30 Years of Pennywell Magic
It was the year that the Berlin Wall came down, the first Sky satellite dishes went up, Britain went online and in a quiet corner of rural South Hams, 1989 heralded the opening of Pennywell Farm.
England was enjoying the hottest summer since 1976 and Shirley Valentine and Australian soap operas were all the rage but for Pennywell’s owners, Chris and Nicky Murray life was all about getting their business off the ground.
Pennywell began as a bare field site with no buildings, grass, hedges or mains power. All the owners Chris and Nicky Murray had was a dream and the determination to never look back at their lives and say, “If only”.
Pennywell opened to the public on 22nd May 1989, just 20 days after the birth of Chris and Nicky’s first child, Angus. It was staffed by Chris along with Nicky’s sister Fiona. There was one animal barn, a small shop and a catering unit.
It was the first farm attraction in the country to introduce a real hands on experience with animals and the first to introduce half hourly activities, a formula that has been repeated all over Britain.
Today Pennywell employs 25 full time staff and more than 80 seasonal staff, enjoys an average 90 thousand visitors a year and has become world famous as the home of the Pennywell Miniature pigs.
Chris and Nicky insist that the secret of Pennywell’s success is very straightforward and is all about their in their basic determination to stick at it.
Nicky explains: “From day one there are two questions that we have constantly asked in each area; is it simple, is it sustainable?
“There have been many setbacks and challenges over the years, particularly in the early nineties when interest rates soared. My advice to anyone with a dream is to believe in it and never give up.”
Several million visitors have been welcomed through the gates over the years to experience what Pennywell insists is, Devon’s Friendliest Day Out.
The attraction has won many awards over the years and owner Chris Murray was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Plymouth for his work in sustainable tourism.
Sustainable tourism is a high priority at the farm and Pennywell received a special award for Water Management in the 2014 South West Tourism Excellence Awards. A founder member of the Green Tourism Business Scheme, Pennywell has held their Gold Award for the past twenty years and was the first tourist attraction in Devon and the first farm attraction in the country to have achieved Gold.
Chris was made a fellow of the Royal Agricultural Society in 2016 to recognise his achievements and his continuing service to agriculture.
Having just enjoyed a busy Easter, Pennywell owners are looking ahead to the next 30 years.
Chris says: “Reaching this huge milestone makes me feel very humble. We have lovely visitors and I still experience the same joy seeing a child’s first real animal encounter as I did on Pennywell’s opening day”.
As Pennywell moves into the next 30 years, the next generation of the Murray family are gradually taking on more of the day to day running of the farm with young families of their own.