Funding Creates Future Legacy for Family Farm

Santander helps farming family pass on the business to the next generation

In brief

  • Company turnover: £200k
  • Sector: Agriculture 
  • The Dent family in North Yorkshire run an agricultural hill farm, as well as holiday lets in renovated farm buildings. 
  • They had plans to expand their sheep and cattle business, renovate and market their holiday cottages, and update their website. They also wanted to pass the farm onto their son but needed backing to buy out a family member.
  • Santander provided an initial interest only loan, converting to a repayment loan. This was the traditional solution in the farming sector until many banks moved away from farming and leisure.
  • The finance solution offered by Santander was tailored specifically to the requirements of the business and took the farming sector into account. 
  • The finance allowed the Dents to pass on the farm to the next generation, and to increase turnover by more than 10 per cent. 
  • Santander has enabled the Dents to preserve and manage a piece of farmland that is part of the UK’s national heritage.
Dent Farm

Ena and Trevor Dent’s family have been farming for more than 75 years and their 130-acre business, located in the heart of the North Yorkshire Moors, is typical of many farms around the country. They keep sheep and cattle, but they have also gradually renovated a number of outbuildings over the years, converting them into seven holiday cottages. The couple are thinking about retirement and wanted to start planning the handover of the family business to their son, Richard. However, the process was to prove harder than they initially thought.

Finding a way forwards

Richard had expressed a desire to take on the farm and had plans to grow both the farm and the holiday cottage business. In early 2012, the family approached their bank for a loan to fund these growth plans and to buy out a partner to enable Richard to take over. However, despite a long-standing relationship with their incumbent bank, the growth finance was turned down. “The bank didn’t consider tourism and farming as a way forward,” says Ena. 

Next, the family approached other banks through a broker. “We had to look elsewhere because we needed to move forwards, not backwards. We couldn’t stand still,” explains Ena. Unfortunately, they were unable to secure funding through other lenders. “We couldn’t generate any interest, I couldn’t believe it,” says Ena.

Lucky break

For Ena and Richard there was no option but to keep working towards a resolution, and it wasn’t long before they found one. While Ena was speaking at a conference in Leeds – in her capacity as Chair of Tourism, North Yorkshire – she attended a talk by Santander Relationship Director, Phil Hartop. “He was talking about farming and tourism, and the fact that Santander was actively looking at these businesses, and I thought that I could work with this man,” says Ena. She went home, talked it over with her husband and contacted Santander.

Phil continues the story. “I met Ena and I went out to the farm several times – it’s a 130-mile round trip – and we discussed the business and what they planned to do. The type of loan they were asking for used to be a common product for the farming community, but it’s one that has fallen out of favour with most banks.”

Keep it in the family

Ena was impressed by the response she got. “Santander took a refreshing approach to our business and the succession plans we were trying to implement,” she says. “Like many farming families, succession can be a real challenge and it was important to us to find a bank that understood this and would take the time to find ways to support the next generation in taking over the farming business.”

Their son Richard was also impressed with Phil’s approach. “The bank brought together a team, including accountants and lawyers, who were all working to the common goal of meeting our needs and finding an effective solution.”

After a few weeks, Phil was able to get approval for a two-stage loan that started with an interest only period, while Richard put his plans together for the farm. This would then transfer to a conventional repayment loan when the farm was producing revenue. Once the paperwork was completed, the Dents began to put their plans into practice. 

Raising the revenue

One of the major revenue generators for the farm was the holiday cottages; while there was a website and some marketing in place, the Dents wanted to advertise more widely. They also wanted to look into short-term – rather than weekly – lets, in order to keep up with the changing demands of their customers. This proactive and responsive approach has had a real impact on the business. “We have changed our whole attitude and we now run it more like a motel than cottages,” Ena says. “People are changing and we’ve had to adapt.”

The new loan also allowed the Dents to revisit their business ‘to do list’, which had been put on hold while they searched for funding, and included upgrading the cottages and the website. As Ena explains, “The money has freed me up a lot. We advertise on more sites and we can update the cottages to keep up with changes in style.” 

Richard also has plans to increase the herd sizes and to make the farm more environmentally friendly and sustainable.

More than a job

The benefits of the new funding are starting to show already. “Since we got the loan we were able to start marketing more widely, and that’s resulted in a 10 per cent revenue increase,” says Ena.

While the growth in revenue and the plans for building the business are important to the Dents, they see a much bigger issue at stake – their responsibility to the countryside. “The beauty and attraction of the North Yorkshire Moors is in large part down to farmers. They use the land to produce quality food but also maintain it as a beautiful and accessible place for the millions of tourists who visit this area every year,” says Ena.

Richard agrees, “To us, on our family farm, this is more than just a job and we found a bank that understood and supported this.”

All lending is subject to status.

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