REFLECTING ON THE PAST YEAR AND WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS FOR RURAL SOLUTIONS
by WILLIAM FRY
In March 2020, we held our breath. We had just celebrated ten years of Rural Solutions, our client base was strong, interesting, and diverse, we were on a roll, we wondered then if all our hard work over the previous ten years was about to be lost!
Happily, quite the opposite, 2021 has turned out to be our busiest year yet. Over the last 20 months the business has gone from strength to strength with more ambitious projects than ever. Our clients have shown true resilience and the ability to respond to constant challenges and change as the social and economic landscape has shifted.
The reimagining of experiences has shaped this years’ rural diversification and development scene in response to an increasingly sustainability-conscious and adventurous population.
With a wealth of natural assets, landowners are well placed to fulfil an increasing demand for rural immersion; the yearning to feel good, to learn and to be nourished by nature and the outdoors. The UK is not generally at the forefront of experiential leisure, the Europeans have a longer and richer history. We have started to see big continental operators moving in to buy UK assets and businesses. It is our landowning clients that are now beginning to compete.
We have worked this year with clients to enhance “wild” accommodation, from glamping to treehouses, as well as developing and launching nature safaris, bird watching and forest bathing experiences. Both the accommodation and the activities, which often already existed, have been smartened up and packaged to suit this emerging market.
By remodelling their identity and building guest experience, whilst reducing the density of their overnight accommodation, clients have seen a 20% uplift in revenue. By knowing the market, they are doing less and charging more.
Regenerative farming, managing land for nature recovery and wilding have been increasingly common themes in our work during 2021. The emerging Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) and has brought a shift from viewing enterprises in silos to landowners adopting a more holistic view of how farming, visitors, diversification, nature recovery, soil health and carbon can all feed into each other.
The greatest success comes when all these aspects are aggregated into one offer, one brand and approach, interlinked and mutually beneficial – that is where the smart money is.
New post-pandemic experiential needs have also extended to the home. An exceptional surge in interest in the countryside doesn’t make it any easier to build in green open spaces, however great the demand, but we have always loved a challenge. We are very proud that in 2021 Rural Solutions had the largest market share of Paragraph 80 projects – a policy that allows the building of ‘exceptional’ country homes – no mean feat for a consultancy of our modest size.
Designing a home and, ultimately, delivering dreams is an intimate process and relationships are very important. We involve architects, environmental, and landscape experts alongside planners from the very start. Our team’s holistic approach to every project is evident in the impressive outcomes.
The demand for commercial space in the countryside will continue to evolve in the year ahead. New storage and distribution models are emerging, with some high street retailers supplementing big out-of-town warehouses with multiple micro rural service hubs. Flexible or co-working spaces should continue to grow, especially if developments have a focus on health and wellbeing.
At our office in Skipton, we are investing in a reimagined workspace with a specialist team of office design experts. Our objective is to create a place our team will want, not just need to be. It is about making the space work to meet the needs of our new hybrid working system, with introductions of clever acoustics that infiltrate sound, deflecting telephone conversations from those sharing the space (amazing!). We are also ‘greening up’ every element to benefit the wider environment and looking for innovative ways to bring our outdoor space into all-year-round office use.
It has been a year (and more) of the unexpected and the unpredictable, but at Rural Solutions we have always said we do tricky. Our objectives remain the same, we will continue to nurture our values, culture and ensure our people thrive. We are excited to enter 2022 with several colleague promotions, seven new appointments, a characteristically diverse range of projects and our team and clients as connected, possibly more so, than ever.
We are so proud to be working with such dynamic, diverse, and driven clients. People, businesses and organisations, who could have hunkered down, but didn’t. Instead, they made the decision to create and seek out opportunities, to be ambitious. The diversification and rural development potential is still huge for those who are already some way down the track as well as for those who are yet to start out. The rural sector has come a long way in the last 20 years, and there is still a long way to go, which for us is really exciting.
On behalf of us all at Rural Solutions, I would like to thank you for your support, drive, and creativity and to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and prosperous 2022.