Emma and Neil Punchard, owners of Mill Farm Eco Barns – a collection of modern, self-catering, eco-friendly barn conversions in Winterton-on-Sea, Norfolk – are passionate about the positive impact that a sustainable focus can have on businesses and the public.

They were recently recognised for their eco-friendly efforts at the East of England Tourism Awards 2023-2024.

The business began life in 2013, when Emma and Neil set about transforming a barren two-acre site with old farm buildings into a wildlife haven.

“From the beginning, we aimed to prove that eco-friendliness doesn’t mean sacrificing comfort and style,” said Emma.

“We wanted to create a destination, not just another holiday home. A place teeming with nature where guests stay in gorgeous barns and can enjoy the beautiful natural environment and know that their holidays are not costing the earth.”

The first of the three eco barns was completed in 2013, and today there are an additional two barns, allowing for parties of two, four and eight guests plus infants.

Eastern Daily Press: Inside one of the eco-friendly barn conversionsInside one of the eco-friendly barn conversions (Image: Tony Hall)

The site itself has also been transformed. Emma and Neil have planted over 1,800 sapling trees and created a wildlife meadow, orchard and wildlife pond. Norfolk Wildlife Trust even utilised the meadow for a training session. Guests can also enjoy access to a guest allotment, free-range chickens and a games barn.

The business aims to be single-use plastic free, and Emma and Neil also encourage guests to engage in car-free activities during their stay. They even supply them with fresh baked bread and apple juice from their orchard on arrival.

Emma explained why adopting sustainable practices is not just good for the planet, it can also have a number of  business benefits.

“We believe that every business owner should strive to provide excellent service while working to minimise their environmental impact and make a positive contribution to their community,” she said.

“We have focused our work in this area around four key areas: energy use, nature conservation, plastic reduction and working with our community.

Eastern Daily Press: Mill Farm Eco Barns is located in Winterton-on-Sea in NorfolkMill Farm Eco Barns is located in Winterton-on-Sea in Norfolk (Image: Tony Hall)

“We have invested in renewable energy sources such as a biomass boiler, solar photovoltaics, battery storage and air source heat pumps.”

Many of the couple’s efforts to manage Mill Farm Eco Barns‘ climate impact also make “significant financial sense”, Emma said.

“By being on a renewable energy tariff since our establishment, we have significantly decreased our energy consumption (and therefore costs) and carbon emissions while enhancing our resilience to energy price fluctuations.”

This unique approach has earned the couple considerable praise from guests, and they were recognised at the East of England Tourism Awards 2023-2024 in February when Mill Farm was named winner of the Ethical, Responsible and Sustainable Tourism Award, sponsored by Swiss Camplings.

“For the past 10 years, my partner and I have worked tirelessly to provide exceptional service to our guests while striving to do the right thing,” said Emma. “Being recognised publicly for our efforts is truly fantastic.

“It now gives us a larger platform to make a positive impact on the industry and share our experiences. We believe that our approach should not be uncommon; we simply aim to run a successful business, offer outstanding accommodation and try to minimise impact on and, where we can, enhance the natural environment.”

Now that building work at Mill Farm Eco Barns has been completed, Emma said that they are now turning their efforts to other projects on the site.

“We are working hard to restore our land to a flower meadow, which takes time and work, and I’m looking forward to really developing our guest allotment,” she said.

“We hope that people continue to have wonderful holidays with us and really enjoy the oasis we have created. I’d also love to help advise others on how they could incorporate sustainability into their business planning and decision making.”

For more information, please visit millfarm-ecobarns.co.uk