General view of Wydon Farm

Northumberland farm B&B futureproofs business with technology & skills upgrade during lockdown

With Better Business Skills launching its 3rd year of workshops and facilitated group coaching sessions, the Autumn series of sessions is packed with themes around how to enhance the customer experience, maximise sales with improved marketing techniques  – great timing as tourism and hospitality businesses start to evaluate and evolve their customer journey.

One business, Wydon Farm B&B, has taken advantage of a number of programmes to help it through the past 12 months. 

Situated on a National Trust working farm near Haltwhistle, Northumberland, this popular B&B found itself in unchartered territory as the first coronavirus lockdown led to the cancellation of all the bookings which had been taken for that period, with guests being given refunds or rescheduling their trips to the following year. Even when the B&B was able to reopen in July, new arrangements had to be put in place to allow for social distancing.

“The three bedrooms have separate entrances but our guests often eat breakfast together in the farmhouse kitchen,” explained Linda Ogle, the owner of Wydon Farm B&B.

“We took the opportunity to get our marketing and technology in order – we needed to invest in new technology which would allow us to take bookings more quickly, communicate with our customers and organise separate breakfast sittings in a COVID-safe way. We used social media to let people know about the safety measures we’ve put in place to provide a sense of comfort and confidence in our service.”

A grant of £3,000 from the North East Business Support Fund (Restart & Recovery/Kick-starting Tourism) – which is part financed by the European Regional Development Fund and supported by the Northern Powerhouse – was used to buy a smartphone and tablet enabling mobile friendly communications to emerge and to access marketing support. As a result the team can use the B&B website and social media more effectively and take higher quality photos.

Linda also took a good look at her own skill base – recognising that she could also receive support from the new Better Business Skills programme delivered by NBSL in conjunction with North of Tyne Combined Authority.  With sessions on marketing, sales and how to identify new audiences, these new skills have complemented this investment in technology.

“The difference this has made to my business has been huge – my confidence has grown thanks to the new skills now developed and the funding has been of real benefit to the business,” said Linda.

Based near Hadrian’s Wall, the site is located near a network of cycle ways and numerous heritage sites. Guests also have the chance to see the farm in action – including during lambing season each springtime – and many visitors also fish in the nearby South Tyne, which is one of the best rivers for salmon fishing in the country. 

“Before 2020 we had a lot of visitors from Australia and the USA but this year I think there will be enough domestic travel to make up for the loss of tourists from overseas,” said Linda. “The grant gave us the chance to invest into the business and we’re grateful for the support. It’ll make a difference not just this year but into the future as well, and I hope it will help encourage people to re-book once lockdown is over.”