• Amanda C Vesty

Retail Units at Glebe Farm Astbury and Why We and Other Small Businesses Left




Since leaving Glebe Farm we have had numerous people ask us why. Here I explain why we left and what the issues are with Glebe Farm Astbury retail units.

I opened jack In The Green in 2013. The shop was open every single day during the holidays and from Thursday to Sunday in term times. It soon became apparent that all was not well at the farm. There were numerous personality clashes between the farm and many of their tenants. That is perhaps to be expected in a small venue but a smile costs nothing and courtesy is to be expected. Instead tenants were treated as an inconvenience and a nuisance.

In the time we were there many businesses left Glebe Farm. The list includes Tractor Ted and Friends, Owlet Creations, Retrospective Too, SomeTin Different, The Flower Barn, Bears In The Barn, Accacia Gifts, The Curtain Emporium, Shambala and Sweet Scent Gift Shop. These are just the ones I know about, there may be more.

Information on their website about my business was incorrect and they refused to change the entry. Other businesses run by family friends were given preferential treatment receiving many more promotions on their Facebook Page for example. I was told that no two shops could stock the same items. Yet in the run up to Christmas another shop run by friends of theirs was promoted on the Glebe Farm Facebook page featuring items that my shop specialised in. Jack In The Green was not promoted. We ran a number of free events such as a dragon festival with lots of free activities to take part in at the farm and none of these were promoted at any time, strange considering the number of visitors we drew to the farm

Management would laugh and say that anyone who complained about facilities or needed a job doing would be put "at the back of the queue". It was a very difficult situation to be in.

One such example was the lack of a ramp leading up to our shop. Numerous people tripped on the step. One lady fell backwards and hit her head on the ground. As this was part of the fabric of the building there was nothing I could do about it. Her friend came in a couple of months later to say she had written to complain to the farm. They never bothered to respond to her. She said she was never coming back. Glebe Farm cost the small businesses many customers.

During the time we were there we saw visitor numbers to the farm drop. One shop keeper left $7000 in debt after the failure of her business there. When renting retail units in a closed environment such as this there is a responsibility to provide attendant services to help support the businesses there. These were not forthcoming.

At the Glebe Farm Halloween Spooktacular my shop was once again left in the dark in the back courtyard. I had to provide my own lighting and decorations in the yard. The farm only decorated around their shop and cafe. The night of the event I had many customers speak to me about how they felt they had been over charged for tickets. Many were not happy with the offering in the scare barn.

Customer complaints were not unusual. That summer many had complained at the cost of buying an ice cream. The prices were put up just before the school summer holidays and it left many feeling taken advantage of.

Complaints about the state of the animals in the farms' care were frequent. In fact the farm had been given two rare breed pigs as a gift. These were fattened up and sent for slaughter, the owner understandably was very upset. In a normal farm of course animals are raised to provide meat but on an animal petting farm this is not something people expect to happen and especially not when they regard the place as a sanctuary to send rare breed animals to.

People are not stupid and this was evident in falling numbers of visitors to the farm. I was lucky that my shop had many loyal customers who came anyway, making a beeline for my shop and ignoring the rest of the farm. It got embarrassing having customers coming on a regular basis complaining about the state of the coffee shop, the over pricing, the state of the animals and more.

In the run up to Christmas 2017 the shop keepers in the back courtyard where my shop was situated asked the farm what decorations and lighting would be provided. They were told none would be forthcoming. During my time there the rent on my retail unit doubed from two hundred pounds to four hundred pounds. What a shame the farm were not willing to offer services commensurate with the very high prices they were charging. The rent was more per square foot than on the high street in Congleton town center.

In October of 2016 I was ill and I had someone cover the shop for us. When I came and entered the storeroom I discovered rats had chewed their way in, creating a big hole and damaging a lot of stock. I emailed Glebe Farm and sent a text message. I received no response. I then saw a member of the farm team in one of the barns. I approached him and asked if he had received my messages to which he said "Yes..." I was surprised as he offered no further explanation. So I said well I was wondering what we can do about it. I chose my words carefully as the farm are known for being very difficult t deal with. (That Christmas, for example, they reduced one of the hairdressers to tears in public by the Christmas outside the farm shop, this was seen by a number of witnesses.)

The man I spoke to in the barn where the caravans are stored then said "You lot do nothing but moan". This was incorrect in my case as knowing their reputation and having dealt with them face to face I had always been very careful not to go to them with problems if I could help it. He then said "We are a farm what do you expect!". I said "Well I was hoping we could work together to fix the hole". He responded saying there was "no point". At this point he launched into a verbal offensive against me. I found him intimidating. He was clearly very cross and started on a personal verbal attack saying I pissed everyone off at the farm.

Having always made every effort to be friendly and helpful to everyone this was news to me. In fact the Halloween Spooktacular was my idea. The man turned round and called me a liar stating it was reporter from the Independent newpapers' idea. He came up with the idea of a scare barn after I suggested having some kind of spooky grotto. The Halloween event was just one of a number of ideas I had submitted to the farm via email when I moved in. The Glebe Farm family fun day was another idea of mine in which I had suggested pig racing as an example. I was astonished to be called a liar by the very man who had previously thanked me for coming up with the idea of an event for Halloween. I remember it well as after the first Spooktacular we were cleaning up the back courtyard brushing up straw that had come out of the scare barn and he said it was the most popular event they had ever run. How very sad that Glebe Farm should take this attitude.

My shop was a big attraction at the farm and I opened every single day in the holidays providing craft activities to many happy children and adults. I was stunned by the hostility. Having worked in prison and with young people with severe emotional and behavioural difficulties I am trained in diffusing and not aggravating hostile situations. I did not respond in kind and I did my best to communicate in a reasonable manner. I walked away from what appeared to me to be a volatile situation.

My grandfather was a farmer, I am well aware of the issues of rats on farms. I am also well aware of methods to control them. Given that Glebe Farm were renting retail units they had a responsibility to ensue they kept the local rat population under control and out of public areas. They did not have an effective strategy in place to deal with rats as became evident.

The rats broke into my shop and a number of other places. The rat catcher told me that the rats had come into the big old barn in the corner of the yard where my shop was. He described it as a "Rats' playground". There the rats had settled in amongst the Halloween display left in situ all year round and bred in peace to great numbers. Despite this the farm opened their Scare Barn knowing that the place had been infested with rats. Rats are good climbers they would have climbed all over the displays and hanging items that the general public had access to and could touch. Clearly the health and safety of their customers was not of paramount concern.

Over Christmas I gave much thought over what to do. I loved the location but the farm was very difficult to deal with. I decided I would relocate. This was not what I wanted. I had hoped to expand but it was clearly impossible. As an ethical small business I could not condone the unethical practices of Glebe Farm any longer. It was time to go.

When I came into the shop after Christmas I was met with a dreadful smell. Rats had died. I told the farm I couldn't open. They said it did not smell that bad. They said the smell was not a dead rat. I'm a country girl I know what dead animal smells like. My shop remained closed throughout January. At the top of this page you can see one of the dead rats I found. I received a bill for full rent from Glebe Farm Astbury despite their failure to provide me with an adequate retail unit fit for purpose to run my business from.

I handed my notice in. I opened for February apologising to customers for the smell and lighting lots of incense to disguise the terrible odour and leaving the window and door wide open to combat it with the heaters on full blast. We packed up and said goodbye in March.

My advice to would-be renters of retail units, especially of Glebe Farm Astbury retail units is to ask around. Find out what the reputation of your potential landlord is. Get everything written down. Keep a diary and photographs from day one. You never know when you might need them. Small businesses cannot afford to be ripped off and treated badly by the likes of Glebe Farm Astbury.

I was really very sorry to leave Glebe Farm but as you can see on reading this the situation was clearly impossible. It became impossible to run a business there. Of course you don't have to take my word for it, the number of businesses that have left is a good indicator that all is not well with this venue.

Update September 2017

Sheilas Shades left Glebe Farm Astbury retails units in April after taking just three pounds in one week. A terrible result for a great little shop. Given they run successful shops elsewhere it is clearly the venue and not the business that is the issue here.

Pampered Pooch has now also left as of September 2017. With 3000 dogs on its books again it is the venue and not the business that is the issue. In this case it is personal treatment by Glebe Farm Astbury that has led to this business leaving.

Having charged four hundred pounds per retail unit they are now being offered for one hundred and nine pounds a month ... quite a climb down from the previous rent being charged. Greed and rudeness will always cost more in the long run. If they had treated their tenants better they would still have full units and be running a profitable business instead of struggling to find customers.

The farm has now advertised a number of retail units for rent with John Butters Bee and Rightmove having a number of their units remain empty for quite some time. It would seem their reputation is finally catching up with them at last.

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