Meet...the Folly Farm family
Renowned for delivering a fantastic family day out, Folly Farm has been in business for almost 30 years.
It was the brainchild of dairy farmer Glyn Williams, who wanted to diversify his business. In the years since Folly Farm opened in 1988, it has grown from a farm diversification to an award winning 120 acre attraction with a zoo of over 750 animals together with a conservation programme, a vintage fairground and eight adventure play areas.
Here we catch up with Glyn’s daughter Karina and her husband, Folly Farm managing director Chris Ebsworth.
Tell us a little bit about the history of Folly Farm and how it came about?
Karina: It was all Dad’s idea. He was a dairy farmer and wanted to expand the business and diversify. Dairy quotas were being introduced at the time and farming was difficult.
The herd of cows would cross the road every day to come in for milking. In the summer, visitors would stop and lean out of their car windows to ask Dad about the cows. They had a real interest and Dad thought, ‘hang on, there might be something in this’.
So the idea was born and we started with a few farm animals in the barn, a viewing gallery in the milking parlour, some play equipment and a small reception, shop and café.
I remember the first day we opened. I was 14 at the time, and very excited, but it was a very strange feeling as the first family walked in to what had always been my home and farmyard!
You started with the farm animals, where did you go from there?
Karina: We had birds of prey, and needed a zoo licence because we were doing flying demonstrations. We got some wallabies, and then lemurs and it all took off from there. Later on, we employed a zoo manager and have been expanding ever since.
Folly Farm has come a long way since its early days, was this always the vision?
Karina: Not for us I don’t think, but I’m pretty sure Dad had it all planned out. Who knows where we’ll be in the next 20 years! Everything evolves very quickly here.
Chris: We also needed an undercover attraction and that’s when the funfair began. Glyn wanted original, vintage funfair rides. It was quite a brave move thinking about it.
Folly Farm is still very much a family-run business. Glyn and your mum, Ann, are still heavily involved on a day-to-day basis. When did you both join the business?
Karina: We both went out to the States to work at the Disney parks for a year, before coming back to Folly Farm in 1998. We learned an awful lot during that time. It was a real insight into how to run big attractions and the importance of good staff and customer service.
Chris: It is a family-run business, but it is also like working in one big family as a company. We have invested heavily in the staff, with training and so on, we are always leading and driving the business forward.
Many of the staff have been here a long time, they have grown up with the business.
How would you describe Glyn?
Chris: Very driven and committed. Folly Farm is his life. He likes detail and he has vision. He can become quite obsessive with things, like the funfair, and he never has a day off. He is completely self-taught, and believes that you have to make things work and they have to be the best.
Did you ever imagine you would be introducing lions at Folly Farm?
Karina: No, not really. It’s an amazing thing! I can hardly believe it. Everyone here is very excited. We are all passionate about the conservation behind it too, and how we can educate people.
Is the conservation aspect of the zoo as important as providing a great family day out?
Chris: They go hand-in-hand really. It’s having the ability to show people these animals – many of whom may never have seen them before, and will probably never see them in the wild – and then you can get the conservation and education message across. It makes it all more real if you see animals up close. We’ve all got a responsibility – we’ve all got to live here and the world is becoming a much smaller place for these wild animals.
How have things changed over the years?
Karina: Customer expectations have changed a lot over the years, and you have to meet their expectations. But even in the early days we would add something new to the park every year.
Chris: We keep exceeding expectation and the perception of quality and good value is very important.
We put all the profits back into the business and we are always planning ahead.
What are your favourite Folly Farm animals?
Karina: Definitely the penguins, followed closely by the giraffes – they are such amazing creatures, followed closely by the goats. I love the goats, and they’ve been here since the very beginning.
Chris: The penguins are my favourite too – they all have their own characters – followed by the tapir. I’ve got a bit of a thing for storks at the moment too!
What makes Pembrokeshire such a great holiday destination?
Chris: If you come on holiday here, there really is something for everyone. It’s what makes it so unique and a great place to come. It offers such a diverse range of activities. For a start, there’s the beautiful setting and the cultural heritage. There are great family attractions, quality accommodation, restaurants, pubs, it’s got the coast path, the beaches and a huge range of wildlife. And everything is easily accessible.
Another huge plus is the people of Pembrokeshire – they are so welcoming.
All Pembrokeshire has to offer makes it extra special – and different. Everything here is on a whole different level.
When you find time to relax, where do you go with your family? Where are your favourite Pembrokeshire places?
Karina: We tend to stay in Pembrokeshire because why would you go anywhere else?! It’s hard to choose just one place. We tend to head to the coast, the beaches and the coast path. Freshwater West is great. We love to shop in Narberth.
Amroth is great for kids – a good place to eat is the Smuggler’s Bar – they’ve got play equipment so the children can have fun while you order.
The Tree Tops Trail at Heatherton is another family favourite.
Chris: We’re quite an active family so we enjoy the outdoors. We do a lot of cycling and walking. We love Stackpole too and Lawrenny Quay and the tearooms there. You can discover so many fabulous places by walking and cycling.
What do you think is the best thing about Folly Farm?
Toddler Lottie is a regular visitor and loves the lions. Read her story - Toddler Travels...a trip to Folly Farm.