24th November 2023
Thrings Agriculture Partner Duncan Sigournay meets Alex Barton, Director of Wadswick Country Store
Duncan Sigournay: For those who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Wadswick Country Store yet, what can you tell us about it?
Alex Barton: We are a large country store based proudly in Wiltshire on our 450-acre farm, just outside Box, which has been run by my family for the past three generations.
The result of diversifying from a traditional farming business, my parents started the store as a way to sell produce and it has become an award-winning destination and home to some of the biggest brands in equestrian, country and British heritage fashion.
DS: What sets you apart from other farm and country stores?
AB: Visitors tell us all the time how much they love the wide range that we sell as well as our restaurant, Forage, which we opened back in 2019. Aiming to promote locally sourced produce, with most of the greens and salads currently grown on the farm, the restaurant is connected by footpaths to the local villages and the countryside, making it a popular stopping off point for lunch or a coffee.
Whilst it felt like it was going to be difficult to keep it going once the pandemic hit, we actually saw it thrive during Covid as more people chose to move out of the city and as staycations brought more tourists to the beautiful corners of the country like Wiltshire. It was amazing the number of people who stopped for something to eat whilst buying their first pair of wellies!
We have also taken a very focused view towards sustainability over the past decade, having created our own five-megawatt solar park which generates enough renewable electricity to meet the entire store’s needs whilst also being able to contribute the vast majority into the grid.
The farm also contributes to our commitment to going green and we have fields of Miscanthus which we use to make our own horse bedding and as a biomass energy source which also helps to power the store.
DS: What is it about Wiltshire that makes it a perfect home for a store like yours?
AB: The wonderful thing about our area is that it feels very rural but at the same time you are so close to some great local towns like Corsham, Chippenham, Bradford-upon-Avon and Melksham, each with their own character and their own heritage. There is no shortage of things to do or amazing places to go and eat. Frankly, I couldn’t see myself wanting to live anywhere else!
DS: What have been the challenges over the years in running a business like this?
AB: If you are a farmer looking to diversify, there can be a lot to keep on top of to ensure it is a success. As you grow the business, you need to have enough staff with the right skill sets and the right processes in place to manage everyone and everything. Keeping on track of all the activities across the business in areas you might previously have been unfamiliar with is essential.
Diversification also comes with challenges around meeting new or unfamiliar regulation and, especially in the hospitality sector, staff turnover can be really high. For a lot of farmers who have done the same thing for their entire life, such a change can be daunting.
Planning can also be quite an issue for farmers wanting to try their hand at something new, forcing them to jump through a lot of hoops. We are fortunately not in the greenbelt, but some farms are and expansion or changing how they use their land can be complicated. We faced a lot of opposition 10 years ago when we wanted to create the solar park as sustainability was not as firmly on the mainstream agenda back then, I feel that it would be a different matter today.
DS: What does the future hold for Wadswick Country Store?
AB: We are always looking to improve our offering to our visitors to give them more reasons to visit. There are a number of farm buildings near the store which we are keen to renovate and give them a new purpose. We have so many ideas for them, such as opening a wellbeing centre and extending the store with a wine shop, that it is hard to choose what to do next! We are also hoping to better utilise the power generated through our solar farm and are looking at the prospect of installing electric car charging points at the store.
Meanwhile, having recently opened a new satellite store in Bath, which has been a very exciting project and we are wanting to put the time in to make sure that is a success. Who knows, it could be the first of many! To find out more about Wadswick Country Store, visit wadswick.co.uk.