MyFamilyClub is honoured to bring you the next inspirational woman Jessica Gibbs of Home Farm Glamping.
Let’s Meet Jessica
Jess, 33, is a country girl at heart. Having grown up on Home Farm, Jess then moved to London to become a lawyer. When family circumstances arose she contacted these family lawyers to help out with their complications, which meant she need to spend some time at the farm and helping her family, Jess realised she really, truly loved to don wellies and be out in the country air, so she swapped the law courts for a great big field. And, thus, Home Farm Glamping was born!
Describe a typical day for you?
During our glamping season (May to October) I leave my flat in Brixton at about 7.30 and hop on the tube up to the farm. The journey is about 45 minutes so I use the time to check my emails to see if any last minute bookings have come in and allocate guests and groups into their tents. When I get to the farm I brief my team and we get to work on changeover. We have 12 tents at Home Farm Glamping, 3 yurts and 9 bell tents, and we sleep a total of 51 guests when we’re full so it’s basically running a small boutique hotel but spread over a 5 acre wild flower meadow. The linen changing is the same but the walk is longer if you forget something! As well as making sure all the tents are perfectly made up, our six shower rooms have to be cleaned and all our bbqs and outdoor furniture needs to be arranged and the croquet lawn and the paths to the tents need to be mowed. The tents are fully equipped with lovely bedding and linen, and each glamper gets a full set of crockery, cutlery, glasses, torch, bottle opener, hot water bottle… guests just need to bring their overnight bag and whatever food and drink they need if they plan to self-cater.
Guests start arriving at 4pm so from then on I’m busy with check-in and making sure everyone has got everything they need for their stay. I love taking people to their tents – people are always surprised about how cosy they are. Guests have full access to our 100 acres of farm and woodland around the site, so we are on hand to suggest pubs to visit, walks to go on, and local attractions people may want to visit, we also do meals for guests who have chosen that option rather than cater for themselves. I hand over to my manager who lives on site at about 7pm, and head back on the tube to have supper with my husband back in Brixton.
What do you feel are your biggest achievements to date?
Setting up Home Farm Glamping is probably my biggest achievement, although qualifying as a lawyer was also quite a good day! The idea for Home Farm Glamping came about when my father fell ill a few years ago. I was working in the City as a corporate lawyer at the time we used to have the best corporate and business transportation and, although he has now thankfully recovered, it became clear quite quickly that someone from the family needed to help him run the family farms in Hertfordshire. I handed in my notice to my law firm who persuaded me to stay on part time, so initially I spent 2 days in Dad’s office and three days as a lawyer. I realised that there was a fantastic opportunity to start a glamping site at Home Farm and so set to work on that – which effectively meant I was juggling three jobs. It was a pretty chaotic year but so satisfying. The wild flower meadow that is the centre of Home Farm Glamping was never very good agricultural land precisely because of the ancient and huge oak tree in the middle of it, and the other mature trees secluding it. But it does have a wonderful view across the fields to the nearby village, and from my childhood growing up there I knew it was a magic spot. In the evenings and weekends I threw myself into some research about glamping sites around the country, submitted a planning application (the tents need fully planning because they are up for 6 months of the year), and set to work preparing the site. I started the planning application over Christmas 2014 whilst still working full time, and Home Farm Glamping was open for guests by May 2015. I didn’t sleep much for those 5 months, but I loved every minute of the planning and preparing! We had a good first season, and managed to increase our bookings seven-fold in our second year. I have now taken on two new staff members, and we’re looking forward to our third season. It is my baby and I’m very proud of it.
What are your ambitions in life?
This is an enormous question, and quite hard to answer without clichés! I trained and qualified as a corporate lawyer, and worked in the City for nearly eight years. I enjoyed it, and learnt a lot, but realised that I wanted the challenge of running my own business. Home Farm Glamping was a great opportunity and makes perfect use of a particular piece of land, but I think this is just the beginning of things for me. I also run three other farms for my family and there are already other business opportunities I am thinking about. I love the challenge of spotting the opportunity, working out what is the best way of making it work, and then putting the plan into action. London is a fantastic place to get inspiration from people doing great things, there are so many exciting businesses springing up. One of the things we do at Home Farm Glamping is run a workshop for Escape The City’s Start-Up Tribe, a sort of mini MBA for people stuck in unfulfilling City jobs who want to set up their own businesses. I love the whole process of working with other people and exploring how their ideas can be pushed to the next stage, testing the model and checking the market is there for the idea. My ambitions aren’t quite fully formed yet, but they definitely involve working with start up companies, both my own and helping other people.
Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years’ time?
I guess I have already partly answered this in the previous question, but I’m afraid in general I’m not much of a forward planner. I’m usually busy concentrating on what is happening at the moment, trying to make the most of every opportunity that comes my way. I know that I want to stay in the start-up world, but at the same time I am running my family’s farms which is quite a full time job. On top of that, my husband and I got married in July last year, and we are hoping to have a family in the near future, and I’m sure that if that happens it will require us to make a bit more of a plan! Who knows how my thoughts will change when (if) we actually have children, but at the moment I certainly hope to be able to go on working, and to do that I need to make sure my own business at home Farm Glamping is well established enough that I’m able to take some steps back and trust my team with it! I want my kids to have as good a childhood as I did. I grew up at Home Farm, and spent most of my time outside – exploring the woods, “helping” my Dad on the farm, having adventures and generally getting covered in mud. Ideally I will be in a place in 5 to ten years time where my kids will be able to have this type of childhood whilst I go on running the business. Already this summer we have created some family activity trips where families will come to Home Farm Glamping and their children will be able to do den building, insect hunting, learn a bit about the countryside, and parents will have a bit of time to relax and unwind knowing their kids are in a safe environment. This idea has basically sprung from wanting to have a family myself, and listening to my friends who have kids already and who are living in cities but wishing they had a place where their children could do proper old fashioned playing without a screen involved.
What’s the most effective strategy for installing confidence in yourself?
When you set out to start any business on your own, you need to trust your gut instinct, but equally you need to make sure you have a strong supportive network around you. There are so many good things about running your own business, but it is lonely, and it is easy to start doubting yourself and second guessing your decisions. You need to have a clear sense of where you are heading, and what you are hoping to achieve with the business, and then explore all the options and work out which one is the best. You need to be prepared to ask other people’s opinions, but trust your own opinion as the final word – you know your business better than anyone else does. When I’m having difficult days, and doubting whether the decisions I’m making are the right ones, I try to concentrate on what I would want if I were still a lawyer working in an airless office all day. I know I would love to find somewhere I could escape out to, that I could reach quickly after work finishes and that lets me switch off completely and breathe some fresh air. And I talk to my friends and family all the time, testing ideas on them and listening to their contrasting thoughts. So by the time I take a decision I am confident that the idea is a good one, and I am confident that I can make it work.
What advice would you give to anyone launching a similar business?
You need to really like people, and to care deeply that they are enjoying themselves if you want to do anything in the hospitality market. And you need to be prepared to work really really hard, all the hours of the day! And be physically strong because putting up tents is hard work, and making a king size bed in a tent when it’s hot might just be the sweatiest thing it’s possible to do. It makes bikram yoga look a bit chilly! You also need to be very organised and have a lot of attention to detail. But mostly you need to really like people.
What’s in your handbag that you can’t survive without?
Hmm.. it’s less of a handbag and more of a tool belt full of random stuff like string, matches, spare batteries and candles! No, honestly, and I hate admitting this, probably the most important thing in my handbag is my phone. It allows me to run my business from the middle of my meadow which is quite miraculous really.
Finally, happiness is…
Sitting by a campfire with your friends, a glass of red wine, some chilled out music in the background, staring at the flames and putting the world to rights.
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