Sometimes the best things come to those who wait. That is certainly the case for Matt and Sally Morgan of Palstone Lodges. Matt’s vision for the site was formed 30 years ago. The care and attention that went into developing the landscaping for the site then, is paying dividends now; with mature trees and beautiful planting providing a stunning backdrop for the lodges.
So what is the origin of this stunning holiday lodge site in South Brent, on the fringe of Dartmoor?
“My family were farmers and we moved to Devon from Worcestershire. Initially we were just farmers, with 150 acres and a mixed arable and dairy farm. After my Dad died in the late 70s, Mum diversified, creating a caravan and camping site. She started it when I was fourteen and when I left school a few years later I joined her in the business,” explains Matt.
A lot of their trade came from people stopping off before travelling on to Cornwall, so when the Okehampton bypass was created in 1990, making the journey West much faster and easier, they lost a lot of trade.
“We knew then we had to change our business to survive, so started thinking about introducing holiday lodges. We worked with a company that produced architect designed lodges and our first phase of thirteen lodges were reserved within just one month. That was the start of our transition from being a touring site to exclusive use lodges – a journey that has taken thirty years,” adds Matt.
“We saw immediately that we could tap into a market of people who wanted to buy a holiday home, but perhaps had moral or ethical concerns with buying a house in a village, which they could not live in all year round. We have all seen these ‘ghost towns’ in the South West, that are almost empty in the winter when the owners of the holiday homes are not there. By investing in a lodge, our customers get the comfort of a holiday home, but without the concern that they may be having a negative impact on the local community. In fact many of our lodge owners are very loyal to South Brent, supporting the small retailers in the village and bringing them very welcome trade.”
This sense of community and social conscience extends to sustainability and the environment, which are central to Matthew and Sally’s approach at Palstone Lodges. This commitment has resulted in Palstone Lodges receiving the David Bellamy Conservation Gold Award for ten years in a row.
Matt is a member of Plant Heritage, the world’s largest plant conservation charity and Palstone Lodges has been developed gradually over the last three decades, with many rare and unusual plants.
“I caught the bug for loving plants and gardens from my mum. When we first had our idea for developing lodges, I could see how I wanted it to look once the planting was established. I know where the best views are and how the planting looks at each time of the year. That means that each lodge is located in exactly the right place to ensure privacy and the best views of the surrounding landscaping.”
The attention to detail in the landscaping of the site is echoed in the development of the lodges and interiors too, with Matt’s wife Sally lending her expert eye for design. Sally is a very successful business woman in her own right, and invested the proceeds of the sale of her food manufacturing business in Palstone Lodges, which means that the development has the freedom of being self-funded.
In 2010 Matt and Sally obtained planning permission to develop a further 38 lodges at the site, in a new phase called The Meadow. Due to the dip in the market they held off developing the site for five years.
Recognising that he needed expert legal advice about the planning process, Matt was recommended to get in touch with Kirstie Apps, a partner and expert in holiday park law at Stephens Scown.
Matt explains: “I assumed that we could simply renew our 2010 planning permission, but Kirstie told us we had to reapply. Her advice was so important and helped us to find a way forward to develop more lodges. She really understands the holiday parks sector, and understood our business immediately. I found it really reassuring that she advises a number of other parks, and in fact, her connections in the sector has helped us in other ways, as she has been able to put us in touch with other park owners who may be experiencing similar issues to us. We have also had support from the employment and corporate teams at Stephens Scown, and are due to meet with an expert on succession planning soon.”
Kirstie adds: “The best part of my job is meeting my clients on site, being shown around their park and asking questions about their business. Matt and Sally’s enthusiasm for the park, plants and trees which they have specifically chosen to emphasise the park’s features is infectious and makes me even more driven to help them to become an even bigger success story. I always find I have a big smile on
my face after coming away.”
Although it has been a long time in the making, for Matt and Sally Morgan, Palstone Lodges really is a dream come true.
This article first appeared in our holiday and residential park newsletter, read Explorer