Agriculture student partnership with Barclays celebrates 50 years

Farming Life news
Farming Life news

A student-led project between the University of Reading and Barclays bank is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

The Barclays exercise sees students from Reading’s leading School of Agriculture, Policy and Development working in collaboration with Barclays to help refine the skills and knowledge of the next generation of agricultural managers. Each year, students work closely with a farm business to address a real time based issue which is likely to require bank borrowing. The students’ mission is to develop an entrepreneurial strategy that will meet the challenge and secure funding.

Professor Peter Dorward, current convenor of the Barclays venture at the University of Reading’s School of Agriculture, Policy and Development said: “Students learn really significant lessons and receive considerable benefit from this opportunity. They learn how to develop business cases, what banks are looking for, and how to interact with clients; key skills for their future careers. It’s about making plans and recommendations in an imperfect world. This module is one that ex-students tell us that they never forget!”

Neil Walker graduated from the University of Reading in 1978 and was one of the early participants in the scheme, and now manages his family’s extensive farming business in Oxfordshire and Gloustershire.

Incorporating livestock, arable, commercial and residential property, Neil notes that the farms are always open to innovation and diversification; having installed solar panels which give “significantly better returns than arable”, and barns which have been converted to aircraft hangers. Neil has been involved as client in Barclay’s modules three times and nods to his own student experience of them.

Neil Walker said: “It gave me a better understanding of how to put a proposal to a funder, and how to treat sources of funding as another asset. The most important lesson from the experience was the confidence to consider possible business proposals in an objective manner. This exercise is very important to anyone planning to be involved in business.”

Wasing Estate

The 50th anniversary Barclay’s venture focuses on Berkshire’s Wasing Estate, which has remained in the same family since 1762. Today Wasing has diversified to include a wedding and corporate hospitality business.

The 50th anniversary challenge was to enhance the setting and offering of house and wedding venue through improved grazing management and the production of quality home-grown meat.

In addition the students developed proposals for an area of redundant buildings.

Alice Watkins, a participant in this year’s venture comments:

“The assignment used many of the skills that I had learnt during my studies in one go, from creating and analysing cash flows to choosing countryside stewardship schemes. These are skills that I will be using in my future career.”

The project has been praised by clients too. Neil McLean of Wasing Estate has participated three times before. Mr McLean notes the benefits of their involvement in the scheme.

Mr McLean said: “It gives us ideas; the students’ work is of very high quality. Their ideas are unfettered by conventional thinking and I am impressed by their professionalism. They have thought the whole process through and display the ability to think outside the box.”

Karl McConville, National Director of Landed Estates at Barclays Agriculture, said: “With specialist relationship managers critical to our agriculture business, it’s vital that we support the next generation of young people who want to work in the industry."

Karl, once a dairy manager himself, takes a personal interest in the project, and his combination of farming and banking expertise means that students trust him.

“We help the students to develop their proposals from scratch to deliver the best for their client. Researching, creating and presenting such a plan can be a daunting experience, so giving these young people the opportunity to participate takes some of the pressure off. It brings everything together - finance, marketing, presentation skills – three years’ worth of work in one complete project.”