When John and Barbara Dunning were informed that a freeway can be built through their farm in a distant a part of the U.K., they saw a possibility.
They built a rest stop with a difference.
The freeway (known within the U.K. as a motorway) was to chop through the Dunnings’ land within the region of Cumbria, a county known for its Lake District National Park, a striking mountainous landscape.
And the Dunnings did not have much alternative within the matter since the U.K. government issued them with a compulsory purchase order, meaning that they had to sell their land for the road to be constructed.
It was the late Nineteen Sixties and the Dunnings, then of their thirties, decided to place up a fight. They won their bid to lease back the land from the federal government and construct and run a rest area — Tebay Services — that might be the primary family-run motorway service stop within the U.K., and one which focused on providing local produce.
“My dad had done loads of research because every part was at stake, they usually needed to get it right,” the Dunnings’ daughter Sarah Dunning said of Tebay’s opening, chatting with CNBC by video call. “They couldn’t afford for it to not work,” she said.
The remainder stop, on the northbound carriageway of the M6 motorway, began life in 1972 as a spot for drivers to refuel their vehicles and themselves, serving homestyle food in a 30-seat cafe alongside a small craft shop selling local goods. The Dunnings went into business with family bakery Birketts, a partnership that lasted greater than 30 years.
Now, Tebay also has a rest area on the southbound carriageway, in addition to a hotel and caravan park, and two shops that sell lamb and beef reared on the family’s farmland. It’s a part of the Westmorland Family, a gaggle run by Sarah Dunning, its chair, which operates two further rest areas — within the counties of Gloucestershire and Lanarkshire — in addition to a community center with a cinema and cafe in Rheged, also within the Lake District.
The business employs around 1,200 people, has won quite a few food awards and made revenue of £127 million ($162 million) in 2022, per its most up-to-date annual report. In April 2022, King Charles III (then the Prince of Wales) visited Tebay Services farm shop to commemorate its 50th anniversary.
Most motorway rest areas within the U.K. are populated by big-name outlets similar to Burger King, Krispy Kreme and occasional chain Costa and are run by operators like Welcome Break or Moto, but Tebay and the corporate’s other locations take a novel approach, Sarah Dunning said.
“We’re a really different model to other motorway service areas. Where they partner with franchisors … popular brands that I suppose cover all customer needs, we haven’t any brands in our business,” she told CNBC.
“We have now a farm shop, and a kitchen … and we make our own food, kind of easy farmhouse food. And in our farm shops we see ourselves as a platform really, for small food producers,” she said.
Sarah Dunning became CEO of Westmorland Family in 2005, joining after roles at investment company Rothschild and as a headhunter within the City of London. The Birketts retired and sold their shares within the business back to the family and Sarah Dunning’s sister Jane Lane took over the management of the Dunning’s farm.
Sarah Dunning will speak on the Oxford Farming Conference, held from Jan. 3 to five, 2024. “Farming is facing huge changes … there’s significant energy behind regenerative farming, but actually that probably is not going to be everybody’s model going forward,” she told CNBC.
A brand new subsidy program has meant that some farmers in England have received lower payments than they did before Brexit, and three Environmental Land Management projects will provide incentives to farmers to regenerate land.
“Everybody’s attempting to navigate the changes within the subsidies and discover a way that allows them to farm in the way in which they wish to farm, but additionally profitably,” Sarah Dunning said.
She is not any stranger to challenges, having managed her family’s business through the global financial crisis of 2008 because the firm was raising money to construct a rest area next to the M5 motorway within the southern county of Gloucestershire. “We couldn’t afford for it to go improper … you undergo these periods sometimes as a business and it is your job to try to navigate through,” Sarah Dunning said.
Gloucester Services opened in 2014, selling food from greater than 130 producers inside 30 miles of the remainder area and giving around £500,000 per yr to local charities. In August, it was the topic of a six-part TV documentary show.
Sarah Dunning described the Covid-19 pandemic as having a “huge” impact on travel and hospitality firms, though the business has now exceeded its pre-pandemic turnover.
Her next challenge? The rise of electrical vehicles (EVs), which require charging points and access to enough electricity capability. “Like all transformations, there is a high degree of uncertainty around it, each when it comes to how briskly it’ll go but additionally how the technology will develop,” Sarah Dunning said.
“Probably greater than ever, electric vehicles will wish to stop in locations which can be pleasing to stop at, because you might have to stop a bit of bit longer … we hope that we are able to find ourselves in a robust position, because people like stopping with us,” she said.