A multiple award winning wedding and glamping venue with eco ethics
Simone and Roger Broome have transformed their small Welsh farm into a multi-use venue that can operate whatever the weather. Weddings make up 50% of their business and a dedication to ‘greeness’ has attracted conscientious couples and multiple sustainability awards.
When did you start your venue business and what is its history?
We moved down to this little farm (40 acres) in rural West Wales at the beginning of 2007 and started some self-catering alongside our renovation and development. We didn’t start offering weddings until 2011 (licence for weddings achieved on 31 March 2011). Glamping grew gradually alongside the weddings with our first Welsh-made yurt acquired towards the end of 2011.
Tell us about your location and site
Ceridwen Centre (and its sister enterprise Welsh Green Weddings) is located in North West Carmarthenshire. We’re about 12 miles from Carmarthen. We like to think we’re ‘rural without being remote’ but many of our visitors think we’re really tucked away! This part of Carmarthenshire is farming country – dairy, beef, sheep; beef mostly with some arable – and it’s hilly. Apart from the farmyard itself there was literally no flat land when we started. We’ve had to flatten two areas to create space for our giant tipis and/or a small camping/games space.
The other challenges I guess – because we’re on the west side of the UK – are heavier rainfall and wind. Our meadow tipi is up for seven months of the year only. It would be too blustery outside this season.
What we do have is lush greenness, incredible views down the valley, peace and quiet and wonderfully starry skies. The Milky Way is clearly visible here.
What facilities for outdoor functions do you offer?
We have on-site accommodation (for weddings, courses, retreats and holidaymakers) for over 60 people in a mix of converted and renovated farm buildings and a variety of glamping structures (including a double decker bus!). The yurts were constructed by a good friend in South Wales, Steve of Wentwood Yurts, but we maintain them and have built the decks for them etc. Every other structure on site has been built or rebuilt and upcycled by our team here.
The old slurry pit was cleared out and made into a small walled garden a few years back, and in 2014 we constructed a green oak pagoda with a reclaimed slate roof and sited it on the wall of this garden overlooking the valley. This has been licensed for ceremonies for the last three years now and is very popular. The couple, the registrars and witnesses are under the cover of the pagoda with guests sitting on old pitch pine pews in the garden.
We now have two giant double tipis – the meadow tipi for wedding receptions from April to October and a newer (but secondhand) farmyard tipi which we bought almost a year ago as back-up but also for bad weather drinks and canapés provision down in the farmyard. We also use it for some workshops and classes, and this year, for the first time, for our three festive parties.
What services do you offer?
Outdoor ceremonies are what many couples are looking for, but in the UK there always has to be a Plan B. Indoor ceremonies happen at the moment in our converted Old Dairy in the farmyard but may in the future be possible in the open pole barn in the yard – we built this two years ago and have planning permission now to enclose half of it and convert it into an event space.
We have our own catering team – the head chef is our son-in-law (yes, a real family business) – and we work with our couples to plan their events. Some need a lot of assistance, some just a few local supplier recommendations. In the seven years we have been offering weddings here we have met and established good relationships with many fabulous local suppliers!
How did you research and source your marquees?
Our USP has always been our eco ethics. Greenness is incredibly important to us, so when we started looking for our own ‘canvas’ event space at the end of 2011 it was important to us to buy Welsh if possible but definitely British. British-made tipis were not an option then so we designed, commissioned and made our own using 50% organic flax and 50% canvas. The poles we collected from a local forest and debarked ourselves, and the metal fixings were made by the blacksmith in the village. This was definitely not the easy option!
Our second tipi was made by The Tipi Company – there is now a British-made alternative.
How do you work with your customers to make their event unique?
The service we offer is personal and we do not perceive ourselves in any way, shape or form as a ‘wedding factory’. Obviously, there are common elements to all weddings but we do allow space for couples to add their own touches.
How do you publicise yourself?
Initially, by our own websites and by joining ‘Green Union’. We have only ever attended one wedding fair and realised this was not for us! We’ve had a few lucky breaks in terms of publicity, and many of our couples now have either followed us online and/or come to us by personal recommendation.
Because our offering for vegetarians and vegans is good (we ourselves are veggie) we attract many couples through the veggie, vegan and organic press who are vegetarian, vegan, flexitarian but in any case very conscious of where their food comes from.
How would you describe your ‘style’ or unique selling point?
Local, Welsh, organic and fair-trade, as green as it’s possible and practical to be.
What challenges have you faced?
Many. Poor rural broadband and mobile reception due to the ‘rationalisation’ of masts as telecoms companies have merged – our service over the last 10 years has deteriorated hugely.
The weather – but we’re as prepared now for all eventualities as we think we can be!
The official stuff – local tourism departments and the government are totally in favour of rural diversification like ours but not all council departments are as enthusiastic.
One of the most ridiculous issues we’ve had is getting a recycling contract with a local company – we are just out of area for several local commercial waste and recycling businesses, and despite the fact that council domestic waste and recycling trucks drive up and down our lane weekly with no issues, commercial companies are wary of businesses ‘off the beaten track’, and tend to rely on outdated Google Earth coverage of our lane. Our planning permissions have required us (at considerable expense) to widen entrances, create lay-bys and move hedges so the images recycling companies look at do not reflect the real situation now.
What are your plans for next season?
The plans are for this winter – enclosing one half of the huge pole barn in the yard and completing the landscaping and tidying up to make the whole visitor experience better. It’s a delicate balance – we’ve gone from rundown and scruffy but want to stop well short of manicured. The farm’s soul is rural and natural and we do not want to look contrived or artificial.
Describe your average day mid-season
There isn’t an average day really. We live on site with all the advantages and disadvantages that brings, and are hands on in the day to day running of the business.
Why do you enjoy the business?
The fact that it’s growing organically and that things evolve in a rarely predictable way. We love the interaction with people and exceeding couples’ expectations.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in and how do they integrate with your function venue operation?
Glamping and regular wood-fired pizza nights. Weddings are probably over 50% of our business now but we still have and value highly a lot of non-wedding related business, and many wedding couples or guests return for a holiday, course, retreat or short break at a future date.
What are you most proud of?
Our awards – Sustainable Tourism Gold from 2013 to 2016 inclusive in the local Carmarthenshire Tourism awards; our 2nd place in the Bridebook Welsh Venue category in early 2017 and, more recently, being shortlisted as one of five UK tourism businesses shortlisted in the CLA Rural Business Awards.
Our happy couples – there’s nothing so satisfying as a delighted couple’s personal email or card thanking us and our team for their efforts!
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Do not expect an easy ride. Your work surroundings may be scenic and idyllic but you are still in business with all the inherent practical, personal and financial problems of any business.
Do not expect things to stay the same – just because it worked last year is no guarantee of this year or next year. Expectations and competition are increasing all the time.
Our belief is that the wedding venue market and the glamping venue market round here are becoming saturated – with supply starting to exceed demand. Not all will survive and reinvention is probably essential!
Home-made and The Tipi Company – www.thetipicompany.com
Dandy Dura from William Armes – www.william-armes.co.uk
Green Union – www.greenunion.co.uk
Organic Holidays – www.organicholidays.com
Green Traveller – www.greentraveller.co.uk
Nicholas Insurance (Haverfordwest) – www.nicholasinsurance.co.uk
Pen-y-banc Farm, Drefach-Felindre, Llandysul, SA44 5XE