookings in place for the summer."
What were your thoughts once lockdown arrived?
"At the start, I think - like a lot of people - we expected things to be back to almost business as usual around August. The concern was that, as we went into lockdown, we were already low on cash reserves having just come through our seasonally quiet period, which is also our most expensive period for feed and bedding.
"There was not a lot of cash in the bank. We were facing the very serious problem of low cash reserves and a loss of revenue streams during our peak period of April to July.
"The initial noises from Westminster sounded great, but then came the reality that most grants and support were primarily targeted at rate payers. We didn't qualify as we don't pay business rates."
How did you hear about the Salesforce small business grant?
"We heard about the Saleforce grant through Enterprise Nation. Initially we didn't do anything other than sign up to receive more info. Later we got reminder emails and by that stage we were in a 'what have we got to lose; we've got time on our hands' situation. So, we made our initial pitch and were lucky enough to get through to the next round."
What has the grant enabled you to do?
"The grant enabled us to do two things. We used half the funds to boost our cash reserves and help out with the immediate predicament of the situation last summer.
"Secondly, we knew the schools would be reopening at some point. It was quite obvious that getting children outside was going to be preferable in the summer to being crammed into a classroom.
"We used the rest of the money to purchase a bright, colourful fully branded gazebo for our small animal encounters, along with a small trailer so that we could offer a lambs and goats or piglets experience alongside the other Soft, Furry & Friendly animals.
"Because of the size of the trailer, the driver would not need to have a towing licence. This meant that all of our animal encounters could go outside and be undercover if the weather was inclement."
Where is Ark Farm at now, and what are your post-lockdown plans?
"The post-Christmas lockdown was another big bump in the road. Coming into Christmas things had looked really positive; we had several bookings in place for January and February that were cancelled.
"We are past that now. Since the schools went back in March we have been inundated with requests for quotes and bookings. Right now, things look really positive - the new gazebo has been a fantastic addition and this year, with the big challenge of getting children reengaged at school, we have adapted our packages by offering a farm and small animals combined visit, which enables schools to open up the visit to all their classes.
"From the feedback we've received, this has been very popular among teachers, parents and children alike. We've also turned our hand to moving livestock around for smallholders who can't or are unable to tow. The small trailer has more than paid for itself, with moves including goats to Scotland and pigs from Devon to Cambridgeshire."
We partnered with Salesforce last summer to offer £5,000 grants to small businesses affected by the pandemic. Enjoyed Fraser's story? Don't miss Hari Fell's, who told us about the psychological boost her grant gave her.