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Even the good life calls for training

One man traded a 70-hour week in the City to slow down in Devon in the company of small animals, writes Andrew Mourant

Kevin Ginsberg, a high-powered accountant in London until last year, could never have imagined that in 2004 he would be living in Devon and looking after ponies and guinea-pigs.

For 15 years he was financial controller for a recruitment agency in London which grew from 30 staff to around 1,000. Annual turnover rose from pound;4 million to pound;300m. But success had a price - a 70-hour week and a commute from Surrey took its toll on Kevin.

"It became addictive," he says. "I was living to work."

One Sunday evening he found himself sitting in front of a computer at his London office in tears. During this watershed, the model employee who hardly ever went sick asked himself: "What am I doing?"

This breakdown was the catalyst for a lifestyle change that has been an education.

Home for Kevin, 41, wife Lisa, and four daughters Joanna, Olivia, Philippa and Victoria is now Dartmoor, where they are the proud owners of a miniature pony and animal farm. On April 1 they open for the first time, a new branch of the tourist industry.

"Our original idea was that we might run a guest house or small hotel," he says. "But the miniature pony centre was the first thing the estate agent sent us."

Lisa has experience of horses, Joanna, their eldest daughter, loves riding, and the other girls "are all animal mad".

But new enterprises cannot run on enthusiasm alone. Kevin, for all his accounting skills, had much to learn. He and Lisa attended seminars run by the Tourism Skills Network on destination marketing and disability awareness and took advice from Devon Business Link on developing health and safety courses.

"Training is crucial. We'll be introducing a plan for all full-time and casual staff," he says.

The need to develop skills and training was echoed at the first national tourism and hospitality skills conference held recently in Bristol. It was run by the South-west and North-west tourism skills networks, supported by regional development agencies and the Learning and Skills Council. With a staff turnover rate of 48 per cent in the South-west, the industry is desperate to appear more attractive.

Kevin and Lisa Ginsberg are in it for the long haul. It is a family business and the girls pull their weight.

"We'd always thought about living in the West Country and when I was ill we talked about it for months," he says.

"Leaving London was a wrench but it personified everything I had allowed to get on top of me."

They arrived last September, in time to see how things ran before the farm closed for winter.

The Ginsberg menagerie includes ponies, donkeys, pigmy goats, alpacas, miniature Dexter cows, chinchillas and guinea-pigs. It sounds cute but everything will hang on how it is run and marketed. There are plans for an indoor play centre, to promote the farm as a party venue, and to open in autumn and winter and to encourage more school visits.

Kevin has inherited good staff and says there is business help on offer.

But he knows he must strike a balance.

"You could spend 60 to 70 per cent of your time training," he says. "Once we've got our first season out of the way, we could go back and do more courses."

One thing he has learnt is to become active in the community.

"I've joined the PTA at one of my children's schools, and other organisations," he says.

A little of that may well go a long way. In any case, the sense of elation at his great escape remains undimmed.

"I love the physical work and seeing more of my family," he says. "I pinch myself every day to see if it's all still true."

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