Against the grain: The couple who made a complete career change

Matt and Anne Scott quit their management jobs with the Royal Mail to grind their own award-winning organic flour in the country. Kate Hilpern reports
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The Independent Online

Before he is ready to be interviewed, Matt Scott says he just needs to put the goats away. He's already done the chickens, he adds, so he won't be long. It's not a bad place to work, he admits, surveying the breathtaking 500-acre plot in Montgomery, rural Wales, complete with an 18th-century watermill, which he and his wife use to produce a range of award-winning flour.

"It's certainly a far cry from Gosport, near Portsmouth, where we lived up until 2002 working in busy management roles for Royal Mail," he says.

Matt and his wife Anne married in February that year and it was during their honeymoon that they realised they were unsatisfied in their nine-to-five jobs.

"I'd worked my way up from postman, which was gratifying. But we had a young son and found we weren't spending much time with him, particularly as I was working six-day weeks with 5am starts," explains Matt.

After deciding that they wanted to find a career that fulfilled their shared love of tourism, the couple started looking at hotels and campsites, mainly in Devon and Cornwall. "We couldn't find quite what we wanted, but when we started venturing further north, we found this place that had holiday apartments and a campsite – as well as a cottage for us. We saw it in April and moved in on 1 July," Matt says.

Despite the fact that it is an area of exceptional beauty, with rolling hills and beautiful countryside – ideally placed for exploring both Wales and Shropshire – business was quiet, admits Scott. "Come the winter, nobody was camping and we realised we needed to find an alternative way to make ends meet."

Having originally viewed the watermill as a working museum, the couple decided to have a stab at using it to make some flour. "We were both into our food and recognised the growing market for people wanting quality products with a story behind them. So we bought the best grain we could find and turned it into flour using the mill."

Today, the ancient stones of Bacheldre Watermill grind out some of the UK's most popular organic flour, with a host of accolades evidencing its taste and innovation as a business. Among them are "Supreme Champion" in the Waitrose Small Producers Awards 2005, a "gold" in the flour category of the 2006 Soil Association Awards and another "gold" in the packaging innovation category of the True Taste Awards 2006.

Producing 10 types of flour in the traditional way, Bacheldre Watermill Flour includes varieties such as strong malted blend flour, strong 100 per cent wholemeal flour and rye flour. For those with a wheat intolerance, Bacheldre Watermill's spelt flour is traditionally made from a Roman grain and is gluten free.

"Most of our flours are strong and are excellent for breadmakers and for hand baking," claims Scott, who decided from the start to concentrate on the retail market because he didn't want to tie himself up with bakers' orders that "wouldn't do anything for the brand".

"We kicked off by doing food shows, and in Ludlow 2003 we started being approached by top delis like Fresh and Wild. We thought if they were interested, others at the top might be too, so we decided to really focus on getting the packaging right and branding our products as something with quality and heritage that was organic."

It paid off, with Bacheldre Watermill now supplying delis in Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Fortnum and Masons, as well as Waitrose. "We also supply Michelin star chefs like Claude Bosi and we are even exporting to places like Hong Kong, Singapore and Russia," says Scott.

A further reason for the business's success, believes Scott, is that they found a gap in the market. "We're not as big as some of the more established organic mills, but we are bigger than the craft mills. So while there is competition, there was room for something new, and as the new kids on the block, we are really trying to make a big impact."

While Scott and his wife employ three part-time staff, they do the bulk of the work themselves. "We really enjoy what we do. We love the buzz of the chase of the contracts, combined with getting to work in such a beautiful and peaceful area," explains Scott, who adds that they still run the campsite and holiday apartments, which have become increasingly popular.

Scott claims ethics are a fundamental focus of their business. "We try to keep food miles down, for example by only delivering by van to a 25-mile radius. Distributors buy in bulk from there and transport it with other foods that they buy in bulk. It's the best way," he says.

The Scotts are also keen to support their local area. "We do mill tours and also go round the local schools with a little mill, talking to the children about the process from field to loaf. Even though we live in the country, not all children have a knowledge about arable things."

Scott says there haven't been any "scary moments" in Bacheldre Mill's history so far, but they have faced dilemmas about whether to invest in things like packaging or just use the money to grow the business. "There are also times when we think, 'Should we buy this expensive bit of new equipment? Do we really need it?"

Scott is quick to insist that he and his family – his son is now eight and his daughter is three – don't live the life of country bumpkins. "Ann and I have a very commercial head on and we still have to work long hours sometimes, like anyone self-employed."

www.bacheldremill.co.uk

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