In the last decade there has been growing interest in the provenance of our food and drink and a desire to understand the journey taken to our dining tables. In response to this growing interest, producers large and small have been engaging with their communities and local schools and opening their businesses to visitors.
With this in mind, it's understandable that open events are an invaluable way for people to connect with the countryside and for businesses operating locally to engage with existing and potential customers.
Open Farm Sunday is the farming industry’s national open day. This year it will take place on 11 June 2017: see www.farmsunday.org. There are also similar events such as Open Gardens: see www.opengardens.co.uk.
Whilst these summer events may seem a long way off now, it is worth turning one's mind to the arrangements that will need to be put in place and head them off at this early part of the year rather than deferring them to a later date. After all, time is at a premium in the Spring and Summer - especially for farming businesses.
There are certain things that are worth thinking about (and acting on) sooner rather than later. When considering opening your business or land - whether farm or garden - you are obliged to take into account the risks posed. For example, you are required by law to assess the risk posed by your undertakings, and you have a duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to staff, visitors and members of the public, whether they pay or not.
If you have more than 5 employees (including volunteers) you must write this down in your assessment of the risks posed in the form of a risk assessment. Risk assessments don’t have to be daunting and are not there to ruin the enjoyment or put you off hosting an event.
When considering opening your business to the public think about the type of groups you wish to attract. Different groups of the public will have different needs and present different risks. For example, with school visits you will want to meet with the teacher/organiser beforehand and consider matters such as:
- The age of the children.
- Any specific vulnerabilities on top of their age.
- The staff-to-group ratio - a maximum number that you can accommodate safely.
- Where they can and can't go, and how this will be managed.
- How they will access and egress your event.
- Hand- (and boot-) washing facilities.
- What activities will be available and what is out of bounds.
You will also need to consider that when opening your land to the general public you will have less control over both who will visit and the numbers of people who will visit, and this may pose additional risks.
In addition to the points raised above you may also wish to:
- Agree a maximum number of visitors and organise a means to control numbers without causing disappointment - a solution may be to have visits take place every 30 minutes that follow a fixed route and number of activities.
- Give some thought as to what people will do while they are waiting and who will be responsible for those who are waiting.
- Decide who will be responsible for operating the catering facilities (if there will be any on your land).
- Consider access and egress arrangements and how you will manage safe parking and pedestrian routes on and about your land.
Of course in addition to this you will need to check that you have insurance and that it covers the activities you are proposing. Open Farm Sunday recommends a minimum of £5 million public liability insurance. It is good practice to tell your insurance company what you are doing and they or your broker may be able to provide you with useful advice.