Stuart Hardy is a Director of Hardy's Farm Group which has businesses in the farming and tourism sector including several holiday parks, an animal farm, and other leisure ventures. The family business has been involved in tourism since the 1950s and is now actively investing and developing new ventures and improving the quality of the tourism offer. Here, Stuart reflects on a difficult year but shares his optimism for the future.

“It’s incredible to think that this time last year we were in the middle of our first national lockdown, and along with the rest of the world were facing a moment that will not only go down in global history but also impact our way of life and the decisions we make as human beings for years to come,” says Stuart.

“In our case, as a family-owned business already dealing with the hurdles of operating in a seasonal environment, to be unable to open our doors to our customers was a terrifying situation to be in.”

Stuart's family has farmed this part of the east coast from Skegness to Mablethorpe for over 50 years. Alongside many other traditional farms, the business diversified into an animal farm visitor attraction and holiday parks during the 1980s. Today they are in the midst of expanding yet again. “Six years of hard work and resources have already gone into our latest development,” says Stuart. "This is a brand new holiday park complex and commercial retail area offering investment opportunities to developers, spanning approximately 180 acres. We have had many setbacks even before Covid, with Brexit being a notable event that hit investor enthusiasm hard, along with a lot of red tape.  But we are back on track.”

The new holiday park is dedicated to providing high-quality holidays with a sustainable tourism focus - the first of its kind in the area. Hardy's is also instrumental in making improvements to the area that will not only benefit local residents and holiday makers, but also play a part in attracting a new market of active, pursuit-driven visitors through investment with their innovative, connected cycle route.

Hardy's applied to the Towns Fund with its multi-user trail to link Chapel St Leonard’s and Ingoldmells via a circular route that will provide pedestrians, disabled users and cyclists with a connecting route between two neighbouring villages, where currently no safe passage exists. They were thrilled to hear that they had been successful in receiving match funding as part of the successful Skegness Towns Fund Bid. Work will begin imminently on this project, bringing wider community, visitor and economic benefits.

"As we now begin to emerge from an unprecedented year, we are seeing renewed interest in UK holidays and visitors are happy to travel a little bit further for that much needed break away from home. If we are to capitalise on this and show a new audience what our coastline has to offer, we must act swiftly and with the full support of our Government and its agencies,” says Stuart.

“Long-term obstacles of extending the season, updating infrastructure and keeping VAT rates for tourism in line with our European competitors need to be revisited with a solutions-orientated focus. We have now seen what can be achieved when our country pulls together. We cannot continue to wait for change here on the coast - we as businesses have to be drivers of it.”

The key to unlocking coastal tourism is to reinvigorate the long-term tourism offer which will extend the season by including more events and activities and embracing a greener, more sustainable coast and new activities, with more emphasis on walking, cycling, water sports and other outdoor leisure activities.

Actions the coast is already taking towards this include improved cycling and walking infrastructure linked to a greener environment. This is being achieved using public-sector support focused on Greater Lincolnshire LEP Recovery Plans, but it will also include much needed private-sector investment such as the Hardy's proposals for all weather multi-user trails and linking to the network of all the coastal green assets by filling missing links, including the work of the National Trust at Sandilands, to create a nature reserve as part of the Coastal Country Park.

The wider Skegness Town Deal scheme also includes new all-year-round attractions and upgraded colonnades; the Foreshore development and National Trust visitor centre at Sandilands; the Leisure and Learning Centre in Mablethorpe, with further development of the leisure offer at the Embassy and building on existing assets such as the North Sea Observatory; and development of a Lincolnshire ARC (Active Recreation Coastal) programme which will link to GEAR Up and the flagship capital projects, with a focus on increasing sports, cultural and arts events on the coast to extend the season, increasing support for outdoor recreation and linking this to existing activities and programmes.

Click here to find out more about the six Greater Lincolnshire successful Town Deal schemes.

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