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Postcard no.1 from WPN & WPB

Welcome to the first of what I hope will become permanent weekly articles on the week before, covering all sorts of things going on at the nursery as a whole, including the Pancake Barn and all people within. And yes I know they are a bit long for social media, but the point of this is not to drive numbers, just to inform those who wish to be informed in a little more detail.

Every week is busy here, and it is always people who drive events; good, bad and in between, from customers to staff and suppliers, every extra human that enters the fray adds something to the mix!

The arrival of Lia is wonderful news for fans of horticulture, for it is she who now creates and sells the plants here. Lia is RHS Level 3 qualified and has been a self-employed gardener for 6 years. With a strong belief in sustainable gardening, Lia is going to fit right in. A few days ago she held a charity event for “Livability”, which helps disabled and vulnerable people connect with community. She sold plants, had a kids treasure hunt and made pizza for people, giving all profits away. I personally think that to be holding a charity event right at the beginning of a new venture is probably a strong indication of the kind of people Lia and her husband (Matt) are, and in a couple of weeks, they are running the London marathon for that same charity. Good luck to them, and if you would like to donate, you know where they are.

With Lia’s arrival, I believe you will all notice a general and continuous improvement of the plant sales section, and although Lia is entirely self-employed, we all whole heartedly welcome her to the team at WPN.

In the Pancake Barn, we welcome Treeve as a new team member. We are teasing him quite a bit at the moment about his funny idiosyncrasies (we all have them!) but found that they in no way stopped him from being really excellent at making coffee under pressure, which many people struggle at – me included. Another Pancake Barn team member who is doing well is Jake. Jake is young and autistic and receives assistance from a support team, and lives in supported housing. I should say that Jake and I are similar in a way, because I also need support from those around me, and a mixture of my wife, my kids, my friends and the team at work keep me on track. I should say we are all similar really in these ways, for who of us does not need our family and friends, our jobs, our hobbies to keep us from falling?

Where the similarities end is that Jake is by far better than me at working in the restaurant. I watched him closely the other day and listened to him chatting with the customers as he delivered their food and drinks, piled up on a tray as it was, and he expertly conveyed it all, without spillage, and whilst smiling brightly and chatting. This is Jake all over, he is quite a cheeky character, always smiling, and he loves his work, from delivering food and chatting, to doing the dishes, and making coffee, he is literally one of the best members of staff we have, and I told him that too. If anyone thinks for a second this is a positive discrimination thing, it is absolutely not, the lad is one of the best staff members we have, period. His autism if anything makes him more interesting and better in certain ways than most other people, particularly in the area of attention to detail and enjoying life. He smiles more than you and I, he seems to enjoy life more. I wish I were more like him.

Additional non-human arrivals have included Nicky’s corn snake and a couple of as-yet teeny tiny tortoises, and from April 2022 onwards, the plan is to book kids onto a kind of animal hour each Saturday, whereby Nick will show the animals, educating as he goes. Your kids will be able to watch the snake eat a meal, and then move around the different animals, learning about each species. For example, they will be goat grooming, egg collecting and tortoise feeding!

As we move forwards and grow, both in customer numbers and product offerings, we must improve and professionalise in all areas. Hence, we are planning to close for the 4th week in November to upgrade the inside of the restaurant further, and to build outside covered seating areas which will be solar powered with I.R heating. We will also complete the first of the party function rooms, and eventually these will provide completely free of charge parties to children from a disadvantaged background.

Animals and animal care: The recent “Rabbit Gate” incident has shown that although we do provide excellent care for our animals, there is always room to grow and improve. In addition to the changes which we have already posted on Facebook, we will also be positioning signs around WPN explaining in more depth the care provided, which we hope will be interesting as well as informative. The signs will talk about feeding times, diet and cleaning.

In addition to this, Gareth who is currently with us 1 day a week will be with us 3 days a week from April 2022 onwards. This is to accommodate being in charge of outside areas and the care of the animals, with the remainder of the days to be covered by myself. None of these changes mean we have not been anything but proud of our animal care arrangements, and anyone who visits can see that they are happy and healthy within a free range, organic and chemical free set-up.

Pancakes continue to sell like hot cakes, even during term times, which is pretty much what they are right?!! And with the young people going back to school and college I was drafted in to work the till last week, amongst other duties. Honestly, it is one of the hardest and most pressurized jobs I have ever done!

Another thing I noticed was that diners were having drinks, a proper big pancake meal, often shared by 2 persons, and the bill was a tenner! If you add into that the ability to feed the goats and the chickens, the kids to play on the playpark, while you wander around what are becoming pretty grounds, all for free- well I think that is good value and something our whole team can be proud of.

Ultimately though, we can only achieve this for 3 reasons; we are busy, efficient, and thirdly, my wife and I (and later our growing team) built the place with shovels from field up, using materials from swop and sale boards, precisely so we don’t service a million quid of debt plus interest. Nor do we serve a corporation and the need of it for large profit. This situation is rare for what is becoming a relatively large concern, and this also means the whole team cares more - If you damage a little tree we planted 5 years ago, I chase after you and ask you to stop! If any of us see a child crying and alone, we find the parent.

I should say that a big part of efficiency is installing renewables/water bore hole. If you are thinking about starting any kind of project with the need for plenty of power and water, this is one of the first things you should do. Nobody ever looked upon their solar panels and regretted it.

What we are or at least what we are becoming is very clear; we are a fun little place to eat and spend a few hours for young families in particular. We are a small animal attraction and plant nursery too, but most importantly we are purveyors of an attempt to build a sustainable business that is profitable (so we can re-invest) whilst being environmentally friendly and having a strong social conscience. This is through actual actions which you can see and experience;

• Renewable power • We recycle the vast majority of all waste from the site • Off grid for water and sewerage • No single use plastic sold • Bio and renewable cleaning products used in the restaurant • Free parties for disadvantaged kids planned • Chemical free animals and plants • Picnics encouraged (come and eat your own food for free) • Kids fun animal education sessions planned • Free animal attractions and pretty grounds • Animal feed provided for free • Free playparks • Free parking • Unbelievable good pancakes with healthy low sugar options (see gluten free options with sorghum grain, fruit and just a little honey)

None of this is to say we are perfect, we are far from it and mess up frequently, but we try hard and every day we try to improve, and to plan for better things in the future. We are a pretty good place to come now, but in a couple of short years, we aim to blow your minds. To give you somewhere truly special to bring your kids, where you might shake your head and wonder “how did they manage this? And only charge us this?”

Thanks always for your support, and your forgiveness when we slip up, and we’ll catch up again next week.

Ben and the WPN & WPB Team.

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