Category Archives: Wales tourism

Welsh business, Halen Mon salt and taking the plunge into self-employment

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There’s no doubt that Wales is a nation of self-employed and small business owners. My partner, when he first moved here from Leeds and started to get to know people, would ask what they did for a living and was constantly met with a series of unexpected responses.  “I’m a…poet, yoga teacher, Reiki practitioner, vegan cake maker, photographer, musician, mushroom grower, actress, chakra dance teacher, gong therapist, outdoor instructor, silversmith, the voice of the Welsh Peppa Pig!…. finally he asked me if I knew anyone with a ‘normal’ job?

Err, the answer to that is probably no. But I do know an extraordinarily large number of self-employed people.

Figures from a House of Commons Briefing paper 2016  report 5.5 million businesses listed in the UK with 99% of them being small to medium-sized, although 96% are considered micro businesses (employing less than 10 people) while the number of sole traders has increased by more than the number of all businesses 77% compared to 59%.

Considering the comparative size of the Welsh population to the whole of the UK, we have one of the highest rates of self-employment, and this is positively encouraged throughout schools and colleges in several ways. The Welsh Baccalaureate  qualification is a compulsory subject taught in all Welsh schools and has a strong emphasis on employment skills and entrepreneurship. This is further supported by local entrepreneurs who are booked to speak, share their stories and conduct skills workshops with Big Ideas Wales  . I’m one of those entrepreneurs. So why has self-employment become such a thing in Wales, and why is it a significant part of the curriculum?

With high unemployment and little remaining traditional industry there is little in the way of viable job opportunities for young people in Wales. Aside from public services (which employs the largest proportion of the local population), much of the work is based in the hospitality, retail or tourist industry.  Youngsters face the prospect of working on predominantly zero hours contracts or in seasonal jobs. Inevitably this leads to what is referred to as the ‘brain drain,’ where the best of Welsh talent leaves the country looking for employment, training or the chance to shine elsewhere.

Consequently, the people of Wales who stay or return, migrants and natives alike, are very good at being inventive, thinking outside the box and doing it for themselves. Wales is a proud, talented nation of artistic, musical, sightly eccentric and community minded individuals and certainly, the part of Wales in which I live, has a very high percentage of said creatives.

Many of the most successful business owners I know have started small, grown steadily, without over stretching themselves too soon. In 2016 there were 383,000 business births and 252,000 business deaths. Many businesses that fail, do so because they have misjudged the market, overstretched themselves, invested too much, taken too much of a risk or failed to adapt. A striking feature is that across the UK only 20% of SMEs are female led, however, many of the business owners that I know are extremely dynamic, intelligent and sightly formidable women (probably myself included). Indeed it seems like most of the sole traders and self-employed people I know are also women.

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When I think about those successful female or family led businesses, many actually began life in the kitchen at home. Sometimes with a simple creative or sometimes crazy idea. A few people spring to mind; Paola and Danny at Dr Zigs Extraordinary Bubbles , Margaret Carter and Patchwork Pate and Alison and David Lea-Wilson at Halen Mon salt 

David and Alison set up their first business while still students at Bangor University, supplementing their student grant by growing oysters. After graduation this evolved into a wholesale fish and game business which they ran for twelve years. Noticing that people were just as interested in the live fish as they were in eating them, they set up The Sea Zoo. This was established in 1983 and became the largest aquarium in Wales, but both this and the fresh fish business were seasonal which caused income problems over the winter months. The couple set to work on income generating ideas; after brainstorming and rejecting many, they settled on a plan to make sea salt.

In 1997 they put a pan of seawater to boil on the Aga in the family kitchen. Soon salt crystals began to form and that is where history was made. In 1999 they started selling the salt to the local butchers in Menai Bridge and from there they haven’t looked back. Perhaps they didn’t anticipate just how successful their simple creative idea would be, but now that their salt is being sold at over 100 of the best delicatessen’s in the UK plus supermarkets, Marks and Spencer, Waitrose and Harvey Nichols and successful export to more than 22 countries, there’s no denying, it worked!

Halen Mon are potentially Anglesey, if not North Wales’s, top small business success story.

I have used Halen Mon salt since 2010, for me it knocks the socks off other sea salt brands. Initially I bought it at the local produce market, then began to buy in bulk from their original base on Anglesey ( a series of portacabins) until today; now I visit Tŷ Halen, their award-winning Saltcote and Visitor Centre. A truly unique £1.25m bespoke building; a first for Anglesey, Wales and the UK.  It is their centre of production, shop, headquarters and tourist attraction in its own right. It lies on the banks of the Menai Strait in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, next door to Anglesey Sea Zoo in Brynsiencyn and is well worth a visit.

So, to go back to the beginning. When I started my supper club people laughed. “Who’s going to come and eat dinner in your living room?” people said. A year later I launched a business and a blog, both of which are still thriving. So, the moral to this story and the point I wanted to get to, is…go take a risk. Do something you love. Have passion and belief in your ideas. Don’t let anyone tell you that your plans are crazy. You never know, you could be the next Halen Mon, Patchwork Pate, Dr Zigs… you could write that book, be that musician; but you’ll never know if you don’t try!

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The RNLI Fish Supper at Moelfre lifeboat station

Next month see’s the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) Fish Supper launch a new fundraising event created to raise money and awareness of the work the RNLI, but also to encourage individual’s to eat more fish!

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Between the 9th and 11th October individual’s can host their own Fish Supper, inviting family and friends to share the meal while collecting donations and raising money for the RNLI charity. It doesn’t matter if you are an accomplished chef, cook or total amateur it’s about sharing and supporting our hard-working primarily volunteer, lifeboat crews who are on call 24 hours a day. Over 8,000 RNLI volunteer crew members look after our coastal waters across the UK and Ireland regularly missing their evening meals, so get your friends together and eat in their honour!

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As I live close to the sea and act as a firm advocate for local seafood I was lucky enough to get the chance to attend the inaugural fish supper held at Moelfre Lifeboat station on Anglesey. Around 30 guests including lifeboat men and women, fishermen, seafood suppliers and restauranteurs gathered to sample canapes, made with locally supplied seafood followed by traditional fish and chips supplied by Moelfre’s Coastal cafe and Fish Bar.

Cywain Pysgod (which means fish in Welsh) supported the event. They are a project run by local business support company Menter a Busnes, and co-ordinated by Caroline Dawson, a passionate supporter of local seafood. Their aim is to create a more profitable and sustainable Welsh Fisheries sector by increasing the value of the catch through identifying new markets and developing new products.

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So, go on… get involved! Anyone can host a fish supper. There is a special page on the website where you can register. You will be sent a free party pack which includes recipe inspiration, party game ideas and place-name cards. The Fish Supper doesn’t have to be held between 9–11 October, it’s quite flexible although the RNLI asks that all Fish Supper donations are received by 7 November.

Our evening finished spectacularly with the launch of the lifeboat, a rare opportunity for me as it’s about half an hours drive from where I live, but it was a clear beautiful evening, with stunning views over the Irish sea and all in all it was quite exciting!

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I lost my heart to Portmeirion…my favourite place in North Wales

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First let me say this is not a food post, although  my reasons for visiting Portmeirion were food related. The intention was to go with my friend Sunnie on a fact-finding mission and to do a bit of PR for her dairy free toffee and chocolate (her brand is Toffi Toffee) at the Blas ar Fwyd trade show. As one of my primary Welsh produce suppliers it was a ‘business trip’ that soon became something more pleasurable.

For those not familiar with Portmeirion it was created by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. A passionate conservationist and devoted to the protection and preservation rural Wales, and the landscape in general. Williams-Ellis began building the Italianate village of Portmeirion in the 1920’s. Purchased for £20,000 in 1925 he described it as

 “a neglected wilderness – long abandoned by those romantics who had realised the unique appeal and possibilities of this favoured promontory but who had been carried away by their grandiose landscaping…into sorrowful bankruptcy.” 

He then changed its original name, AberIâ (Glacial Estuary) toPortmeirion: Port because of the coastal location andMeirion as this is Welsh for Merioneth, the county in which it lay (quote and history taken from thePortmeirion website) and began to map out his plans. Over the next 50 years he lovingly constructed what is now an absolute romantics dream. His original insights into its unique appeal were spot on, but he avoided stumbling into the same bankrupcy trap as other speculators through careful planning, salvage, the collection of artifacts and later on donations from other architects or salvagers. His plans were workable and with his eye for recycling, conservation and salvage he created what he called

“a home for fallen buildings”

I love that! and maybe that is a reason i’m so drawn to the place (maybe its the perfect home for fallen women?) Its eclectic, unusual, recycled, thrown together but in the most achingly beautiful way.

The first thing that grabs you as you enter the village is it fantasy like architecture; all sensual curves, nymphs on plinths, ethereal looking statues of women in flowing robes, Grecian pillars aplenty and everything doused in a rainbow swathe of warm Mediterranean colours. It immediately reminds me of sunny holidays, transporting me back to Italy and grape picking in the sun, and confusing me into believing I’ve been transported to somewhere more exotic. Anyone could be forgiven for forgetting they were in Wales.

Then there are the grounds; From the almost tropical sculpted gardens (Portmeirion seems to have its own little microclimate of sun and wellbeing), 1920’s style lido’s, secret woods and stunning views over the estuary you couldn’t fail to fall in love. With the place and whoever you are with. On the day we visited the spring flowers were in full bloom; a magnolia spilling petals over a carpet of daffodils, with the sea as a back drop.

I’ve had more than one romantic encounter with Portmeirion and its no secret that I spent my first date with my (now ex) husband there.  Since we spent twenty years together and had two beautiful children my memories are not sad, but joyful that it marked the beginning of something special.

If this isn’t enough to entice you, Portmeirion is also that place where they filmed the 1960’s cult classic The Prisoner . Surreal, intriguing and the inspiration for many searching questions back in the day…what does it all mean? The series remains a cult and has its own fan club ‘Six of One’ and I’m sure some of the questions about control still resonate.

I revisit regularly. It’s that kind of place; once bitten forever smitten and all that and I find myself drawn back again and again (In the past six months I have attended Festival No.6, which is held there in September. I also returned to do a food demonstration at the Christmas Food and Drink Festival in December and now, as the weather slowly improves again last week.

Portmeirion is open throughout the year;

Ticket prices can be found here but are reduced during the winter months. Reduced prices can be found here

You can also buy an annual pass

Under 5’s go free and no dog’s are allowed on the site

The site has a range of other attractions (if the beauty of the place is not enough!!) including gift shops and cafe’s. There are two fantastic restaurants on the site, the brasserie in Castell Deudraeth which I have eaten in on previous visits and loved and the highly acclaimed Hotel Portmeirion  which much to my shame I have never managed to eat in.

If you wanted to extend your stay there are hotel rooms in Castell Deudraeth, The Hotel Portmeirion or you can book to stay in one of the self-catering cottages within the village itself. I’ve always promised myself that I will, one day, but have never quite got round to it (or to be fair been able to afford it!)

Their website also has many special offers, especially in the off-season. They are currently advertising Spring Afternoon Tea Breaks

To contact Portmeirion about any of these offers or for further information its best to go to their website here

Come and visit, I promise you its wroth it…but you might never want to leave!

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