Business management

Family Business Week: Brickhouse Farm Holiday Cottages

Vicki Murray shares her insight on ways to support future family business leaders.

Building a rural business with accessibility at its heart

Vicki Murray is general manager at Brickhouse Farm Holiday Cottages, which her parents Sue and Ian Rainford were inspired to build in 2012 after their youngest daughter was involved in a life-changing road traffic accident. On Christmas Day 2012, they started to build cottages on Brickhouse Farm, on a site which was previously used to keep chickens. Then, after 6 intense months of extremely hard labour they opened Brickhouse Farm Cottages. They wanted the cottages to look ‘home from home’,  rather than clinical, and hope those visiting agree they have accomplished this.

Brickhouse Farm Cottages celebrated their 10th anniversary in July 2023. Throughout this decade they have built 12 cottages with disabled access and facilities including a hydrotherapy pool, sensory room, and an on-site restaurant to provide accessible ‘home from home’ holiday accommodation for families, friends, and carers.

Here, Vicki answers our questions on how her family business finds a balance between managing sustainable growth and keeping a happy family.

How do you protect family values and innovate for the future?

In the months after the accident, we received tremendous support from our local community in rural Lancashire and knew we wanted to give something back. Family values are essential in the daily running of the business. 

This is reflected in the way the business is structured. There are often multiple generations of the same family working here, and we offer a clear learning path for employees, some of whom joined as teenagers for their first job. They’re encouraged to try different roles, develop new skills, and take on senior positions. 

This idea of community can be seen in the way everyone feels part of the same team. Our former chef reprises his role as Father Christmas each year. Members of the team who leave us to go to university often return during the holidays. Our staff are an extension of the family.

How do you identify next generation talent and build skills?

Succession planning is an essential part of any family business and Brickhouse is structured with succession in mind. Mum and dad wanted us to understand what it means to lead the business, so my husband Dan and I have taken on a multitude of roles, from payroll to occasionally wrangling ducks out of the restaurant! The business sits on family land and is growing alongside our young family, who are often to be seen on changeover days or feeding the farm animals.

And then we have generations of staff growing up with our business, some of whom joined at the age of 16 and do an apprenticeship or develop their skills in multiple parts of our business. 

Good leadership is about not overlooking the small things.

Vicki Murray
General Manager, Brickhouse Farm Holiday Cottages

What business opportunities are you excited by?

We’re hoping to diversify and get back to the roots of this business in terms of educating and inspiring guests from urban areas who maybe don’t get the opportunity to see animals up close or have a sensory walk. Another big opportunity is developing and opening new sites so we can provide more accessible accommodation in more places. 

What are the challenges for your family business?

The pandemic showed everyone how difficult it can be to run a business in extreme circumstances and knowing how to adapt or pivot. The challenge today is how we continue to serve our customers and meet their complex needs. Whether it’s investing in equipment such as ceiling track hoists or creating more safe spaces for sensory experiences, we listen to our customers and their experiences.

What leadership tips can you share?

We ensure our values as a family unit are reflected in the business. We focus on inclusion and education so everyone feels part of the same team. We offer continuous learning; we have counselling for any of our staff who feel overwhelmed; we ensure our staff are trained to understand our customers. Some have learned Makaton, for example a communication tool with speech, signs, and symbols to enable people with disabilities or learning disabilities to communicate. It’s also about not overlooking the smaller things. We make sure that families who work within the business can take the same days off to spend time together or manage childcare.

How are you managing sustainability for the future?

We are in such a beautiful rural landscape; sustainability is a massive part of the business – to ensure that it’s here for the next generation. We have invested in ground source and air source heat pumps and have a wind turbine on site as well. Our Lakeside restaurant focuses on locally sourced produce and homegrown vegetables. A local scout group recently planted almost 500 trees and our sensory walk encourages guests to identify local wildlife and plants to build awareness of our local ecosystem. 

What have you learned about managing finance?

My mum’s experience as a bookkeeper taught me about finding the time to sit down and assess everything with a level head. Having the systems and processes in place to ensure there’s an easy way to assess financials when it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day running of the business. That’s essential for business continuity.


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