We’re hiring! (again)

It’s been a long time since I put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and this blog has been sadly neglected – something I will most definitely be rectifying over the coming year. We are however looking to hire another new recruit through the Jobs Growth Wales scheme. If you’re between 16 and 24 and looking for a job, please do apply. The closing date is the 23rd of January – more info HERE.

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We’re Hiring!

All quiet on the blog for quite some time. It isn’t as a result of utter laziness, far from it. Our little business is growing, we’ve moved from our one roomed processing space on the farm to a shiny food business incubation unit at Horeb near Llandysul. It’s a temporary move while we’re converting the old milking parlour on the farm into a new butchery.

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More space has allowed us also to spend some of our grant money on new equipment, so we now have a much bigger capacity for the production of fresh sausage and cured products. This also means that an increase in production means we need an increase in hands to help us produce. So, thanks to funding through the Jobs Growth Wales fund, we’re looking for our very first employee. There are limitations – the fund is open to those between 16-24 who are currently out of work. The position will be based at the unit at Llandysul initially and will then move with us back to the farm. Know of anyone suitable or interested? Please do pass the details on:

https://ams.careerswales.com/Public/Vacancies/View.aspx?vid=20371

RANT. Over. Torvehallerne.

I spent part of my afternoon yesterday agitated and annoyed. I know that I’m getting older as I’m loosing patience easier and am often not as tolerant as I used to be. Why was I annoyed? Well, I overreacted, but my little episode has taught me a valuable lesson about hiring staff (I’m blowing this out of all proportion, all I had was some shitty service).IMG_0406First, let’s have a run through of what I’d been up to. Torvehallerne – two great big glasshouses in a cobbled square on the edge of Copenhagen city centre. They’re built in an ‘up and coming area’, an area a few years ago which was much more unsavoury. The glasshouses are home to two market halls – I find it strange that Copenhagen had no public market prior to this, bizarre even. However, I wouldn’t really compare the market to what we think of as a traditional provisions market, this is a gentrified equivalent, a haven for designed, dressed retailers where moneyed locals and wide eyed camera holding tourists wander the aisles. There’s nothing quite like it in the UK to compare it with (to my knowledge). Some blogs I’d read pre-trip had compared it to Borough Market, but even nowadays with Borough acting as a tourist hub itself, they’re not alike. I remember being introduced to Borough by a Location Manager friend during the early 2000’s, I absolutely loved it. So much so that one year we made it up to London for Christmas Eve just to experience the buzz of the market. I miss the honesty of the place, I was introduced to Gorwydd Caerphilly at Borough, huge rounds of cheese atop a wooden trestle and that was it. No dressing up, no vintage crates, no enamelware, no galv, just the product.IMG_0350

The closest market that it reminded me of is the Oxbow Public Market in Napa, California, though this is much bigger and didn’t feel quite as relaxed. Quite a few people had told me to come to see the market, I don’t know whether that built expectation but it probably contributed to my feelings toward the market. Firstly, it’s stunning, it’s clean, tidy, well presented, beautiful – it’s a spectacle. And that’s probably what killed it for me, tourists are there taking pictures, and locals cling to a small few stalls that they trust – it doesn’t have the feel of a thriving provisions market. It was a Tuesday I know, so I did’t expect it to be packed, but the meat counters were tired looking, they were nicely dressed it’s just the meat had been sat for days. Similarly some of the smaller stalls were immaculate, but you could tell by the servers bored stare that they were clock watching. Earlier this year I went to Spain with some friends, the two markets that we visited in Cadiz and Jerez (especially the fish counters) are amongst the best markets I’ve ever seen, even the small towns in the mountains had incredible markets with just one or two stalls with produce that was out of this world. Each counter was bustling, queues were 3 or 4 deep and most stalls had sold out by lunchtime.IMG_0360

I’m a creature of habit, and when I visit a market I tend to do a walkabout, check out which stalls are busiest, try a few things out and then head back at the end to the stalls that I thought had the best produce. So, I took my tour, had a lovely chat with Bernie from Austria, an ex-Chef training as a butcher on the Cleaver’s stall and who was looking to come to the UK to further train as a butcher. The stall was mainly fresh meat, with a small amount of processed products including sausages from Mineslund!IMG_0374They had some beautiful beef, a wonderful young marbled entrecote/rib-eye from Danish dairy cattle, and some nice aged beef from grain-fed American cattle. They also sold Australian Wagyu (200Kr/Kg) but his pride and joy was their Danish pork from Hindsholm Grisen. They’re an organic, free range producer who rear Duroc breed pigs. From the information on their website they have a very specific breeding regime, sows farrow once per year rather than the commercial 2.5 (5 times per 2 years) and are fed a soya free diet. They’re slow grown, and are weaned late from the mother. It sounds like an idyllic set-up and had I more time, I’d probably try and organise a visit. One thing did strike me as odd – the choice of the Duroc breed, they’re well known for fast growth and good daily live weight gains and seemed an odd choice for slow growth. Bernie and I had a bit of a too and fro on where the Duroc breed comes from, he claimed UK, I thought US. Something for wikipedia to answer… yes, I win USA! USA! USA!

IMG_0371Tired of doing my bit as a gawping tourist taking pictures, I picked the coffee shop with the longest queue and joined it. Now, I’m not a coffee aficionado, I can’t name beans in the way that wine connoisseurs know their grapes, but I do really like my coffee. I’m a bit geekish, I have various ways of making fresh coffee – cafetiere(that’s French press to the Americans), filter but at the moment my favourite is the aeropress (and yes, I have a bean grinder too – am I starting to sound like a twat?). Coffee Collective started off well, I placed my order with an obvious coffee geek –  he ran through the types of coffee they had, where in the world they were from, he was a fountain of knowledge and I placed myself in his capable hands. That’s when things started to go down hill. My coffee was being made by a ‘tanned Danish God’ (my words, but I’m sure he would have been happy with the description). He had an attitude of aloof coolness about him, an attitude that in reality just makes you out to be an absolute tool to the rest of humanity. I started worrying about the quality of the coffee when the whole hoopla of making a brew turned into a show (remember Tom Cruise in Cocktail?). The result; 15mins of waiting uncomfortably for a filter coffee served by a man who ignored me for most of that time; and the coffee itself… on a par with American gas station coffee.IMG_0396

I was irritated at this point, slightly annoyed. I appreciate a bit of flair and theatre, it adds to an experience, but not when the product is terrible. Sadly, I thought this would be the very worst of my market experience, but it wasn’t. The market isn’t to blame really; I am, I chose badly, like a sheep I went with the masses rather than go with gut instinct of who to buy from. Onto Palaeo, that’s right a fast food joint based on caveman ideals. I went for the Palaeo Dog, a smoked organic and free range pork hot dog (though it was more like a brat) in a square omelette with a load of fancy dressing. Sadly, the omelette was cold and limp, the dressing was lumped in bottom part of the omelette and made a soggy mess, but what as worst of all was the tasteless dog – no porkyness, no smokeyness, I could see pieces of chili but I couldn’t taste it.IMG_0410

Having a story, ideal or even a gimmick is fine, but it puts added pressure on you to deliver a good quality product. The Palaeo stall was buzzing, in addition to the small indoor tables their outdoor benches were filled with diners, one of the few places busy mid-afternoon. Was I the purchaser of a single poor item on the menu? Or were we all there like sheep because of pretension? Half eaten, the dog went in the bin, and I headed to find something else to eat and a decent cup of coffee.

IMG_0391So, to give the market its due there were some exceptional stalls. The two fresh fish counters were busy, their fish looked good, bright and their fish was selling well. There were other very popular stalls especially those selling ready to eat food, a liitle Tapas bar was rammed full. But I hadn’t come to Copenhagen to buy from the faux Italian, Spanish and French stalls. There was a real buzz outside – benches and tables were packed with people eating and drinking. Some small more traditional outdoor fruit and veg stalls were doing good business, but their boxed veg stood in contrast to the perfect washed and presented veg inside.IMG_0393Something about the market didn’t rest easily with me. I’m not sure whether it was to do with the fact that for the most part, these were retail stalls i.e. selling a range of goods by different producers. High-end artisan markets work far better when they have a direct connection with the producer, there were a few of these stalls there, and these were the ones that seemed to ‘work’ for me.

So, what did I learn? Choose your staff well, they represent your company, and a poor service will invariably turn people off the produce. Secondly, and more importantly – quality is everything. It doesn’t matter if you use every buzz word going  – ‘free range’, ‘high welfare’, ‘organic’ etc if the product is crap, it’s crap. If I provide crap service, I want to know, I want to do better, I want my customers to be happy.

The Pig Day

Today is the Pig Day, I was up early again as I had an hour and a half to drive to get to the pig farm nr Slagelse. I was meeting farmer Sten Rytter and Bente Damgaard (wife of the Chair of the Local Action Group for the Municipality) who was going to act as my translator for the morning.IMG_0289 Sten and his wife had moved to the farm in 1996, they have two boys (21 & 18), though neither take much interest in the pigs (pig farming isn’t sexy apparently – why has no one told me this before?). The farm is 120ha and Sten and his wife are the sole workers. They grow wheat, barley and rapeseed. The wheat and barley is used as feed for their pigs and the rapeseed is sold as a cash crop. They’re 80%+ efficient in their feed production with the protein element coming from bought soya, sunflower and waste milk/whey from the dairy producer Arla (who was delivering while I was there).IMG_0312Grains were stored in silos and ground into a fine meal in a series of mills every two days. The meal is pumped to storage tanks ready for an automated computer system to mix the correct ration of protein, cereal and whey. The large storage tanks could hold two days of feed, which were pumped into the pig barn (again automatically) at feeding time, four times a day. Feeding for us is manual and extremely labour intensive – by his own admission, the automated system ran itself, all Sten had to do was make sure that the grain bins were kept full.IMG_0316I‘ve seen automated systems on other farms, and I’m always impressed with the automation. It might seem that a computer does everything, but there’s a real understanding of the actual feed – not only do they manage its composition but for the most part in Denmark, it’s been grown and harvested by the pig producers themselves. I try and buy barley meal for our pigs, but it’s increasingly difficult to do so. Our neighbours are refurbishing a hammer mill so soon we might be able to mill locally grown barley for the pigs. Grinding the barley to a fine dust allows the pigs to derive the greatest amount of nutrient from the feed – not only does it make rearing more efficient, it makes the growing/conversion of the feed more efficient too. Controlling the feed process I think is crucial; whether it’s growing the feed, milling feed or making your own ration.IMG_0291The farm is a fattening unit, so pigs come to the farm at around 12 weeks old, and remain on the farm for another 12 weeks before they’re sent to slaughter. Commercial pig production ranges from 18-26 weeks depending on the hybrid type of the pig, the feed conversion, the rearing method and the quality of feed. The pigs are around 30kg when they arrive, and are 105kg when they’re sent to slaughter. He buys the ‘weaners’ from a nearby breeder who keeps 750 sows, in Welsh terms this is big, in Danish terms, this is pretty small. Each breeding sow averages 15-16 pigs per litter, and 2.5 litters per year. These sows are kept on average until they are 3-4 years old before being sent to slaughter (as their litter numbers decline). The price of each weaner is set and regulated based on the cost of production by a national union, Sten currently pays 490Kr (£58) per pig which is pretty close to the cost of a Pedigree Welsh Pig of the same age in todays market. These pigs were a hybrid, crossed from Yorkshire(Large White), Duroc and Hampshire pigs and have been specially bred for their muscle definition, lean carcasses, fast growth and high feed conversion rates. IMG_0301He takes delivery of approximately 190 pigs every Wednesday, and the same number leave the farm every Monday destined for the slaughterhouse. Up until July they fattened 7500 pigs per year, but he has been granted a license to increase production to 10,000 per year as production is regulated by the Government. He doesn’t have a contract for the finished pigs, price is based purely on the demand/price from the slaughterhouse. At the moment he is getting 12.10Kr/kg deadweight (£1.43/kg) which is below the current UK average (£1.68). His price/kg is significantly higher than the base Danish pig price as his pigs adhere to a particular welfare standard, both his weaner supplier and he are part of a welfare scheme (similar in principle to RSPCA Freedom Foods). Although he doesn’t know which processor takes delivery of his pigs, they are all sold to the UK market.

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One question in particular that I had for him was the subject of castration. All of his boars on the farm arrive ready castrated. From 2018, traditional castration will be banned across the EU. Castration is rare in the UK for small scale producers, but is a necessary function in the commercial world. Natural substances collect in the fat of male pigs once they reach sexual maturity which results in a tainted smell and flavour to the meat. When I asked, Sten just shrugged and said “we’ll have to wait and see what happens”. I’m particularly interested in castration as we specifically want larger and older pigs for our charcuterie production. Older more developed meat is of far better quality, is deep ruby in colour and for many technical reasons makes better charcuterie. It means that we have to keep gilts or use culled sows solely, leaving younger male pigs for the fresh pork market. Interestingly Sten mentioned that his castrated boars have growth rates identical to the gilts, however, gilts are more profitable as on average they generate 62% usable meat (of liveweight), where the boars only produce 60%.

IMG_0302Based on a brief head count, each pen could hold up to 20 pigs. Every pen would be disinfected prior to a new delivery of weaners and would remain their home for around 8 weeks, at that point they’d be split to allow more room for their final 4 weeks. Their waste falls through the slatted floor into a tank which is emptied when the pens are cleaned out and fresh straw bedding is placed in the pen three times a week. Each room is kept at a constant 16C, and the ventilation system is connected to his smartphone and sets off an alarm if there are any malfunctions. Feed is pumped in automatically, and the moisture content in the feed is near sufficient for the pigs, but each pen (by law) has a drinker. None of the rearing shocked me, it was far better, more modern and well kept than many rearing systems I’ve seen. I’m actually an advocate of partial rearing indoors, though I much prefer to see pigs in open barns, with natural airflow and deep straw bedding. I’ve seen too many smallholdings who advocate 100% Free Range where pigs spend their winters cold and wet and stood in 3 inches of mud from September to May. I much prefer to see warm, dry pigglets running through mountains of straw.

Due to yesterdays cock-up I had a change of itinerary today so I headed to Copenhagen sooner than expected. One last blog post to come, and that’ll bring my Danish adventure to a close.

 

 

Monday Crapola

Up early, todays visit was the reason I was coming to Denmark. I wanted to see a large-scale, intensive Danish pig farm. I had the most incredible breakfast at my B&B to start the day, and I was ready to leave at 7:30IMG_0163Then came the call; my guide for the day had been taken ill and he would have to wait for the office to open to see if he could find a replacement to take me. Getting into one of these farms has proven tricky for me, only last week some leads I’d made with one of the largest Danish producers had fallen flat and I thought then that I wouldn’t get to see any of them. With time to kill I made my way to the town of Slagelse, the largest shopping centre in the region for a wander. Some unplanned free time came in handy, I needed fuel, and like a stupid tourist abroad I struggled with the automated pumps until a kindly lady pointed out to me that they didn’t accept debit cards, only credit cards or cash. I found a parking spot in one of the main squares in Slagelse and even though it was early you’re pretty much guaranteed that bakers and butchers will be open. On the edge of town in a quaint brick building stood Slagter Thomsen, a traditional Danish butchery.IMG_0176Butcheries or charcuteries in many European countries (France and Germany spring to mind) offer a differing function to what we expect at home. Slagter Thomsen was an excellent example of this. Fresh meat forms a very small part of the offering in the store, cooked meats, meals to be cooked or re-heated at home dominate. The role of the store keeper is far more than meat, it’s the preparation of meat in all its forms. This is what attracts me to ‘charcuterie’. Too often in the UK, when the term is mentioned, people think of air dried meats and salami. To me, it’s about the versatility of someone who can turn meat into a range of different products, and who can also cook those products and serve them to the public.IMG_0192It was an absolute joy to trawl the cabinets in the store, and the staff were utterly patient with me in answering all my questions. Even though it was early, there was a steady stream of customers coming in for their breakfast, or picking up a prepared sandwich or meal for their lunch. Every time I take a trip away I always say to myself, next time I’ll book somewhere with a kitchen. It’s an utter shame that I keep on visiting such excellent purveyors of produce without fully being able to test out their products.IMG_0180With no sign of a pig visit on the horizon I had to have a change of itinerary, so I headed to the nearby port of Korskor. I’d parked next to the cinema, which I later found out is the Oldest Cinema in the World (ok, the building isn’t original but it’s the oldest cinema in the world still operating on the same spot). The lady in the Tourist Information just happened to be the chairperson at the cinema, and she gave me some history. I know it’s not meat, nor food related but as I’m a volunteer projectionist and trustee at Cross Hands Public Hall and Cinema, it was just up my street. Next stop, the harbour at Skaelsor and a recommendation to visit the produce shop at the nearby Castle.IMG_0202I remembered that another participant on the Taste Local Bursary scheme had been to see a small fish producer/smoker in Skaelsor so I headed for the hut on the quayside. He was shut, as was the local museum, the town hall that had a new photographic exhibition on and pretty much anything else I wanted to see (including the produce shop at the Castle).IMG_0219

The only thing that seemed to be doing any real business on the main street was what I thought was a high end wine shop. When I entered, I realised it was so much more, it also sold posh chocs, loose teas, fresh coffee, kitchenalia, real ale, an incredible selection of whisky and the aforementioned wine. However, in complete contrast it also seemed to function as an ad hoc betting shop, in the corner was a lotto machine and a screen with the results for the gee gees. Lovely shop though, and I watched the assistant put a set of exquisite hampers together for one of the customers.IMG_0233

The lack of pig visit had truly cocked up my day. The plan for tomorrow should be a visit to a beef farm, but as pigs are my thing, I managed to re-arrange the visit (fingers crossed) for tomorrow morning, leaving the afternoon free to head back to Copenhagen. One slight problem – the beef farm, and my hotel for the night is 60miles to the south of where I’d spent my day. Queue another long drive and an early start tomorrow.

And remember kids, Hulk Hogan says…IMG_0198

Velkommen til Danmark

Today started as a day of clichés. As I flew into a grey damp Copenhagen I had a sense I was entering into a Scandinavian crime thriller, the sea was choppy, clouds were low and atmospheric and the grey drizzle lent an atmosphere all of its own. The mother and daughter sat next to me were quintessentially Danish, tall, blonde, slim and effortlessly stylish in all black. Even the toilets in the airport had that classy minimal design style which is saved solely for new-build galleries, theatres and arts buildings in the UK.

IMG_9797I’m in Denmark, and specifically Zealand for a few days thanks to a Taste Local Bursary. I have an itinerary of farms, farm shops, food festivals and markets planned before I head home on Wednesday. The flavour of the trip will typically be pigs, pork and the wider world of charcuterie (what else!). Within ten minutes of landing, hungry for some lunch I decided to join the locals in a queue at a small booth in the airport for a Steff hotdog. I now know, thanks to wikipedia that the Steff hotdog is the most popular in Denmark with over 4300 hot dog stands across the country. Steff are owned by Tulip(a familiar name), who have plenty of Danish products on our own supermarket shelves.

IMG_9804My first appointment for the afternoon was a visit to Mineslund, a 100km drive from Copenhagen. I shot across country to see the farm and facility/shop before they closed for the day. The farm is set on a thin peninsula, with sea to both sides, amongst glorious arable farmland, however it sits in complete contrast with the towering industrial skyline of Kalundborg some five miles away(more in a minute).

IMG_9831Their processing facility is a very modest space consisting of cutting tables, vacuum filler, bowl chopper, single trolley smokehouse and a steam oven. Further chillers and drying rooms were accessed from the main cutting space. The processing space takes up around 2/3 of the facility, with the farm shop taking up the other part.

IMG_9845Although the farm is primarily used for cattle production, the predominant produce was pork which is sourced from an Organic producer. However, products did include pork, beef and lamb. What struck me initially was the breadth of produce available, fresh cuts of meat, various types of sausage (fresh, emulsified, cooked, smoked), cooked meat products and salami. The salami was as I expected – a fast-fermented, quick dried Northern European type salami in textile casings. They had a range of pork, pork & beef as well as a lamb salami. Due to the nature of their process they typically take only a week to produce (in stark contrast to our own small salamis that take over six weeks). However, they do produce a Spanish style dried chorizo in a natural casing, which had been produced using more traditional South European methods. I’m not being sniffy about Danish salami, it’s just that I prefer Italian/Spanish or French style to German and Scandinavian.

IMG_9821I had a taster of their ‘beer sticks’, small dried beef, chilli and beer snacks. Utterly delicious, beefy and beery, and not too unlike the South African droewors in their look and texture.

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The majority of products were smoked, and when I asked whether they ever made any unsmoked cured products I had a blank reaction, followed by a curt “no, everything is smoked”. Fresh cured and smoked bacons differed greatly from our own. The loins were heavily trimmed, seam cut and had none of the ‘tail’ from the belly that we have on British back bacon. Fresh semi-coarse sausages were sold frozen as they were without preservatives. There was a good selection of emulsified sausage, three types of ‘franks’ remained in the counter but apparently they had a much wider range, but they’d been selling well that weekend.

Considering that the farm is out on a limb, they were making steady business all afternoon. In addition to farm shop sales, they also sell online and through weekly direct deliveries. When I checked in to my B&B for the night the owner was glowing in her recommendation of Mineslund. Her description was “it’s where you go and buy special things for when family and friends visit”.

I should really mention the B&B proper, it’s palatial, again sticking with those clichés from earlier – it should be on the pages of Elle Deco. It even has a huge living room complete with distressed leather armchairs and an immense collection of taxidermy. I’ve decided to name this fella Charlie…

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There’s also a little kitchenette, which I’m chuffed to bits with. I opened the knife drawer to find Global knives. I don’t even have that standard in my own kitchen (we have Kitchen Craft and a couple of Conran designed Sainsburys jobbies). Anyway, the use of a kitchen meant I could plate up my evening meal rather than try and eat everything from the packet with a spoon. I’d bought svinepostej from Mineslund – best description is that it’s a cross between a pate and a faggot, it’s an emulsified liver, backfat and herb mixture that’s been steam cooked in a little tray. It’s delicious, it must have another ingredient as it doesn’t seem as ‘liver-ey’ as a pate or faggot. Second up is lammerullepolse a heavily salted/cured rolled lamb breast with a liberal dressing of parsley. Seriously good stuff, the earthy lamb has an incredible punch to it. Day one of meat eating has gone well so far (don’t worry I’ve had two apples, cherries and plenty of juice today too).

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One last mention for the nearby town of Kalundborg, when researching for the trip I’d come across Mad Med Mere, the google translation is pretty poor but from what I understand it’s a ‘chain’ of independent butchers shops (I might be completely wrong). I’d seen that they had a branch in Kalundborg so I thought I’d head there late afternoon. Not thinking, I’d assumed that shops would be open until 5-5:30 on a Saturday. Nope, Saturday hours are 9:30-2:00. They’re pretty ’boutique’, and I’m a bit gutted I missed out today as the inside looked lovely, fingers crossed I can visit another during the week.

IMG_9871I was a bit shocked that things closed so early on a Saturday, and from the looks of things, nothing opens on a Sunday (much as the rest of Europe). This isn’t a ‘British abroad’ rant, I thought this was an excellent ‘experience’. The purpose of study trips abroad isn’t just to learn about other cultures, it’s also a way to evaluate your own culture. Saturdays, for us are generally our busiest day. From September we’ll have two markets every Saturday, a market every other Sunday and I’m working on doing some extra events on Saturday evenings if I can logistically fit them in. I’d read a book recently about French culture, and about how they didn’t believe in Sunday opening as it was a Capitalist ideal that was far too close to Americanism. The French would rather make ‘just enough’ rather than follow those ‘American dream’ ideals of making money. Interesting, I know the UK have always had a ‘special relationship’ with the US but I’d never thought of its influence on our shopping habits and our views of the Capitalist ideal. Anyway, enough of my rambling, here’s a picture of the port at Kalundborg.

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Grant: Approved.

“We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.”

So said Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Well, for me, I was nearly at Swindon spurred on by strong coffee and van karaoke when the news finally sank in that the grant offer had become reality. Not really that glamorous, but it had taken four whole days for it to happen.

Just over a week ago I had a call from a senior official at the Welsh Government to say that the final management checks were underway and that things were looking good for the grant, it became official as an approval letter came through our door on Friday. Success.

Thanks to all who’ve supported, contributed, and helped us on our way. Now for the hard work to start.