Former farmer found profit in home sitting

Adele Barclay
Adele Barclay

When celebrities and captains of industry go on holiday, the security of their homes is left in the capable hands of a company based here in the Vale.

Homesitters was the brainchild of Mike Shepherd-Smith, a businessman and former farmer from Buckland who came up with the idea of ‘babysitting’ homes and pets while he was on holiday himself.

While running an advertising agency in London and a 300 acre livestock and arable farm in Buckland his family insisted that he took a holiday.

He said: “I was hugely busy and my family said I had to go on holiday and dragged me to Norfolk.”

While there he became bored and started thinking about other people who might want to go away, but who needed help with livestock and property in their absence.

He came up with Homesitters and although the business, founded in 1980, struggled in the early years it now employs 14 office staff at the headquarters in Aston Clinton, 900 sitters across the United Kingdom including one in Jersey and one on the Isle of Wight, and has 7,000 clients on its mailing list.

Mr Shepherd-Smith said: “We figured out how we could make it work and since then it has gone from strength to strength. But that is our secret. We have very few serious competitors, it is a very difficult and sophisticated thing to keep going.”

Now retired from farming and his advertising business, he remains as chairman of Homesitters and runs a 50 acre smallholding.

Homesitters managing director Adele Barclay said: “We have clients who are well known in one field or another, some very distinguished people, captains of industry, international bankers, people with instantly recognisable names and others perhaps not, but if you read through the financial pages of the broadsheets you would see their names there.

“But our service is absolutely based on confidentiality so we cannot say more than that.”

Clients use the Homesitters service when they go away for short breaks as well as long holidays, but they are not all multi millionaires with tennis courts and swimming pools.

Many clients of Homesitters live in smaller properties, but want the service because of pets. Mrs Barclay said: “About 80% of our clients have pets, and when they are left in residence they are much happier.”

See for further information about the service.