“This is how it should be done” writes Andy from Wales, drawing attention to a BBC report that Melin Tregwynt in Pembrokeshire is becoming an employee ownership trust to ensure the future of the business.
Regular readers will recall earlier accounts of Go Ape, Richer Sounds, Scotland’s Turnberry Rug Works, the Architects Design Partnership and Aardman of Wallace and Grommit fame moving to employee ownership.
Melin Tregwynt is a woollen mill in a remote wooded valley on the Pembrokeshire coast. There has been a mill on this site since the 17th century, when local farmers would bring their fleeces to be spun into yarn and woven into sturdy Welsh wool blankets
In a wide-ranging BBC Wales report about several businesses, Nicola Bryan records that this third-generation company is now run by Eifion and Amanda Griffiths who employ more than 30 people at Melin Tregwynt in Castlemorris, Haverfordwest.
His grandfather bought the mill, then called Dyffryn, at auction in 1912 for £760 and, after training as an architect, Eifion returned home in the ’80s to help his parents. He was determined to ensure the mill had a future: “We wanted to stay as a Welsh company and we wanted to continue weaving in this part of Wales”.
A typical ‘tapestry’ design
There is huge demand for their traditional Welsh blankets, “fast out stripping supply”, and after the UK, the company’s largest trade market is Japan: “They understood the power of the story, and the history of product because their own history of craftsmanship is extraordinary.”
Manufacturing at the mill had to stop in the first Covid lockdown but during that time online sales grew. He said their biggest issue was the supply chain: “Getting the yarn in quickly enough, and making it quickly enough to get it out again.”
As they near retirement, Eifion and Amanda Griffiths have decided to set up an employee ownership trust, Eifion said this was a way of ensuring the business does not get sold on and lose its heart.
“If it goes somewhere else the product may not change but the way that it’s made and the circumstances around that and the environment might change and we don’t want to do that . . . We don’t want to preserve it as if it was a museum, but we want to preserve some of the aspects of the traditional way of weaving and this seems to be the best way to do it.”
Their plans mean that the business would “in effect be owned by everybody who’s working in the business”. Employees will be given shares and bonuses while they are working for the company and the management team continue to run the business as before. He and his wife plan to continue in the business for some years but “step back from the day to day and take a more strategic view”.
Derek Walker of the Wales Co-operative Centre said it was natural to consider giving ownership to staff since those employees have helped to build the business. He notes that employee ownership keeps jobs in the local community and is good for the business because great improvements are seen in productivity in sectors from tech to textiles, from restaurants to TV production.