Aberdaron business grows bigger and greener during pandemic
The owners of a Pen Llŷn business have adapted to Covid-19 by completely transforming the way they do business.
Geraint Jones, with his wife Gillian, has run Becws Islyn in Aberdaron since 2012. Despite never having baked or cooked previously, they bought what was at the time a ‘tin shack’ and, after just a few days’ training from the previous owner, completely turned the business around.
A year after buying the business, the tin shack was demolished and replaced with a beautiful lime plastered, thatch-roofed building that looks as though it might have served 13th-century pilgrims alongside neighbouring ancient buildings.
“We decided to build a new thatch-roofed bakery so people could have something to talk about,” Geraint explains. “Rather than just the bread, they could talk about the building as well. I think by today it's quite iconic. If you get a customer coming in and first thing they ask is about the thatched roof, it's a good start isn't it?”
Becws Islyn was going from strength to strength. “And then we had a surprise in 2020 - Covid came round and decided to spoil everything!”
But this didn’t stop the baking. A home delivery service was started and luckily, with the couple and their son and daughter and their respective partners living at the same property over lockdown, they tackled the task together and achieved a thriving delivery service.
As it had all gone so well and they were making so many deliveries around the Nefyn area, they bought a cafe in Nefyn which they converted into a bakery. What’s more, deliveries had picked up closer to Pwllheli too – so they bought a commercial property there which is also being transformed into a bakery, providing employment for two or three local people.
In the middle of the pandemic, they decided to build an extension to the bakery, and for this they received a small Arfor grant via Gwynedd Council. “Everything helps, doesn't it?” says Geraint.
With the increased mileage from making so many deliveries, Geraint and Gillian were concerned about the environmental impact it had. Two electric vans were bought, with a grant from the Coastal Communities Fund contributing to the cost of one while the business paid for the other.
“The plan is to get more carbon neutral,” says Geraint. “We’re attempting to get 'everything compostable' in the bakery now, with a new style of cafe from mid-March to April.”
The idea is to greatly reduce electricity and water usage by serving food and drinks in compostable boxes and cups. Customers will drop these into a bin as they leave, and everything will be composted and spread on the land where Geraint will then grow wheat.
Hoping to receive another grant – this time from the National Lottery Heritage Fund - to restore Aberdaron’s old mill to working order, the plan is for Becws Islyn to mill its own flour for baking. “We're going to try as much as we can now with the carbon footprint. I think it's very important and it will bring new customers to the village, I would say.”
On the horizon is another project in Aberdaron, again aimed at attracting more visitors during the winter. Opposite the mill are some old tin sheds, which hopefully can be turned into small retail units in a couple of years’ time. The idea is to rent these out to local businesses and have more shops in the village. “We don’t want it to get any busier in the summer, but in the winter it would be nice to see more life in the village. I just hope there will be no barriers in the planning process when the time comes.”