AN EASTER MESSAGE - Saturday 11th April 2020
As temperatures hit 20 degrees the office doors are wide open for the first time this year and new born lambs are springing around the pasture just a few meters away. There is a tinge of green on the oak trees in the valley and new life is emerging everywhere after the wettest winter on record. It is good to be optimistic about the year ahead despite normal life being temporarily suspended by the Covid pandemic.
It has allowed us the opportunity to reflect on our first year and the sixteen weddings we hosted at The Oak Barn; we marvel at how wonderfully unique each marriage and celebration has been and how beautifully the barns have been prepared by each couple; truly inspiring and a great reflection on their relationships and everything that is dear to them. We have been sent many stunning images and glowing testimonials from our couples and their photographers for use in our first Wedding brochure. It is great to share this with everyone who has contributed so much to the past year and with those making new enquiries.
As we celebrate new life at Easter we look forward to exciting times ahead. Families and communities will emerge from lockdown with greater unity, affection and appreciation of what is important in life and we are quite sure we will all be ready for a good party! This year’s marriages and celebrations may not follow the first made plans but we are certain that they will still be fabulous!
‘SUCCESS AT THE 2019 RURAL BUSINESS AWARDS’ - Thursday 7th November 2019
On 18th October we were delighted to attend the South East Region Rural Business Awards in Canterbury following our shortlisting as Finalists in two categories, both Best Rural Start-Up Business and Best Farm Diversification Project. The Rural Business Awards are in their fifth year and are the only UK-wide programme dedicated to showcasing the success of rural businesses, run in partnership with Amazon.
At the ceremony, held at Canterbury Lodge, it was a great honour to be voted Runner Up in the Best Rural Start-Up and collect our award despite stiff competition in the South East region that encompasses Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, East Sussex, Greater London, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Kent, Oxfordshire, Surrey and West Sussex.
It is a great honour to be recognised in this way only ten months after our launch and we are very grateful to everyone who had a hand to play in the restoration of the farm and, more recently, our suppliers who are an amazing pool of local talent who help give every event here a distinct character. It is an excellent start for The Oak Barn and we are looking forward to closing the first year with two magical Christmas weddings and other events over the Christmas period and the New Year.
The grand launch - Saturday 19th January 2019
By 10am, the underfloor heating is cosy underfoot, the wood burner is roaring in the corner, the Bose sound systems and mood lighting are creating a relaxed atmosphere in The Oak Barn and The Byre, and finally the farm gate swings open to welcome guests for the first time. First to arrive are those couples who have taken a leap of faith and booked weddings throughout 2018 after viewing a dilapidated oak frame standing precariously in a building site.
With a glass of bubbles in hand they have returned to see our vision complete, with both barns dressed with beautiful flowers from See Rose Floral Design, sumptuous wedding hire furniture by Hire Love and Village Vintage, and edible delights from Sarah Hall Catering. It’s a full house for several hours with prospective couples keen to Kent’s newest venue.
We soon find we are welcoming our next wave of afternoon guests from the village, friends and many of the building team who have worked on the project over the last 16 months. It is touching to see so many of their family members, a reflection of the pride that has gone into this build.
Darkness falls, candles are lit and lighting dimmed for our evening guests; a sit down dinner for nearly 50 professionals with event planners, suppliers and journalists who have supported and advised us in past months during our start-up. A great evening of networking and laughter and a chance for us to see the barn in use as a venue for the first time with all systems running beautifully!
Racing against the weather - December 2018-January 2019
The nights close in, temperatures drop and we are under pressure to finish the hard landscaping before the weather breaks. All our walls are built with traditional lime mortar and the first frosts damage some of the great work achieved in recent weeks. Kerb stones are laid and then finally, after three years of mud, we see our first tarmac! It is a wonderful sight and improves working conditions for all.
Our ‘green’ car park receives the grid system that will receive topsoil and grass seed next year and many pallets of setts are delivered to pave The Byre’s Terrace and The Courtyard. The site is transformed throughout December as these aesthetic layers are added. An enormous hole is dug beyond the stables for our new sewerage treatment plant and soon this final piece of equipment is lowered into place.
The stable barn is a hive of activity with the old feed troughs, welded, blasted and painted ready for use as our toilet wash basins. Huge slabs of oak are machined and sanded and slowly transform into 20 benches for our ceremony room, two signing tables, four bar tables and our mobile bar. It is magical to see so much good use made from the dead oak tree that stood for years in one of our fields.
We are working all hours towards our launch party deadline. Furniture for our five cottages is delivered daily and all needs assembly. Mirrors and artwork to hang, signage, fire extinguishers and cloakrooms to fit out. It is too late in the year for grass seed so 100 square meters of turf is laid and suddenly the seemingly endless frenzy of work ends late on a Friday night.
Weatherproof for the autumn - September-November 2018
The focus during the late summer was completion of the annex structure and fitting the joinery in The Oak Barn. The last of the foundations have been laid so we now have a complete raft of concrete supporting the barn. Our team of carpenters has trebled as the roof structure quickly takes shape over the new kitchen and toilets, and work commences on the replacement of weather boarding. The bricklayers have moved on to the garden walls, rebuilding with original bricks that have been painstakingly cleaned.
By the pond, we have created a new waterfall to replace the old plastic pipe that provided an overflow into the stream through the pasture. It has been hard work establishing over 340 new plants and watering them through the scorching summer but the lilies are doing well after last year’s dredging despite the low water levels.
Inside The Oak Barn, the partition walls have appeared within the annex and the first fix plumbing is in place. Heat exchangers, air conditioning units and kitchen extraction fans are being positioned and the first ductwork is being fitted; it is a mass of pipes, ducts and wiring with little space to work in a very hot roof space. The electricians are busy adding to the mass of cables that terminate in the cupboard that will become our hidden control centre for the barn.
The end of September saw the laying of underfloor heating pipework and floor screeds; visually a giant leap forward that enables us to have a much better idea of the completed space. Months of product research has culminated in orders for floor tiles, light fittings and sanitary ware and, with a newly laid hearth, our wood burner has been fitted in the corner of the main space.
With the day length shortening we are pleased to see our hardwood joinery arrive on site. Six panels for the sliding doors in the lean-to, four huge windows for the south and west facades and the enormous screen that stretches high up into the porch. Even when the barn is enclosed it will have amazing natural light. The fitting begins but requires great dexterity due to the irregular shape of the old frame.
With the doors fitted our threshold levels are determined and landscaping now begins. The courtyard between The Oak Barn and Weaver’s Cottages is taken over by earth movers and grab lorries and the noisy chaos gradually gives way to level ground and correct gradients for the driveways. Walls are built to retain Weaver’s Cottages terrace and new sandstone is laid. Our 18th century well, with beautiful spiral brickwork below ground, now has a low wall from salvaged bricks and the surrounding ground is being reinstated ready for new lawns.
Heat and hard graft - Thursday 23rd August 2018
The Spring and Summer months have been very productive here at the farm. The Byre is a few of weeks from completion and we reached a milestone yesterday which marked the end of foundation work to The Oak Barn. The schedule is only slightly behind but after all the snow, the wettest Spring and now the driest summer on record our builders have done an amazing job to be this far advanced in these unusual conditions.
The Byre is looking beautiful with the weather boarding, large glass doors and windows now fitted and complimenting the reclaimed oak timbers that frame the view across the fields and pond. The lighting and underfloor heating has all been tested which just leaves some decorating to be done and the terrace and lawn to be laid outside.
Across the yard, under The Oak Barn, the wet and very heavy Kent clay dried and set like concrete in the soaring July temperatures making the excavation for the foundations hard going. Our mini digger, the largest we can get beneath the propped oak frame, struggled to break through this ground so large sections had to be dug by hand. It has been a relief to pour the final section of concrete this week and end this phase of work. Progress should gather pace now with the underfloor heating, wood burner and air cooling systems that will make the barn so comfortable in all weathers.
Moving quickly behind the foundation work the bricklayers have been working with great skill and care. The original bricks have been lovingly cleaned for rebuilding the plinth walls on which the barn sits. Despite essential repairs to the oak frame the crooked character has been retained and our brick courses follow the original lines of the building; a beautiful finish produced by fine craftsmanship.
We are making headway with the new annex for the kitchens and cloakrooms and it will soon be possible for the aesthetic elements of the project, including resurfacing the drives and farmyard and new planting, to be underway. It will be wonderful to reinstate the lawns and gardens around the buildings as we approach Autumn and prepare to open the farm gate for you to enjoy.
Snow and cat slides - Wednesday 14th March 2018
In true English style we open with comment on the weather! It is such a critical aspect of the build at the moment and March has brought a fair share of inclement conditions. The snow began on the second day the roofing team were replacing the Kent peg tiles so that put a rather abrupt end to progress for the rest of the week. Our joiners did manage to navigate the roads and made some headway fitting oak purlins in The Byre’s roof but the only other activity at the farm was extreme toboganning in the fields.
The big melt only worsened the mud but it did allow resumption of work to both barns. In The Oak Barn, excavations have advanced well to drop floor levels in preparation for pouring the foundation slab. We now have an idea of the scale of the barn which swallows up a mini digger and dumper truck with ease! Up above, tiling of the ‘cat slide’ roof is nearly complete and once again looks spectacular. Meanwhile, The Byre’s roof is taking shape with the deck boards and insulation now underway. It will not be long before both barns have watertight roofs which is a significant milestone after decades of neglect.
Wealden Country Landcraft Ltd has created planting plans for our new garden areas around the barns and the pond. The new borders will be stocked with tall waving grasses whilst the pond will have a range of native marginal water species that can mature through the summer; it is a wonderful, positive step forward and we look forward to seeing this part of the venue realise completion in the coming months.
Rising from the mud! - Tuesday, 6th February 2018
The dry autumn weather gave way to some persistent rain and high winds in December but despite these difficult conditions and the ensuing mud our building contractors, Astral Ltd, have completed the frame repairs of The Oak Barn. It has now been sheathed in plywood, two layers of high density cement board for sound proofing and a thick layer of thermal insulation. An overnight snowfall was not a very auspicious start for the roofing team yesterday but felt and battens have been laid on the ‘cat-slide’ in preparation for replacement of the Kent peg tiles. After two months of hard work, The Oak Barn has a roof system that is close to being weather proof.
Internally, the first fix electrics, data and AV cables have been installed, all neatly hidden in the roof layers to keep the historic structure free of surface mounted technology. We are now in a position to remove the internal scaffolding and begin excavations within the barn for foundations, something this barn has never had! It will be a delicate process of propping the entire structure while we remove the supporting walls, dig out footings and then pour in a concrete slab.
Meanwhile, across the yard, The Byre has risen from the mud with new walls built with our carefully selected handmade bricks and laid with lime mortar to replicate the previous animal shelter. The beam and block floor has been craned into position and the steel frame for the roof is now in situ and ready for the new joinery. The original oak posts are also being cleaned for replacement on the west façade, a key feature of this glass wall that will give views across the farmland.
Back to Basics - Friday, 27th October 2017
Our work has progressed at quite a pace in this first month, aided by the dry and mostly sunny autumn weather. Completion of the scaffolding in and around The Oak Barn has allowed the 16,000 or so tiles to be stripped from the roof and securely stored ready for sorting and rehanging next year. The weather boarding has also been removed so we now have a bare oak frame allowing the full extent of the defects to be inspected.
Freshly cut reclaimed oak is now being spliced in to replace rotten timber, and loose joints are being stabilised with a special resin. One of the main trusses has been jacked up and pulled in so this now sits back where it belongs on top of it’s jowl post.
It has been a delicate process that could only proceed once our six bat boxes had been strategically placed around the farm with the work overseen by our bat environmentalist. We have only displaced three Pipistrelle’s and one Long Eared Brown bat but I am sure they will be pleased with their new homes by the recently dredged pond.
On that note, we had a very dirty and smelly afternoon washing the thick black slime off the water lily root bowls; these have now been replanted in the pond and the water level is rising well thanks to a day of rain last week. Our old stable stall posts have been sand blasted, painted and now provide the support for our new pontoon. They still have their ‘Cottam and Co.’ name badge from C1850, notable as in use by ‘Nobility, Gentry, Hunting Establishments and Her Majesty’s Stables Aldershot and Balmoral’. It is wonderful to recycle a piece of Frame Farm history and, together with oak from a dead tree we felled and planked last year, create a very smart pontoon giving stunning views down the valley.
The Byre has now been completely dismantled and the oak and bricks stored for re-use in the new building. The footings have been dug, concrete poured and the walls are now rising above this muddy corner of the sheep field. The block and beam floors will be delivered next week so it is exciting to see rapid progress here. All in all, a very productive month!
Breaking Ground - Wednesday, 27th September 2017
On 11th September 2017 the second phase of work at Frame Farm began to convert our two Grade II listed barns into an events venue. The first digger bucket broke ground to mark the official start of the 45 week renovation. 320 tonnes of Kent clay have been removed from the yard and aggregate laid to form the base layer of our overflow car park. This hard standing will be used by our building contractor during the work but by mid 2018 it will be seeded with grass for a green, hard surface we can use throughout the year.
Work has also started on The Oak Barn, with scaffolding nearly complete to stabilise the oak frame and give access for stripping the weather boarding and peg tiles. The frame is extremely fragile so we look forward to being able to remove the acrow props and ratchet straps that have held the barn together for at least ten years. It is the start of a new era for this beautiful 300 year old, Listed barn and a relief for us after two years working with designers, conservationists and planners to get this project off the ground.
Today we also began dredging the pond beside The Byre barn. Years of silt and leaf material have turned this into a pit of stagnant black sludge so it is the first stage in restoring this back to a wildlife haven and tranquil spot to sit, wander or take photographs.
Over the next 45 weeks our photo record and blog will follow progress of the work so you can enjoy the renovation of the two barns and conversion from dereliction to stunning events venue. You can follow us here on our Website and on our Facebook page.
Renovation Of Weaver’s Cottages - Completed July 2016
Our first phase of work involved the refurbishment of Weaver’s Cottages which date from 1607. Lying opposite the The Oak Barn this stunning building now provides plush accommodation for 18 people within four cottages and a ground floor flat.
The massive oak beams and other historic features are visually dominant but the latest LED lighting and low energy appliances, solar photovoltaic cells and biomass boiler give this building carbon neutral status. A peaceful night here is good for the planet and your wellbeing!