Nina and Phil’s story: Big love for a smallholding

16 September 2016

Frustrated by the ethos and stresses of many modern businesses, Nina and Phil wanted to do things differently. Their dream of running a sustainable, low impact smallholding began in 2007. After viewing several parcels of land, the couple identified an inspiring fifteen-acre plot in Kildwick, high above the town of Silsden in West Yorkshire.

Approaching high street lenders just didn’t feel right as Nina and Phil wanted the backing of an organisation that truly understood their guiding principles: “We looked at a few lenders, but we wanted to work with someone who was environmentally aware and didn’t simply focus on the commercials,” she explains. “The ethics felt wrong for what we wanted to do.”

On the recommendation of Nina’s sister who has an Ecology Building Society mortgage for her eco-build home, Nina and Phil approached Ecology for a loan. “My sister said they’re really good and really easy to work with,” Nina explains. Ecology bases lending decisions on the environmental and social impact of projects and focuses on supporting sustainable projects and communities.

Fast-forward a few years and Crowkeld rare breed smallholding is now turning a tidy profit. Phil and Nina, supported by Ecology, have erected a large barn and planted half a mile of hedgerows, three orchards and more than 4,000 native trees. They rent out canal boat moorings on a stretch of the Leeds to Liverpool canal that runs through the valley, rear ‘Large Black’ breed pigs and a large flock of Hebridean sheep and re-home many of the animal world’s waifs and strays, including Guinness the dog and two Kunekune pigs named Sissy and Aida.

“Ecology totally understood what we wanted to do,” says Nina. “I actually like going in to see them. It’s great to see that people practice what they preach – with the office and the structures there.” Phil adds: “We looked at Ecology because of its ethical nature. Plus it was right on the doorstep – right where the land is”.

In the coming years, Nina and Phil plan to branch out into running courses on animal husbandry and more generally on running a smallholding. In the meantime, Nina has this to offer: “You need to be fit and have a really good business plan to do something like this. Work out what you can actually afford to do, don’t overstretch yourself and allow enough time to do it. We had a five-year plan and it’s taken us about nine years to get here.

“It’s only in the last 12 months that it’s felt like it’s ours – before, it felt too good to be true,” Nina adds. “Now we’re up for a national farming award, so we must be doing something right.”