Wensleydale Brewery

Brewing up success with Let’s Grow

Wensleydale Brewery secured a Let’s Grow grant after reaching capacity at their current 5brl brewery in the Yorkshire Dales.

“It was Summer 2016 when we realised we were hitting our limits, so we started planning the next step. We heard about Let’s Grow from a family friend who also benefited from a similar fund and they recommended we got in touch,” said joint managing director Geoff Southgate.

Geoff runs the business alongside joint managing director Carl Gehrman. Having both worked at the brewery since leaving school, they took the opportunity to take over the Brewery and make their own mark when the previous owners decided to sell up in 2013.

“We both worked for the brewery after leaving school, and when the then owners decided to go on a new path, it was either take it on ourselves or look for other employment. We felt it still had potential to move forward so we took the plunge,” Geoff added.

And as any business owner will tell you, taking over a business is never straight forward, especially when it’s your first acquisition. “No takeovers are smooth, we were 23 and 22 respectively and completely green to everything so it was all a learning curve. But thanks to a lot of help and local support we managed to get it on the right path pretty quickly,” explains Geoff.

The brewery then grew rapidly, scooping several local CAMRA and Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) awards and landing contracts with retailers and pubs across the North of England. They also saw turnover soar to £201,000 in the year ended 31 March 2016, with turnover forecasted at £264,000 for the current financial year.

However, after reaching capacity at their current site, the pair were aware that their existing equipment and premises were antiquated and unable to service increasing demand. It was at this point they decided to apply for funding from the Let’s Grow initiative.

“As a result, we secured a £30,000 grant towards our project,” Geoff said. “With us being first time borrowers, it would have been very difficult for us to borrow enough to make the project possible, the grant offered us the extra security the bank was looking for so it was a positive outcome on two fronts. Without the new brew plant, it would have been impossible for us to grow, with the increased capacity we can begin to expand on our existing sales.”

The funding from Let’s Grow will now enable the pair to up production, install modern state of the art brewing equipment and move into new, larger premises on an industrial estate in Leyburn. With the proposed move to larger premises coupled with investment in machinery, the pair are confident they can increase turnover by c25% each year for the next three years and increase staff numbers from two to five, creating three jobs in a difficult rural location by 2019.

Mike Baker of BE Group, which administers Let’s Grow in partnership with Clive Owen LLP, said: “We are delighted to have been able to help Geoff and Carl through the Let’s Grow scheme. The grant enabled them to attract the external funding required to pursue their ambitious expansion plans, and I wish them every success in achieving their aims and creating new jobs in Wensleydale.”

The York, North Yorkshire & East Riding Enterprise Partnership (LEP), helped set up the Let’s Grow initiative in Yorkshire. David Kerfoot, MBE DL, deputy LEP board chair, said: “Removing obstacles to growth is exactly why we set up Let’s Grow. Using our funding, Geoff and Carl have drawn down a greater level of investment than had they just gone to the banks, allowing them to fully realise their ambition for the business.”

Published: 14 September 2017

Article by Bryce Wilcock
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