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Northumberland farmer champions energy efficiency to transform business

A recent YouGov survey commissioned by ScottishPower has found that only one in ten businesses have reduced their energy consumption in the past year, and that 60 per cent of small business owners don’t regard energy efficiency as a priority, potentially missing out on vital savings.

As part of an initiative to encourage businesses to become more energy efficient, the energy provider is working with the Carbon Trust to offer businesses advice on reducing energy consumption to become more efficient and save money. One rural business championing energy efficiency is Williamston Barns, a holiday letting business run by Neville and Viv Gill in Slaggyford, Northumberland. The farmstead has been in the family for almost 300 years, and after making the decision to diversify the business in response to the fall in market prices, the couple transformed historic barn buildings into modern luxury holiday lets.

Whilst maintaining the building’s character, the couple recognised the renovations were an opportunity to invest in energy efficient technology to help save money in the long term. Neville said: “The farm itself was not big enough to make a living out of sheep farming, so the decision was taken to diversify so that the farm was able to survive in the long term.

“We wanted to build our business with not only our customers, but also with the environment in mind. It was important for us to be innovative as a new business and energy efficiency was at the forefront of our business plan. Many people think investing in energy saving materials and processes is very expensive and hard work, but the reality is that many measures are easy to adopt and the initial spend pays off.”

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The Williamston Estate is comprised of two farmhouses and the Barn & the Cowshed holiday rentals, all of which are powered and heated using renewable energy.

“We installed a biomass boiler which generates 140,000kw each year and a 6kw wind turbine generating about 10,000kw a year on site to heat and power the homes, as well as the entire farm. Before investing, I made sure I was fully aware of the payback times for each of these energy efficient technologies. It’s very much a priority for us to be sustainable in everything we do, and this has really worked for us.

“To heat four houses on oil or other conventional forms of heating would have seriously drained our economic resource; obviously we still needed electricity to control and power our premises, which is why the supplier and cost of electricity still needs to be efficient. Thankfully we have a great relationship with our energy provider, ScottishPower, and its small business team is always easily contactable when we have a question or issue. Energy companies are often difficult to differentiate between, but great customer service is really important to me.

“Despite energy efficiency not necessarily being at the forefront of our guests’ minds when they come here to relax, we’re proud to be investing in new technology and energy saving measures to get the most from our business. From our experience at Williamston Barns, in order to thrive as a small business or start-up, it’s vital to embrace new forms of power generation including wind and biomass as options which will allow you to reduce your carbon footprint and help save you money. As well as generating our own electricity we have also installed an electric car point for our guest to recharge their vehicles.”

Neville and Viv’s business has gone from strength to strength since welcoming visitors to the Northumberland fells in 2015. Occupancy has risen from 61 per cent to 75 per cent in its second year, highlighting Williamston Barns’ popularity for long or short break holidays.

Mark Bowen, UK marketing director at ScottishPower, said: “The efforts that Neville and Viv have gone to, in terms of becoming energy efficient, provides a fantastic example for other businesses to follow. Their investment and commitment to being energy efficient makes great business sense and contributes to improving their bottom line in the long term.

“This is a business that stands out to customers in terms of providing beautiful holiday lets in a stunning location, but they also have an added edge by being committed to clean energy and the environment.”