A 10 acre eco-friendly venue on the Powys/Shropshire border which is “far from commercial”.
We talk to Sebastian Hendry about how a family home and smallholding has evolved into a venue based on eco and organic principles. Sychpwll offers a blank canvas for a small amount of weddings and events along with camping and glamping.
When did you start your venue business and what is its history?
It started organically really, I can’t pinpoint an exact date. In 1982 my parents saved Sychpwll from dereliction and the site became an organic smallholding with various outbuildings. In the mid to late 1990s the open hay barn and old tractor shed were turned into straw-bale buildings and used to house various arts and environmental activities/charity work. It became a venue by virtue of the fact that there were requests for residential activities, and the place evolved to accommodate these events safely and responsibly.
Tell us about your location and site
The Sychpwll Centre is a 10 acre eco-friendly smallholding situated on the banks of the River Vyrnwy, right on the Powys/Shropshire border. We are a bit hidden really, we are only a few miles from a ‘main road’ but often guests remark that the peace and tranquillity feels like a world away from life’s everyday stresses.
We have seven acres of wildflower meadow that is divided by a wildlife corridor, a unique walkway where the trees create an arched corridor, providing a protective habitat to a variety of birds and other wildlife. The wildflower meadows both have their own distinctive character; the grass in the five acre space is allowed to grow tall allowing various paths to be mowed, whereas the two acre meadow is nice and enclosed offering a great view of Rodney’s Pillar. A third field adjoins a wooded area leading to the river.
There are several established unique straw-bale and lime plaster structures and studios, ranging from a kitchen to a performance space, as well as other accommodations, each with their own individual charm.
What facilities for outdoor functions do you offer?
When it comes to outdoor functions we are more of a blank canvas. We have seen pretty much every temporary structure here over time and are generally very flexible in allowing people to choose the perfect structure for them.
We have a number of accommodation options located on site. We have two self-contained spaces, firstly ‘The Cabin’ which sits on stilts at the edge of the five acre meadow and secondly ‘The Hobbit House’ which is a unique straw-bale building with two bedrooms. We also tend to have a glamping bell tent set up in the summer months and a few other unique spaces for people to stay when the site is hired for exclusive use.
Camping is also an option and we self-cap numbers on the site to a max of 100 people so there is always a huge amount of space for everyone. We think that camping right next to other people or in designated bays should be for Glastonbury and not a holiday!
How do you work with your customers to make their event unique?
Every event at Sychpwll is unique. To us the site is very special, it’s also our home after all. When a potential customer reaches out about a wedding or event we generally encourage a visit as it’s the only way to really appreciate what the site has to offer.
We only allow a handful of weddings/events each year so we can help make sure everyone who has a celebration here will be able to make it a completely memorable experience. We can of course offer advice as to what works best, but if people want to create a glamping village for their 40th birthday, use the wildlife corridor as an extended walk to the ‘alter’ or set up a cinema for the kids in the straw bale barn, we can help create it.
How do you publicise yourself?
Until very recently we were purely through word of mouth. When my wife and I moved back from living in Asia a few years ago we started to use our dormant Instagram and Facebook accounts a little more and now try to post pictures of the site throughout the year.
We advertise some of our accommodation options on Airbnb and, camping wise, we are listed on PitchUp but I would say about 70% of the people who visit us are returning guests. Many of our event bookings are actually made through people who have stayed before and fell in love with the site. For example, a lovely couple who came to camp last year, recently returned to stay in the glamping bell tent and got engaged on site! They are now planning their wedding here for 2024.
How would you describe your style or unique selling point?
I think you have to visit to really understand the USP. We are definitely far from ‘commercial’, we hold on to the eco and organic principles that the site was built on and really only try to attract guests to the site who can respect it for what it has become.
We are particularly popular with families with children as the site allows the children to explore, play in the play area and really switch off from the screen. I think being tucked away on a private road allows our guests to escape everyday life. Like I mentioned earlier, this is our home and it makes us happy to see people enjoy the space just as much as we do.
What challenges have you faced historically?
We are situated between the confluence of two rivers and flooding has been an issue from time to time. These days the buildings are all protected from any flood water by a raised bank but that does not mean that in the midst of winter some of the low lying local roads become unpassable from time to time. This is one of the main reasons we are a summer site!
Trying to get people to recycle what they can is also a bit of a challenge! We make it as easy as we can with a designated recycling area, but I must admit I still find myself going through black bin bags when I hear a clink of glass.
How did the pandemic impact you?
Like the whole industry we obviously suffered with guests not being able to visit. Thankfully our daughter, Lena, was born during the first lockdown so we used the many lockdowns and restrictions to bond as a family and spend quality time together.
We also used the time to fix up some of the buildings, clean out the reedbed ponds and do a little tree trimming.
How large is your team – any special people you’d like to mention?
We are a very small family team comprising myself, my wife Debbie and my father Peter. We do most of the work ourselves and appreciate and respect what we each contribute to the running of the site.
We all live onsite and the business is very much intertwined into our daily lives. Our two year old and collie dog will often join us in welcoming people and giving tours of the site.
We have a few special friends who come and stay with us from time to time over the season to help lighten the load and get on top of the polytunnel!
What are your plans for next season?
Next season, we very much hope to continue as we are. We look forward to welcoming back our returning groups and hopefully meeting a few new ones.
We are looking into possibly building a few solar eco showers, maybe even one near the river for those who choose to get wet feet.
Describe your average day mid-season
Every day is different and this is an element we love. It could be anything from hosting lots of families camping, to setting up for a weekend wedding or welcoming a yoga/taekwondo group onto site. At times, it can definitely be difficult to juggle managing the site along with our other jobs and a toddler in the mix, but we love where we live and we enjoy being able to share this magical place with others.
What are you most proud of?
This year we were named as one of the top 20 campsites in the whole of Wales as chosen by holidaymakers themselves. We didn’t know about it but was nice to read the article on Wales Online.
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