Unemployed construction worker turns love of bees into thriving brewery business
A construction worker turned his beekeeping hobby into a thriving niche brewery business after finding himself unemployed.
Matt Newell, 30, launched his Wye Valley Meadery business in January this year and its organic alcohol is now being stocked from Brecon to Brixton.
The former site manager left his role when work dried up due to uncertainty in the construction industry, and decided to embark on his “dream job” of producing honey products, having kept bees for 15 years.
Mr Newell said: “I left construction in March last year because my job was coming to an end and being deployed elsewhere wasn’t really the direction I wanted to go in.
“I’d previously worked for a commercial beekeeper, and had bought 10 beehives from him when he retired.
“So when it came to making a decision about my next step, I decided to combine my passion and my work life.”
Mr Newell upped his number of beehives to 130, and after months of testing honey recipes and eventually developing his sparkling 5% mead, he approached the Prince’s Trust Cymru for help setting up his niche business.
Ten months after Wye Valley was launched, bottles of its mead are being stocked in 25 shops in Wales and England, with his Chepstow-based brewery’s brewing capacity expanded from 300 litres to 3,450 litres.
Mead, made from fermented honey, water and yeast, is believed to be one of the oldest alcoholic beverages used across Europe, Africa and Asia.
It has seen a renaissance in recent years due to the popularity of craft-brewing and the desire for gluten-free and organic products.
Mr Newell, who runs the business with his brother Kit, said one of his next steps was to expand the number of stockists, including into the EU, although Brexit uncertainty posed a threat to his ambitions.
He said: “We’ve had a meeting with someone from Norway this year but everyone’s super in the dark about what’s going on and none more than us to be honest.
“We get our bottles from France, our yeast from Belgium. Our honey is local but there’s a lot of uncertainty.
“We’re talking to people about exporting to Europe and no-one’s really sure about whether shipments are going to be held up in a container on the English channel for weeks on end, so it’s a big problem.
“It’s the same everywhere. People are holding off investing in all sorts of construction projects, so that’s sort of what prompted me to move into this.”
Mr Newell’s achievements saw him win the NatWest Enterprise Award at The Prince’s Trust and TKMaxx & Homesense Awards in Cardiff on Thursday, and he said he owed his success to volunteer mentors from the trust’s training scheme.
Its Explore Enterprise programme is a free self-employment training programme for those aged 18 to 30 who want help turning their business idea into a reality.
“My advice to other people wanting the same thing as me is take a small leap, and if it works out take bigger leaps.
“When you fail, learn from your mistakes, so it’s a learning process rather than a failure.”