Bethan Andrews meets Robert and Dave Nicholson to talk about Springtime on the Farm, Barnsley and where they go in Yorkshire on days off
You’re part of the TV show Springtime on the Farm and run an award-winning open farm, but where did farming begin for you?
ROBERT We’re a farming family through and through. We both grew up on the small Barnsley farm that was mostly about sheep, beef, and we grew a few cereals. The 80s were tough for us financially and we struggled to make a living and to stay on the farm, with the bank wanting us to sell. So, we hatched a plan to open up to the public and thankfully people came from the minute we opened the doors.
DAVE We kind of just borrowed a Shire Horse off my cousin, some goats off a friend and a few Shetland Ponies! We got together a nice mini display of animals and it’s grown ever since. From my dad employing one handyman to now having 150 employees from butchers to bakers, we’ve won the Best Farmshop in England Award. We like to do things properly, but we never saw it being what it is today.
How did Cannon Hall Farm come about?
ROBERT Really, our mum and dad just wanted to be able to sustainably provide work on the family farm for us and our other brother Richard. No one really saw what was coming for farming, then, in that you needed to get bigger, more intensive or you’ve got to get closer to the end consumer by finding a way of selling your story. We’ve ended up finding a way of helping people to make happy family memories in Yorkshire and cherished days on our farm. They’ll look back at photographs and smile, remember good times in Barnsley and that makes us feel good – it’s a nice legacy.
What does farming mean to you?
ROBERT It means doing something I’ve always wanted to do. From the moment I could walk, I always wanted to be out there with my dad. It’s all about working closely with animals, nature, and family, and appreciating what’s around us for me. I’m so grateful for keeping farming in the family.
DAVE Every day I enjoy what I do. When I’m left to farm, that’s when I’m happy. So many people come to the farm now because we did a live broadcast every day all the way through lockdown – it really showed people how special it is. It was special to know that farming helped others, too.
When did Springtime on the Farm come about?
DAVE We started five years ago now, which is crazy! We were the host farm where all the presenters were based, but it was nearly cancelled because of Covid-19. We managed to keep it going by filming it ourselves though and sending it off to the editors. We’ve filmed 52 episodes now since the beginning of the pandemic!
What do you love about TV and how has it helped showcase your love for Yorkshire?
ROBERT It raises awareness of farming, which is nice. I like that we can shine a light on the hard work that farmers do in Yorkshire. I never thought in my lifetime that farming would be fashionable, but it appears to be becoming a reality. I think farmers are more appreciated now and the programmes show that we work hard and, if farmers can make a living, it means they can do nice things for the environment such as building new habitats. I think the work that our production company has done has meant that Yorkshire is becoming more of a tourist destination too, which is great.
DAVE We were recently nominated for a TV Choice Award and to have viewers vote for us themselves is really nice as it shows we’re doing something right. I hope we make the shortlist!
You’ve spoken about how you like to showcase the varied landscape and life around Barnsley, why is this important to you?
DAVE It’s just such a great place and I feel so lucky to live here. With Yorkshire countryside, you’ve got mountains, you’ve got coastal scenery, moorland, lowland, wonderful arable land – you’ve got the whole spectrum here. When people think of Barnsley, they think of the industrial north as opposed to farming. But it’s not just that! We are surrounded by lovely countryside, wildlife, and wildflower meadows.
ROBERT I hope that we portray Barnsley in a positive light. We’ve been a Barnsley family for many, many generations and both the people and the countryside are so rich, colourful and interesting.
When you’re not on the farm, where do you like to go to escape in Yorkshire?
ROBERT I tend to head to Helmsley for a day or two. It’s in striking distance of the Yorkshire Coast, the Moors and the lovely walks around the town itself. I think that’s what makes Yorkshire so special, you can have such varied landscape from coast, mountains to moorland and lowland all within an hour’s drive of each other. We’ve got a little boat and like to go fishing in Whitby, too, which is always a nice little treat.
DAVE I like to go to Holmfirth. It’s just about appreciating what’s around you in Yorkshire for me and then making the time to do it.