Hospitality & Tourism

Published: April 3, 2020 | Updated: April 3, 2020

Gates may be shut at popular farm park family attraction but owners pledge: “We’ll be back”

Sandra Palmer-Snellin and Phillip Palmer of Farmer Palmer’s Farm Park.
By Andrew Diprose, editor

They’re two words guaranteed to put a smile on the faces of children across Dorset and beyond.

Farmer Palmer’s.

For more than 20 years the popular family attraction has welcomed hundreds of thousands of children, and adults, through its gates at Organford.

Last year, alone, 140,000 people, including 55,000 annual pass holders, visited the farm park.

This month, April, would normally be the busiest four weeks of the year, on a par with August.

But, of course, the UK is now in lockdown.

And, like other businesses and individuals, life at Farmer’s Palmers has been put on hold.

Sandra Palmer-Snellin, who founded the business with brother Phillip in 1998 – he is the original Farmer Palmer – said: “We knew it was coming.

“It was the Friday, March 20, and I said to Phillip: ‘We’ve going to have to shut aren’t we?’

“Your heart drops into your stomach but you tap into your own resilience at times like this.

“You look after your customers and you look after your team – and that’s what we’re doing.”

Farmer Palmer’s employs 80 staff.

Most are part-time with a core team of 15 full-time.

All qualifying staff have been furloughed under the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme.

The business is also investigating, or already accessed, other available help and grants, ranging from VAT deferrals to the business rate holiday.

Social media activity has been stepped up resulting in a 30 per cent increase in metrics.

Individual messages have been sent to children who had birthday parties booked at the attraction in March, April and May.

The video messages, featuring Sandra, Phillip and even the animals, have proved so popular that the feature has been extended to other children who cannot celebrate with their friends due to being confined to home.

Farmer Palmer’s Content Management System, containing the details of 26,000 people, is also being used for targeted newsletters and communications.

“We’re good at connecting and listening and that’s more important than ever at this time,” said Sandra, 55.

The messages from customers and, especially, children have been touching.

“We’ve been genuinely humbled. They’ve been lovely and it brings it home to us what a big part of people’s lives we’ve become.”

The current crisis is not the first to hit Farmer Palmer’s.

Since opening the 20-acre park Sandra and Phillip have had to contend with the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth, which forced a month-long closure, and then the fall-out from avian bird flu.

But this is the most serious.

Sandra said: “Last April we had nearly 18,000 people through the doors.

“It accounted for twelve and a half per cent of our annual footfall and 14 per cent of our turnover for the whole year.

“Our business model is strong and we’ll survive.

“The issue when we re-open is how to cope with the demand.

“In the meantime, we have lots to plan and look forward to including our new attraction, The World of Dinosaur Roar!

“These are uncertain times but we’ll be back.”