The background to Cambrian Mountains CIC goes back to 2008 when HRH The Prince of Wales set in place the Cambrian Mountains Initiative, one of 4 rural initiatives aimed at supporting and developing the upland farming economies of Mid Wales, Dartmoor, the Peak District and The North Highlands.
In Mid Wales the Initiative began work with local farmers to market lamb, and started to explore how best to make the most of wool. Seminars were commissioned, organised by Suzi Park of the Textiles Technology Project, to try and find out what interest there would be in ‘doing something about wool’ and what that ‘something’ could be. Currently, under UK law, all wool has to be collected by the British Wool Marketing Board where it loses identity as Welsh Wool and becomes British Wool, unless special exemption is given for certain breeds. The only commercial scouring and spinning mill had recently been been sold on the owners’ retirement and removed to Cornwall, leaving a gap in the Welsh supply chains.
The results of discussions were many and varied and the answer was still unclear. In the meantime, submissions were invited for products to carry the Cambrian Mountains label. For wool, makers had to be able to prove they used wool traceable to the region. Sue James of Llynfi Textiles had knitwear – using wool from Juliet Morris at Ystrad Farm – accepted into the scheme in 2011. A small working group was subsequently formed in autumn 2012 of those who had remained in touch and still doggedly talking about possibilities: Suzi, Sue and Juliet were joined by Carys Hedd and Jude Howard, and a little later by Lorraine Pocklington.
Still the wider answer remained elusive although it was agreed that the priority was making the most of the actual wool, rather than trying to set up Welsh processing facilities which would be prohibitively expensive. It was accepted that the best return for the region would be by commercial marketing of the wool to contribute to the raising of the profile of the Region generally; the legalities of the UK wool market means that it’s impossible to increase returns directly to Welsh farmers for their wool as payments for any particular grade are divided across the whole of the UK.
An opportunity was presented in 2014 to carry out a Feasibility Study to look at the possibilities (if any) of bringing wool, produced in the region, back into Wales as yarns for knit and weave in commercial and repeatable (and traceable) quantities, so enabling wider access to it by the remaining weaving mills as well as individual makers and crafters. Carys left the group as she’d moved away and the remaining five, with the co-operation of the British Wool Marketing Board and Curtis Wools Direct, launched the study with a Challenge to designers to use the tops, yarns and fabrics that were trialled. The resulting collection was toured as an exhibition to gauge interest, with much success, and the report completed.
Roll onto February 2016 and Cambrian Mountains Wool CIC finally, and at last, was incorporated with Suzi Park, Sue James, and Jude Howard as its Directors. Juliet and Lorraine have moved onto other things but their input into the project were invaluable and key to its success. Thanks are also due to the Cambrian Mountains Initiative and its staff over time, particularly Carly Butler (now Cooke), Aled Jones and Nicole Aarons, and the continued encouragement of the BWMB, Curtis Wools and Melin Tregwynt.