This week Essex’s original farm park celebrates 35 years in business sharing the food and farming story. Barleylands, near Billericay, first opened to the public with a small farm museum in 1984 and has grown to encompass an extensive farm park, award-winning education programme and artisan retail village welcoming over 800,000 visitors and 17,000 school children through its gates every year.
The business, owned by the Philpot family, has expanded over the years to include venue and showground hire, horse livery and camping, while retaining its core values of bridging the gap between farming and the public. One of the sons in the family, Chris Philpot, said:
“We are so proud to have been sharing the story of agriculture and food production with school children and families for so many years. With urbanisation and the rise of the supermarkets, children are increasingly removed from farming and where their food comes from. At Barleylands we can give them an interactive connection with this through the farm animals, cooking and the history of farming through the ages. The farm park started when I was the same age as many of our visitors. My father opened to the public with a few pieces of vintage machinery from the farm and I have seen how it has developed and thrived. None of it would have been possible without the loyal staff who have dedicated themselves to delivering a great experience to those who visit us.”
The Farm Park, which is constantly evolving with new recreational and educational additions, is home to a variety of farm animals as well as a reptile centre and birds of prey. The vintage machinery formed the basis of what is now the Discovery Centre telling the story of farming through the ages through visual educational displays, and there is a wildlife walk with beehives as well as outdoor and indoor play areas.
At its heart remains education, which has consolidated year on year. The education team works with 17,000 school children, and in 2018/19, 70 new schools, offering fully immersive and memorable learning experiences. Two new classrooms have recently been completed. Head of Education, Karen Watson, said:
“We tailor-make days to support different subjects in the curriculum from maths to history, literacy and science up to Key Stage 3. We love to be creative and enjoy the challenge of bringing food and farming into any topic, which has brought schools back year after year. The growth of education is full credit to the team who make it such an immersive and interesting learning experience for children of different ages.”
The Village, the retail element initiated by Chris Philpot, is an integrated network of 40 small businesses including independent retailers, creative makers, office space and function rooms for hire. Well-known jam maker, Tiptree, has a café and restaurant on-site, and the Magic Mushroom restaurant offers a fine dining experience. Many businesses have thrived here, including start-up Ashes Into Glass which transforms cremation ashes into glass jewellery and paperweights, and retails all over the world.
Barleylands plays host to a variety of different events throughout the year from toddler fireworks to food and music festivals.