When it comes to understanding a rural business’s training needs and delivering a comprehensive package of support, nothing beats two decades of experience within the industry.

When that wealth of knowledge is allied to a similarly broad skillset developed by a business partner over a similar length of time, the result is an impressive new entrant in the field of training.

South East Landbased Training Courses LLP is the result of just such a liaison, with Sarah Firrell and Dawn Berndt combining to deliver a bespoke service that combines personal knowledge with a network of highly skilled, professional trainers in an unbeatable range of land-based disciplines.

Sarah had been organising training within the land-based sector at Plumpton College for 20 years when she decided in April of last year that she wanted to take on a new challenge. With many years of experience within managerial roles in a range of industries, Dawn has developed a good understanding of the need for training to develop employees and meet health and safety requirements.

“Since Sarah had handed in her notice and knowing Sarah’s strengths, it was just great timing,” Dawn recalled. “I knew Sarah and knew we had complementary skills and that we both had an unbeatable range of contacts within the industry. It was a chance to push ourselves and do something different and so we jumped at the chance of forming South East Landbased Training Courses.”

Despite the fact that the launch of the new business coincided with the first Covid-19 lockdown, business has been brisk, with the partners using their extensive contacts to find the best trainer to meet individual business’s needs right across the South East. “We’ve had a very good first year,” Sarah confirmed. “We’ve had to develop new skills ourselves, but we are passionate about the business and about helping land-based businesses to grow.”

One of the most rewarding things about the new business, which offers bespoke training as well as scheduled courses on subjects such as forestry, livestock, pesticides and pest control, is the feedback from companies they have worked with.

“It’s remarkable how many times people say how pleased they are to have found us,” said Sarah. “That’s partly because our experience and our background in agriculture means we can be proactive in offering help and advice. For some new businesses, having us suggest what courses they need in order to get themselves established safely and effectively can be really useful.”

Dawn is a landowner and farmer, giving her hands-on experience of the needs of land-based businesses for effective and practical training, while her hobbies include horse riding. Sarah, whose close links with expert trainers allow her to incorporate specific knowledge into the company’s tailored training programmes, is passionate about sustainability and the pivotal role of education in shaping the country’s future.

As a result, South East Landbased Training Courses provides an extensive range of flexible courses right across the rural, agricultural and land-based sectors, including practical training, health and safety, legislative requirements, conservation and environmental skills.

The partnership works closely with leading awarding bodies for land-based industries and with East Sussex Proficiency Test Committee, a local independent City & Guilds NPTC-approved assessment centre. It is a Lantra-approved provider.

As well as helping employees achieve accredited qualifications, either at their workplace or other convenient location, the company also provides refresher training. As Sarah explained: “We help a lot of people who left education a while ago and who are now embarking on a changing career path and realise they need to upskill.

“Others come to us because their technical competences need updating or because they also need to learn a new skill. Add to that the people who are having to change career because of redundancy, perhaps linked to the pandemic, and there is considerable call for well-delivered, relevant courses. We have the experience and the contacts to deliver those courses.”

South East Landbased Training Courses has taken Business Built on Relationships as its slogan and has quickly made it a cornerstone of the business. Both partners have long-standing relationships with trainers, assessors and rural businesses, all of which feed in to the comprehensive service it delivers.

The business has been able to deliver training to finite ‘bubbles’ of employees on site during lockdown and has also run courses at the South of England Showground in Ardingly and at Copford Sawmill, an ideal location for forestry skills training. Sarah and Dawn are hoping to shortly be able to offer courses at the Kent Showground at Detling, near Maidstone.

South East Landbased Training Courses is a Southern Farmers supplier, offering members a discount for full group bookings.

While the business focuses for the most part on the South East, its network of trainers and assessors allows it to provide courses across a much wider area, which has proved valuable in many cases, particularly for vineyards and orchards. “We look at the demand and respond accordingly, rather than just offering the courses we want to offer,” explained Sarah.

The partnership currently offers 30-plus courses, either scheduled or tailored to a specific request, with its close links with both trainers and assessors allowing it to respond quickly to bespoke needs.

Courses on offer cover a broad range, including livestock (including veterinary medicines, sheep dip and animal transport), machinery (such as tractor driving and all-terrain vehicles), pesticides (including all application units from PA1 to PA9) and forestry and arboriculture (taking in the full range of ground and aerial chainsaw qualifications and tree inspection).

One area where the business shines is in helping clients understand the full range of help on offer. “If a fencing contractor comes to us for skills training, we are able to talk to them about the other courses they may need, from tractor driving and using abrasive wheels to chainsaw usage, health and safety and forestry first aid,” Sarah explained.

“We know how important it is to have the right ticks in the right boxes when applying for contracts and we like to use our knowledge to help rural businesses to grow.

“A lot of people ring the office to ask for our advice on what they need, which is turning us into a broad-based training hub rather than just a training provider. We are also receiving a lot of word-of-mouth referrals, which again supports our aim to build a business based on relationships. That was our goal, and one year on we are delighted at the progress we have already made.”