The Matthews had begun their leisure business in 2004 when Irish people were still spending money on breaks away.
Domestic business represented about 70 per cent of their throughput with some business coming from the US, through the couple’s contacts there, and a small amount from the UK and mainland Europe.
Eric tried out a variety of sports as a kid and by the time he was in his late teens he was an accomplished rock climber who also loved the tranquillity of the mountains. After graduating, he took up a career in corporate banking with one of Ireland’s large banks. His calm determination honed on challenging rock faces gave him a gritty determination to push deals through.
At just 25 years old he was head hunted by a leading merchant bank in London.
Demand, however, is clearly there, with over 260 loans provided to date and rising.
“The Fund is still open with facilities of up to £50,000 available.Along side this, the couple planned to develop self-catering accommodation attractive to eco-minded tourists and a range of activity holidays based around horse riding, hill walking and mountain biking.Charlotte took the lead in developing a plan for the artisan food side of the business while Eric was responsible for running the farm, leading the activity holidays and looking after the accommodation with help on the housekeeping side of things.From there she moved into making unusual herb-based products such as rocket pesto and herb butters for the food trade.As the Jersey herd became more established she began making American-style cheesecakes which she also sold to her restaurant customers.In tackling all of this they had the (paid) assistance of a neighbour and long-time friend of their uncle who had his own small holding nearby and proved invaluable in all matters relating to the farm.Over a nine-month period the Matthews converted two large barns into four luxurious self-catering apartments and turned the old stables into two more.“For many SMEs winning new sales and business is not the problem.Growth, however, brings greater demands for working capital and infrastructural investment to support efficiency and sustainability.From all that he had read, he was convinced that eco-tourism was emerging as the major growth sector for Ireland and that, if protected and nurtured, Ireland’s traditional countryside could be a major draw into the future for people living in an increasingly crowded Europe.For sustainability purposes he felt it would be desirable and probably necessary for the farm to be involved in more than one business.