When Bella Given’s family started finding life in London claustrophobic, their itchy feet took them to the West Country. Having fallen in love with the stunning expanse of beach at Woolacombe in North Devon, Bella, 43, and her husband, Richard, searched for a property nearby that she could transform into a luxury glamping destination.
“We first viewed Longlands on my birthday,” recalls Bella, “and Richard told me ‘I’ll never be able to trump buying you a farmhouse as your present!’”
Ultimately, the vista and 17 acres of countryside and woodland won them over. “It was overgrown but we knew we were buying a view with huge potential plus outbuildings for everything we wanted to do.”
Bella and Richard put an offer in but planning permission proved to be their biggest hurdle. “Because Longlands is located in the North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, planning for camping was extremely difficult and initially they said no.”
Bella discovered Albion Canvas nearby in Wellington, and then presented more detailed plans with pictures of her chosen canvas safari lodges along with proof that no one else could see their glamping location.
“We knew we had a strong economic argument and proposal so we persevered. Being a garden designer, I could visualise the end result in the hillside quite easily. My challenge was to communicate my strong vision to the planners.”
Aside from obtaining planning permission, raising finances presented the next biggest challenge. “We had to wait an unbelievably long time for the bank to approve our loan to fund the first three lodges and house renovation.
“We broke the plan down into stages and last year we added two more lodges, but the house still isn’t complete. We have a hankering for two treehouses in the woodlands one day too,” she dreams.
Bella learnt so much during the process, that Longlands now runs courses on how to build a successful glamping business from scratch.
The Learnings from Longlands course is led by Bella and reveals the secrets and pitfalls to setting up a glamping business. The one-day course runs on 11th May and 12th October. Bella also offers bespoke courses and phone consultations.
Just as the move has been an opportunity for Bella to reconnect to the land, Longlands visitors can switch off, slow down and engage in the natural surroundings.
There are trails to explore along the stream, wildlife to spot and skyscapes to watch. Each beautifully-styled six-person safari tent is a giant holiday adventure playhouse, fully equipped with wood-burning stoves, hot showers, warm duvets, vintage furniture and modern country fabrics.
“I wanted to provide a holiday solution for families with more than two children, plus it’s perfect for groups of adults during term time. Quite a few people bring their grandchildren for a treat.”
Whilst I’m sure the key to Bella’s success is her strong vision and sheer determination, she insists it is her ability to delegate. “I recognise what I can’t do and I know who to call to get it done well so I’m surrounded by a great team.
“My right hand woman, Pam Shephard, has been at Longlands from the start. She’s my operations director and can put her hand to anything, including making soft furnishings for the lodges.”
Now about to start her fourth season at Longlands, Bella has help on changeover day and a bookkeeper too. The children, James, 12, and Emma, 10, get stuck in too. “Emma loves baking and she’s mastered chocolate torte, while James works on the land during school holidays. They are a real help.”
Richard, 45, continues to work in Canary Wharf as a corporate lawyer, but Bella doesn’t miss the hustle and bustle of the city. “Working at Longlands is 24/7 for me. It’s a way of life not a job. We have a wonderful quality of life, taking the kids to the beach every weekend, and there are so many things that give us constant affirmation that we made the right choice to move.”