From Farming to Funerals and a Modern Round Barrow…

  • Published on 9th December 2019
  • Published in Latest News


Nestled in the corner of a field on the borders of Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire, a large mound has appeared!

As farmers, Richard and Sarah recognised the need to diversify their farm to secure its viability for future generations. Richard, a farmer all his life, and Sarah, from a farming family but trained as a nurse, looked at several alternatives such as growing Goji berries, tea and truffles before visiting friends in Cambridgeshire who had built a Barrow. It was that amazing aura and complete wow that convinced them it was the diversification project they were looking for. Richard said ‘It was a big decision, not only to move away from the traditional farming I was used to, but to start a business which wasn’t already tried and tested as such.’

Soon after this Richard and Sarah attended a crematorium funeral of a farmer: nothing wrong with it, but it would have suited him to have been out in the countryside with no time pressures, with all his family and friends around him. By this time, they had realised that whilst the income from the Barrow made it a worthwhile project, it would be the rural funeral venue that was the icing on the cake so to speak!

Their first task was ‘market research’. Sarah said “We talked to everyone, people who we thought would like the idea, such as celebrants and the local community, but also people who may not be so keen, such as the local clergy and funeral directors. How wrong we could be. Everyone, without exception, understood what we were trying to achieve.”

The farmers also did plenty of ‘number crunching’. They established, given the local population, the average mortality rate and percentage of people now choosing cremation due to costs and lack of burial space, that about 41,000 sets of ashes would be requiring storage annually. 0.004% of the annual ashes within a 40 mile radius of the farm will fully occupy the Barrow. Richard commented “With these figures we were convinced the Barrow was a good business venture.”

The next and biggest hurdle faced by Richard and Sarah was obtaining planning permission. They were given conflicting advice regarding pre-planning and planning applications, and would probably make different choices with the benefit of hindsight. The planning process took 8 months, but got them exactly what they wanted.

Meanwhile, having submitted an expression of interest form (eight pages long) for a grant from the RDPE Growth Programme, Richard and Sarah were then invited to put in a full application. With free support from the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, they submitted a 36-page application.

Another long process, which contained not always straightforward questions requiring very carefully worded answers, accompanied by quotes in triplicate for each purchase. Finally a telephone call was received late on a Friday afternoon advising that the criteria had not been met for the grant, followed by a letter the following Tuesday saying the grant offer had been made! This grant made a massive difference to the business, contributing a huge 40% to the build costs.

At last Richard and Sarah came to the easy part, the 4.5 month build of the Barrow, and then the hard work started: marketing.

They decided not to invite visitors to the Barrow until the build was completed, a decision they stand by, as they were concerned some people wouldn’t be able to see past the building site to get that overwhelming WOW factor everyone appreciates now that the building is completed.

Richard and Sarah have naturally fallen into their roles within the business, Richard doing a huge amount of work on social media, Sarah writing press releases, blogs and generally doing verbal and face to face PR, whilst roles at the weekly open afternoon are shared between them.

Richard said “Prior to starting the business neither of us were involved in social media. It was a huge learning curve, but it’s been so worthwhile. As soon as a post is placed on Facebook, our website hits literally treble, and on a couple of occasions, they’ve gone through the roof.”

The Barrow is the most amazing place, tranquil and peaceful, an air of calmness, and a shiver down your spine that comes over you when you enter. It’s not a gloomy or sad place, it’s spiritual, and overwhelming. It has to be seen to be believed. Niches, nestled into the handcrafted stonework can hold up to 5 sets of ashes, where families can all be together. Each niche is then sealed by a cover which is designed and, in most cases, locally sourced from a variety of materials in such a way that commemorates the life lost.

Mid-England Barrow has several unique aspects: that ashes can be visited, knowing that your loved one is right there in their specially chosen niche, not scattered somewhere around. In addition, a funeral, ceremony or celebration of life can be held on our working farm, surrounded by English countryside, flora and fauna in abundance.

At Mid-England Barrow people really can have the send off that suits them, with as much of any religion as they wish, either in the open air or using our heated safari tent. Why not celebrate a life with a picnic in the meadow, a hog roast, or a hearty full English breakfast!

There are no time constraints, and no-one to hurry you along, a ceremony here can take as long as you wish in whatever form you want it to.

Mid-England Barrow has regular open days, which are publicised on the website, the next being on Saturday 28 December 2019, 2-4pm. Visits can be made at other times by arrangement.

Written by Sarah Smart, Mid-England Barrow

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