Small Welsh businesses’ support for communities during the C-19 pandemic will be celebrated in film –thanks to Wrexham Glyndŵr University’s Horticulture Wales project.
The project has commissioned a series of short films to celebrate the success of the businesses, and show the diverse range of ways that the businesses – each members of the project – worked to support communities across Wales during the March lockdown – and beyond.
The films feature businesses from right across Wales, from Cowbridge in the Vale of Glamorgan all the way up to Flintshire in North East Wales. Their diverse stories show how horticulture-linked businesses of all kinds found themselves adapting their practices to meet the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
Camlan Garden Centre & Farm Shop, set in the beautiful Snowdonia National Park, discuss how they changed their operations to not only meet official guidance – but also the demand for home deliveries of essential food, as well as resources for home growing as customers’ interest grew.
They also needed to continue to develop their site in preparation for opening a cafe, which had been temporarily postponed. Owners, Lisa and Ian Allsop, stock food produce from producers across Wales; and plants grown in Wales and England.
Ian said: “We were very surprised by the huge range of high quality welsh produce when we moved to Wales, and wanted to reflect this within our business – we’re proud of the range we now sell.”
Cletwr Community Shop and Cafe, Machynlleth, sits on the site of an old petrol station and during the pandemic, staff worked to ensure it remained a vibrant community shop, selling locally grown vegetables and salads, and training volunteers through roles in the community shop and café.
Manager Karen Evans said: “We rapidly switched to offering takeaway and click and collect. We also promoted what was available in the shop on a daily basis via social media to keep customers informed, doing our best to keep the local community supplied with food.”
In Llangollen, Zingbier Wholefoods found the changes the pandemic wrought a major challenge – but ensured their friendly, customer-led shop was able to keep providing the personal touches which it prides itself on.
Owner Chris Baker said: “We kept going all the way through the pandemic, but had to adapt the way we work and interact with customers. At first, we limited the number of customers in the shop to only two at a time but, once the March lockdown began, we stopped allowing customers in at all. Instead, they were served from a temporary counter in the shop doorway.
“Mostly customers would send in orders via email, text or telephone; we would put together what they wanted; and they would call just to collect and pay.
“We soon learned who wanted smooth or crunchy peanut butter, and dark or light tahini, and who preferred everything organic where available!
“A lot of products – bags of flour in particular – were in high demand and so difficult to obtain reliably from our wholesalers. When even sacks of flour could not be bought from our usual suppliers, the local bakery came up trumps and were able to supply us!
“At one time we had locally grown salad and other vegetables but, sadly, they weren’t able to continue supplying us, so there’s a bit of a gap there. We’d like to be able to fill it.
“It would be great to hear from local growers, local producers. We’re always willing to have a look at what you’re offering, and perhaps we’ll be able to stock it.”
The pandemic didn’t just affect those whose businesses involve direct contact with the public in shops, however.
In Cardigan, Charles Warner of Quinky Young Plants, grows high quality herbs and ornamental plants for sale to garden centres across Wales. His plants are grown from cuttings and seeds, in peat free compost, without the use of pesticides.
Charles found his business having to adapt twice – first to a fall in demand, and then to respond as people adapted to the new situation – and new demand grew.
He said: “At the start of the March lockdown, I had to throw away many of the plants that had been grown over the last twelve months to reach saleability in time for the normal season that starts in March and continues until June.
“With the retailers all closed the future of the business looked very uncertain. Some garden centres began to find novel ways of trading after a few weeks and although production and delivery could not be carried out profitably I worked every day from March to July in a battle to save the business.
A wave of interest from retailers and the public in shortening supply lines and buying locally has given Charles the confidence to invest in more growing space to satisfy want he thinks will be greater demand in the future.
He added: “The season has extended well beyond that of a normal year but with reduced turnover this season surviving the winter will be hard but if we can do that we will start next year stronger – and with a much increased capacity and range of plants.”
In Cowbridge, in the Vale of Glamorgan, Cowbridge Physic Garden was another small business which found the initial response to the pandemic a challenge – as visitors were asked to stay away.
However, the garden, described as ‘an oasis of calm’ in the ancient market town, was, like other Horticulture Wales businesses, able to use the time to adapt.
The Garden’s Martyn Hurst said: “During the initial Coronavirus lockdown, our garden was closed but small groups of volunteers were allowed to tend the garden, behind locked doors.
“Since re-opening, a huge number of visitors have commented on how good the garden is looking, and how it lifts their spirits to wander through such a special place – and spend time enjoying nature’s bounty.”
And at the other end of Wales, in Flintshire, a small group of gardeners were also working across three sites in the county for Flintshare – adapting their working practices to continue growing organic fruit and veg – and allowing their growing number of members to socialise responsibly.
Janet Wainwright from the Flintshare group said: “We are a group of community fruit and vegetable gardeners working over three diverse sites in North Wales. We have been sharing our organically grown fruit and veg over the past 10 years at our weekly members hub, which is not simply a veg ‘pick up point’ but an opportunity for members to socialise with members across the different sites and eat cake – we must not forget the cake!
“Not to be thwarted by the Covid 19 Pandemic, we have successfully adapted our working practices in order to continue producing local, sustainable fruit and veg for our members.
“Indeed, during the pandemic there has been a flurry of interest in our membership which now stands at around 100.”
Laura Gough, Head of Enterprise at Wrexham Glyndwr University, said: “We recognise the challenges faced by our members’ businesses over the past few months, and wanted to record these with a series of short films, highlighting their resilience and their response to the pandemic.
“Working together with FilmCafe, these films demonstrate how local growers, horticulturalists and producers have worked together, kept their communities safe and supplied Wales with local goods and produce.”
Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, said: “I would like to congratulate all of the producers and businesses from across Wales whose work has been highlighted thanks to this project.
“The determination and innovation they’ve shown in adapting to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic are characteristic of the resilient nature of this sector, along with the effort they have put in to support their local communities.”