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We grabbed a coffee and a chat with John Metcalfe from Rural Futures,  the North West based farming and rural diversification specialists. We spoke about asking for their advice for farmers, rural business owners, or landowners, looking to diversify with holiday accommodation.

First of all, let us introduce you to the two specialists who run Rural Futures and some background on their qualifications that make them the best in the buisness.

John Metcalfe BSc

With a background in farming and rural issues, John is experienced working with National charitable organisations delivering business support to a wide range of private sector rural businesses across Cumbria and Lancashire. An expert in planning, John is also a mentor to third sector organisations and accredited as an advisor to the “Making Local Food Work” programme.  He worked with the National Trust as Farming Business Advisor for 5 years.

  • Farm business management
  • Research and consultancy services
  • Planning
  • Community development
  • Enterprise and employment development
  • Complex agri environmental delivery

John has acted as the coordinator for the Rural Facilitation Planning Service in the sub-region.

Mary Miller BSc

With a degree in agriculture and a lifetime in farming, Mary has a thorough appreciation of rural issues. Accountancy trained, Mary spent several years benchmarking the performance of farm businesses in the Northwest before becoming a highly successful business advisor, supporting the establishment, development, and diversification of a wide range of rural businesses.

Mary has particular expertise in financial analysis, business plan development, and in drawing down funds from a variety of sources. Specialist interests include:

  • Financial systems
  • Funding
  • Farm business planning
  • Planning
  • Waste management
  • Agri environmental delivery
  • Associates

Check out their Case Studies here

  1. Who are Rural Futures and how do you help landowners/farmers?

Rural Futures is a small team of two specialists, with a wide network of associates who work on matters of policy, farming, tourism, spatial planning, detailed planning and design, environmental initiatives, ecology, wildlife surveys, and training initiatives.

Using the strengths of our team, combined with our associates we create a project team uniquely qualified for each challenge.

We check that the business structure created is ‘fit for purpose’ and offers the best value for money for our clients.

We fully understand the ins and outs of the planning rules and give advice to farmers and rural landowners about diversification, giving them a reality check about the whole process.  We will work with them through site plans, statutory location plans, building regulations, and all the necessary and sometimes mind-boggling processes.

If there is any grant funding out there, we will access it – however, this has changed a lot since Brexit and the removal of European grants for farm diversification.  There is funding available in National Parks and AONB’s through the FIPL funding but these have a strong ecological focus.

Much of our work is involves gaining planning permission. Some permitted development rights apply to agriculture, but we can advise what is acceptable and if prior notification is required.

Many applications will require specialist assessments to cover issues such as ecology, tree surveys, highway assessments, and structural surveys. We work with a number of local providers who all deliver these services at reasonable rates.


Glamping pod

  1. What are the likely costs?

Planning fees depend on the size and nature of the project. It is worth checking this prior to an application.

Our fees are £350 a day.  If we are invited to visit and scope a project, we charge a flat fee of £150 per visitation.   If we then get the project, we take that off the final fee.

We believe we provide excellent value for money to get your project moving forward.

  1. What advice would you give to someone looking at diversification?

Think about co-operation rather than competition! 

Maybe someone nearby has a campsite too, and if yours is full, pass them over to your neighbour.  Talk to a local hotel that may do weddings and ask them to include your pods as options for guest accommodation.  If you have a farm shop or cafe, talk to your neighbours about how to encourage their guests, perhaps with a cheeky discount code they can use. Perhaps you have a dog walking field – talk to your local dog owners and maybe offer them an incentive. Local nearby pub? Recommend it to your guests.

There are lots of different ways to work in partnership with neighbours, for the benefit of everyone.

4. How does a landowner access your services?

Email us at or give us a call on 01524 736845 – Please mention Lakelovers.

If you’re thinking of adding a pod, or deck with a hot tub, or a garden room, we’d advise having a conversation with us.

5.  What would you advise about working with an agency such as Lakelovers?

Whilst it feels attractive to try and ‘DIY” holiday letting first, many people find it’s a lot of work for them on top of their farming or core business activity.

A reputable agency can obviously take the pressure and the work off you – I advise people to look at the commission for such an agency as an investment in your business and it buys you back that all-important item – more time.  They will look after your let and keep it up to the high standards demanded by holidaymakers for cleaning and maintenance.

Check out our online Farm Diversification Pack, and find out how we can help you diversify and increase your bookings.

Contact us at  or telephone us 015394 888555 for an informal chat about how we can help.