Farm event diversification

How a Belfast dairy farm diversified into date nights and dinosaur discos

Nestled in the rolling hills just outside Belfast, Streamvale Open Farm has become a well-known and much-loved family attraction. First opened more than 30 years ago, Streamvale has always been a family-run farm - Something that’s very important to Chris Wilson, it was his wife Helen’s family farm growing up, and as he’s diversified the business over the last few years, Chris has made sure that family remains at the heart of everything.

Originally, Streamvale was a working dairy farm, and even today there are more than 200 dairy cows at the farm. But back in 1988, the farm started its first foray into diversification with the launch of its Pick Your Own Fruit attraction and the occasional school tour, which was where the evolution to an open farm visitor attraction began. Now, the farm hosts a popular annual pumpkin patch and regular children’s discos, as well as offering an action-packed day out to visitors to the farm with everything from tractor rides to cuddle time with some of the farm’s smaller animals.

“For us, variety of events is really important, it keeps things fresh,” Chris explains. And as a father of two himself, Chris is never short of inspiration for these events. “For example, this summer, we’ve hosted a daily bubble pop disco for kids, but we also mix up the themes. We’ve had a dinosaur one and a circus theme. It keeps things fun for the kids, and the parents – and ourselves too.”

Despite averaging more than 150,000 visitors a year, Chris and the team are showing no signs of slowing down. “This year, we invested heavily in a new children’s playground that cost around £160,000, and our plan is to keep developing the open farm in order to keep people coming back,” he explains. “We’re always looking for ways to develop our events and make them even bigger and better.”

But the farm’s not just for families, with Chris introducing date nights for grown-ups at the farm, which have proved hugely popular. “That’s the beauty of diversification – we’re always looking for new ways to change our offering. So, with the date nights, it’s essentially the same model as we offer families, but it’s a lot more personal,” he explains. “Our couples can do everything from tractor rides to watching a bird of prey show or reptile display before toasting some marshmallows over an open fire – it’s very romantic.”

Building on the child-free element of the farm, Streamvale also has six glamping pods on-site. “The glamping pods are just for the adults. Each pod has its own private hot tub and they’re very, very popular and are generally fully booked,” Chris tells us. “We’re actually looking to increase the amount of accommodation we have in the next couple of years.”

But with so many different options and exciting avenues to diversify into, it’s easy to get carried away, as Chris tells us. “Different friends and colleagues are always suggesting different things we could try on our site, and it’s tempting to want to try everything,” he admits. “But ultimately, you have to stick to what you know to some degree – the things that you’re passionate about, because that’s what makes it worthwhile and enjoyable. For me, that’s events. At the end of the day, Streamvale is a visitor attraction, and it’s all about making our visitors happy. I don’t think I’d want to go too far down any road where I couldn’t use those skills.”

Chris is a big advocate for diversification in farming. “It’s about picking something that means something to you,” he explains. “When people ask me for advice, the main thing I tell them is to focus on what you’re good at. It’s important to find your own niche. There are so many options for diversification, you can end up taking it in too many different directions – it can be an awful lot. You need to know your market and location and pick something that makes sense to local people first, and yourself. Then you focus on making it your own.”

Streamvale has 12 full-time staff on-site, and over 100 casual workers that they call on during the busier season, and Chris appreciates how important it is to have that support network around him – something he also credits NFU Mutual for. “With over 150,000 people coming through our doors every year, it’s sadly inevitable that things will go wrong no matter how much we try to prevent them,” he admits. “NFU Mutual have always been there for us through it all. From advice and risk assessments to sorting out any issues, they’re just one phone-call away, and it helps that we deal exclusively with one person. I can’t tell you how much that means to me.”

To find out how NFU Mutual can help with your diversification journey, contact your local agency.