Imbibing the traditional values of family and stellar service with a modern approach to sustainability.
Words by Dan Warden
We’ve all heard of the ‘good old days’ – that intangible point in time revered by our elders during which things were generally better; the quality of the cars on the road, the standard of the actors on our screens, even the level of customer service at the local shops. According to them, it is as if the modern world has lost touch with the values that made all of the above great, and “they just don’t make them like that anymore” is a phrase I’m sure we’ve all heard at some point in our adolescent lives!
The problem (and I hope this isn’t just a sign that I’m ageing before my time) is that I think they might be right. I think we can all agree that we would prefer to support enterprises with family values at their hearts, and yet if we’re realistic about it, the ‘family’ businesses that once thrived here in Cornwall – in those golden days before our time – are unfortunately a diminishing breed. But they’re not a dying one, and as I speak with Charlotte Veale – a member of the latest generation of one true family business here in Cornwall – I take solace from discovering that at Wooda Farm Holiday Park, traditional family values are very much alive and kicking.
Wooda has been owned and run by the Colwills since it was first established in 1975, however the land has been in the family since 1928. When the business was first established, it was a working farm that also offered guests bed and breakfast. “My great nan and grandad, Bessie and Jim, used to run it,” says Charlotte, “until their son Ken, my grandad, took over with his wife Elizabeth. In 1975 Ken diversified, setting up a small site for caravans. Since then, the business has grown into what it is today!” Later still, Charlotte explains that her own parents, Graeme and Kerry, took over the business, and today the three of them run the site together. “I have grown up here, and have now had a permanent role within the business for about 15 years. So yes, it is a family business, and we really hope it will stay that way for years to come.
“My dad has two sisters,” explains Charlotte. “Helen Larwood, who runs the Courtyard Bar, Lodge Takeaway, Loft Cocktail Bar and Coffee House, and Sue Read, who has an art studio on site. All three of them were born in the Wooda farmhouse, and I myself now live onsite with my husband and two little girls.”
For guests here, Wooda is a destination in which to get lost; a rural escape of woodland, farmyard animals, outdoor experiences, five-star accommodation, tractor rides, freedom and open spaces for children to run free. It’s a safe haven, a place where cherished memories are made. “We want our guests to share our home, discover for themselves what we love about the site and become part of the Wooda family.”
To help make stays as comfortable and convenient as possible, the site has evolved over the years to now incorporate an on-site bar and restaurant – once the farm’s milking parlour. There is also a coffee lounge and cocktail bar, sports facilities, and even a Wellness Barn. “Claire Jennings and Claire Strong, who run the Wellness Barn, have a wonderful offering of wellness treatments for our guests to indulge in. From manicures, pedicures and beauty treatments, to relaxing aromatherapy massages, reflexology and so much more, each session is tailored and bespoke to the individual guest. Claire Jennings also offers weekly yoga sessions, making our site a haven of relaxation and tranquillity for guests who need to decompress from a busy lifestyle.”
“The views here are incredible, too,” says Charlotte, “and we’re very close to the beaches and seaside. There’s also no sense of ‘corporateness’ – no feeling of a faceless, big company. We are a family, and the business is run by us, which is why I believe that Wooda will take a piece of your heart. We have some families who return year on year, and have done so for more than 30 years!”
As a family that continues to build around those core family values, Charlotte is immensely proud to showcase to me the site’s latest accommodation offering – a selection of luxury lodges named Gwelva Hills. The development of these retreats spanned a two-year project. “Starting in the winter of 2015, we worked with a small team to create eco-friendly spaces that frame the incredible views, all nestled in the hillside. My husband Simon and his team of builders undertook the project alongside my dad, Graeme. It was, again, very much a family team effort!”
Aptly named ‘Gwelva’, which means ‘view point’ in Cornish, Charlotte explains that the goal was to create permanent buildings rather than ‘twin units’. With this mind, Simon built the timber frames on site himself, then erected them alongside his team. “The whole vision was inspired by my dad’s dream to expand the offering of five-star accommodation to our visitors. He had seen a similar lodge in the lake district that showcased the incredible views there, and worked alongside a local architect to come up with a design that capitalised on the Wooda Farm vista, but that also incorporated the eco-friendly elements. My mum, Kerry, then designed the interiors!”
One thing that’s important to touch on at this point is the importance of sustainability in the modern lifestyle. The idea of living in a sustainable, environmentally conscious way is becoming less a choice and more a must for everybody, which is naturally translating into a changing list of demands for guests who wish to continue ‘doing their bit’ even whilst on holiday. So how does Gwelva Hills stack up? “Firstly, it is aesthetically kind on the landscape,” says Charlotte. “With living roofs and cedar cladding, it fits into the environment here, but in a modern way. Each also has an air-source heat pump powered by a ground-mounted solar panel system, as well as a passive heat recovery system. This means that their U values come very close to Passivhaus specification, which not only offers environmental benefits, but also has positive financial benefits too, reducing our reliance on increasingly expensive and environmentally damaging fossil fuels.”
In order to keep the project’s footprint down, all suppliers used to bring Gwelva Hills to life were as local as possible. “Even down to the stone for the surrounding walls! We are a business with a passion for sustainability in all areas, and this was very much an extension of our values. We are incredibly lucky to have amazing views from Wooda, and throughout our ethos we feel we have a need to look after the environment in which our customers enjoy their holidays and preserve it for future generations. This is why we also have two electric car charge points, and why we have just installed another roof-mounted solar panel system. If we want to have a ‘lesser impact’ on the environment, then we need to encourage our guests to adopt the same practises, and when it comes to holidays, it’s our responsibility as the provider to make this as easy as we can.”
Sustainability aside, the stamp of accommodation at Gwelva Hills is undeniably luxurious. As an example, Charlotte points us to Hartland, Marsland, Northcott and Summerleaze, just four of the lodges that make up the development. “In fact, all of the properties have amazing views, but the front row are the best!” Heading inside, you’re immediately welcomed by stylish designs and soft hues, drawing inspiration from the surrounding coastal landscape and creating the perfect space in which to relax and soak up the scenery. Spacious and open-plan sitting, dining and kitchen areas mean you’ll never miss a moment with friends and family, then when it comes to resting weary heads, you’ll find each bedroom sumptuously furnished, with underfloor heating and heated towel rails in the en suites. During the colder months, log burners and contemporary, sink-into sofas make for a cosy space in which to snuggle down with your nearest and dearest. In the summer you can relax al fresco, taking a seat on the woven cubed furniture, firing up the barbeque, and sipping on a glass of something chilled.
As you might expect, Gwelva Hills has dovetailed nicely into Cornwall’s growing and evolving accommodation offering, and the fact that it was first unveiled in 2018 – before the pandemic that has undoubtedly sparked an increase in popularity for the UK staycation – shows how ahead of the curve Wooda is. But this, I think, is a direct result of it being a family business. Driven by the love for the land and the passion for great hospitality that’s been passed down over the course of almost a century, as a family business with traditional values, it would seem that, contrary to what some seem to think, they really do still make them like they used to.