Green fields highlighted by sunrays through heavy clouds from Curbar Edge

#70People70Years - David and Felicity Brown

David and Felicity Brown

David and Felicity Brown - Sustainable holiday providers and farmers

David and Felicity Brown are farmers and providers of multi award-winning, accessible self-catering and glamping accommodation at Hoe Grange, near Brassington. The farm is in the Derbyshire Dales, and the National Park boundary runs straight through its middle. David has lived there all his life. Felicity met David through the local Young Farmers group, they married and raised three children at Hoe Grange.

What is exciting about David and Felicity’s approach to the family business is the way they root their plans and decisions in being environmentally-friendly and eco-conscious. In fact, they have held the Peak District Environmental Quality Mark (EQM) since 2006; the award recognises businesses with a passion for the environment, that actively take pride in the Peak District to help safeguard and protect its landscape and heritage.

The couple have made the Hoe Grange Holidays and farm business what it is today but they have had to change the way they farmed and invest heavily to get where they are now.

David and Felicity Brown at their accommodation

Growing up at Hoe Grange in the 1970s, David helped his father with the 120 cows which were milked twice a day. However, by the 1990s, dairy farming was hardly profitable. The farm which once supported three families could barely support one.

David's father had first thought about introducing log cabin holiday accommodation onto the farm in the 1970s but at the time the local council rejected the idea. Time went on and diversification became the key to keeping the farm viable. After some tough negotiations, David and Felicity were eventually successful in getting their planning application approved for the first two log cabins overlooking the National Park boundary. They opened to guests in 2006, and have never looked back. Since then, they have expanded the business to include four accessible log cabins, two eco glamping pods and a vintage gypsy caravan.

Felicity says: "There was already plenty of holiday accommodation in the Peak District so we needed to find our niche. Being situated next to the High Peak Trail, which was designated as the start of the Pennine Bridleway, we decided to offer guests the opportunity to bring their own horse on holiday - it was something different to what others were providing."

"At the same time our market research highlighted that few holiday accommodations were fully accessible to people with mobility challenges. We began with providing a roll in wet room shower and extra space. Following feedback from guests we gradually built-up specialist equipment making life easier for guests with a wide range of disabilities.

The log cabins are on a hillside, on a Derbyshire upland hill farm, which naturally presents access challenges. However, with such close proximity to the High Peak Trail, David and Felicity were keen to encourage their guests to explore the countryside and in 2012, invested in an all-terrain wheelchair.

Felicity says: "We now have two off-road wheelchairs and two electric bikes which means whole families can enjoy the Trail together - no-one gets left behind."

David and Felicity Brown

The Browns encourage guests to have car-free days during their stay and enjoy visiting places by bike, such as the historic village of Tissington nearby.

Felicity says: "Since the lockdowns, people have been using the electric bikes more and more - they want to be more active and get closer to nature. Our guests love the increased freedom that the electric bikes bring them and the hills in the area are no longer a problem."

While staying at Hoe Grange guests can charge their electric cars for free, all powered by the renewable energies produced on site. The Browns also drive an electric car themselves. A second charging point is being installed.

David and Felicity Brown are great advocates for encouraging people to get outside to enjoy fresh air and explore the National Park. They developed a walk on their farm which gives guests access to special features and viewpoints.

David says: "We wanted to show people the pinfold where stray livestock were kept, the ridge and furrow field patterns which reveals how the land was once cultivated, and from our top fields we get a view into Ballidon quarry which provides the opportunity for us to explain about the quality of limestone in this area and the importance of quarrying to the local economy."

As a working beef and sheep farm with around 70 cattle and 50 sheep, the Browns make the most of their social media channels to show all aspects of farming life, from lambing, to sheep shearing and silage-making.

Felicity says: "We feel it’s important that we help our guests understand what happens on the farm, how things are done and why it matters, and they tell us it adds to their enjoyment."

David says: "We're not just park keepers - the landscape looks the way it does because it is a farmed landscape. Keeping it a working farm is in my blood, it's important to us to manage the farm ecologically to sustain native species and habitats to improve biodiversity, and it provides a real education for our visitors to experience."

It is evident that David and Felicity are equally committed to taking an environmental viewpoint when considering their business. They have invested in Hoe Grange’s own small wind turbine, solar panels, a ground source heat pump, a biomass boiler and have a bore hole for water.

David says: "Yes, it has been a big investment but we have made a business case for everything - it's not just a ‘green-wash’, it's fundamental to how we operate."

Hoe Grange holds the Peak District Environmental Quality Mark for both the farming and holiday businesses. Hoe Grange Holidays has been awarded the Green Tourism Gold Award and the Quality in Tourism REST Gold Award.

To add to their national awards David and Felicity were delighted to win the Visit England Bronze Award for Excellence for Ethical, Responsible and Sustainable Tourism 2020 and The British Farming Awards Silver Award for Diversification Innovator of the year 2020.

Part of their business ethic is to co-operate and work with other local businesses - the Hoe Grange welcome hampers include; home baked bread and biscuits using flour and oats from Caudwell’s Mill at Rowsley, rapeseed oil from Brock and Morten at Ashford in the Water, ground coffee from Peak Bean, milk and butter from Peak District Dairy and eco-friendly toiletries from Scrub near Alfreton.

There is also a small onsite shop selling Cold Eaton Jersey ice-cream from Ashbourne; sausages, burgers and Derbyshire Oatcakes from A J Holmes Butchers at Tissington, honey from Brock and Morten, candles from On a Wick and a Prayer and children’s books from local author Sue Wilkins.

As well as being part of the Peak District Environmental Quality Mark project, David and Felicity say they were also inspired when they took part in the BESST project - Business and the Environment linked through Small Scale Tourism - a European-funded (Interreg IIIB for the North Sea region) eco-tourism project which saw the Peak District partnered with Hylte in Sweden and Fyresdal in Norway. Their involvement included travelling to meet small scale, family-run businesses in all three places as well as hosting local and international meetings. David says: "We probably wouldn’t be where we are today without the help and advice we gained from these projects – the people we met and experiences we had were hugely influential in the development of our business and gave us the confidence to follow our ideas."

Providing guests with the means of accessing and enjoying the National Park and surrounding countryside, from the dark skies at night free from light pollution to the peace and tranquillity of being away from roads and close neighbours is all part of the Hoe Grange Holidays experience.

Felicity says: "We love sharing our special landscape - it’s about slowing down, watching wildlife and farm animals, appreciating nature, discovering local history, exploring the countryside and breathing in the fresh air."

Both David and Felicity see themselves as custodians of their area for future generations which dovetails with the Peak District National Park's purposes to look after the landscape and help people enjoy and appreciate it.

David says: "Guest's reactions constantly remind us how lucky we are to live, work and play in the Peak District - we will never take it for granted."

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