Invest – Business Proposition
1.0 Stockwood Business Park
Stockwood Business Park is co-located with Rush Farm approximately 15 miles from Worcester in the west, Redditch in the north and Stratford upon Avon in the east. It is well served by the nearby M5 and A422. It comprises a mix of office and light industrial units remodelled from original farm buildings and stables.
Elysia purchased the Farm and Park in 2005.
Stockwood Business Park is an ethically and sustainably-run rural business. It is fully let and generates rental income of £217,000 p.a. Elysia occupies 40% of the space and 19 commercial tenants occupy the remaining 60%. The tenants are mainly small and micro-sized businesses. Some, like Elysia, have a UK and overseas market for their trading, the majority are locally or regionally focused. In this respect the Business Park makes a significant contribution to the local, rural economy, providing local employment and having a combined estimated turnover of around £12m p.a.
Aerial photo showing Stockwood Business Park (bordered in red).
Property management, including the marketing and the collection of rents, is handled by Halls Commercial of Worcester. The Park enjoys strong tenant retention, with 18 of 19 tenants fully expected to renew over the next 5 years, and good tenant payment profiles with tenants showing only 3% arrears (Elysia 0%). The average lease length is 3 years, with recent renewals (summer 2012) being for 5 years.
There is reasonable potential for rental growth, the current average rent being £7.65/ft2 with a target rate £10/ft2 (office). 2012 rent increases achieved this target level.
1.2 Social Impacts
A Social Impacts Survey was carried out in March-April 2013 by Resonance to understand the character and direction of travel of tenant businesses including the Farm.
The tenants represent a spectrum of activities. Some, but not all, are branded as ethical, organic or natural.
All tenants reported the landlord’s environmental policies and practices as a highly welcome intervention in their own operations. Most tenants identified strong links between positive social practice and good business sense, some to the point of its being core to their branding. Many businesses were creating positive impacts without realising it. This reinforced their unanimous message that new initiatives to boost sustainability would be highly welcomed.
It is this strong willingness to engage in future ‘impacts development’ that makes clear the role and mission of Stockwood CBS in this area: To set and maintain a positive direction of travel, optimising this landlord’s / Farm’s unique influence with tenant businesses, to foster greater social impacts amongst all.
A key recommendation of the Social Impacts Survey was to identify immediately 5-10 initiatives from a Menu of options. Taking a collective view whilst supporting individual tenants, these range from a Common Pot (a donor advisory fund raised from rental surpluses to match fund tenant sustainability initiatives), to Park Awards celebrations for tenants who have made changes, to systematic engagement with Schools, a structured Volunteering and Work Experience service, and to underpin this with a regular Tenant ThinkTank that includes external advice, monitoring and publicity of its activities. In effect, this ‘social change’ becomes the Park’s new brand.
2.0 Rush Farm
Rush Farm (as Stockwood Farm and Stud) was the inspiration for the world-famous radio series The Archers, whose first scripts were written in the nearby village pub.
Today, Rush Farm has a huge impact on the business park by demonstrating sustainability leadership in practice. With biodynamic and High Level Stewardship status, its strictly enforced policies cover the provision of waste and resource management, water stewardship and sales of fresh produce to tenants. These have influenced tenants to volunteer on the farm, grow their own vegetables and adhere to the environmental standards it requires of them. Throughout, it has done so whilst creating a warm and healthy relationship with tenants, who cite the Farm setting and ethos as being a prime attractor for them and their customers.
The working farm itself wraps around the business park and extends over 150 acres. It was purchased along with the business park in 2005 and is run by Rush Farm as a biodynamic and organically certified mixed livestock and arable system, with associated horticulture and woodland activities.
While only some 25 acres of the farm is classified as permanent pasture, working to a nine year rotation pattern, all but 20 acres or so of the rest is a rich clover, herb and grass mix. This provides sufficient grass for livestock to graze on. It is also cut to make hay or haylage, which is then fed to the livestock during the winter. Animals are all raised to Demeter biodynamic and Soil Association organic standards which guarantees high standards of care. There is a breeding flock of around 200 Lleyn sheep, and 30 pure bred Traditional Hereford Cattle, with both breeds renowned for producing tender, rich-tasting meats. Cereal crops are grown as part of the rotation to provide straw bedding for the cattle during the winter, with grain also being sold to generate income.
The produce is largely sold locally, either directly or in to local markets.
Adrian and Anne Parsons, the farmers, have been able to continue the pioneering work of Anne’s father, David Clement, who was one of the first biodynamic farmers in Britain. The largely heavy clay soils have been much improved and proactive measures taken to encourage more wildlife. Rush Farm now carries kite marks and citations for best practice from English Nature, the Soil Association and the ‘Red Tractor’ scheme. The setting is classified as a ‘site of interest’ by Worcester Wildlife Trust and frequently studied, including recently by the RSPB, all of which is pertinent to the site’s worth.
Biodynamics is based around respecting the basic principles at work in nature. It is a complete system in which all the different components of the farm are seen as parts of a greater whole. With the farmer at the centre, the farm animals, plants and micro-biology radiating out to form a self-sustaining, self-contained, balanced and harmonious environment.
Soil fertility is optimised by introducing special manure and herb-based preparations to both the fields and compost to enhance and stimulate microbiological life. These have been shown to significantly improve the health and wellbeing of soil, plants and animals, as well as enhancing the vitality, flavour and keeping qualities of the produce for the benefit of the consumer. With the soil locking up 25% more carbon than conventional farming methods, biodynamic organic farming is sustainable for the planet as well as the farmer, customers and bio-environment of the farm.
The result is a rich and diverse farm built on sound organic principles which is embedded and sensitised to its surroundings and produces food with an individual quality and taste.
3. Key stakeholders
Elysia – anchor tenant & investor
Elysia was founded in 1994 and is a family partnership comprising Sebastian, Sophie and Tabitha Parsons. Elysia has owned and run Stockwood Business Park and Rush Farm since 2005. The Partnership has various business brands including Elysia Natural Skin Care and Liv (organic and fair trade clothing and home-ware). It sells goods produced from ingredients sourced from biodynamic farmers around the world, supplying retail outlets, health and beauty salons and a thriving mail order sector. It has seen dramatic growth in recent years with many departments expanding, and increasing the business space it rents on the Business Park. Elysia has agreed to invest £300,000 as an interest-free loan into Stockwood CBS.
BDLT – anchor investor
The Biodynamic Land Trust has offered Stockwood CBS a £150,000 investment to help secure Rush Farm and will act as a ‘custodian trustee’ to ensure continuity of charitable purpose. As ‘custodian trustee’ BDLT have the permanent right to appointment one person to the board of Stockwood CBS and have veto powers on any constitutional change. BDLT’s purpose is to secure land into trust for biodynamic farming, to provide affordable access to family farmers for countryside conservation, education and community-connected farming. The Biodynamic Land Trust Ltd is constituted as a charitable Community Benefit Society (IPS), registered with the FCA and also has exempt charity status (no XT33649).