It’s been a jam-packed summer, and I am thrilled to be getting out and about and spending time with our newest members of The Hills Members Club. Most recently, I met up with Jo Smith to find out more about her incredible talents and her passion for small businesses and rural living!
Although Jo considers herself ‘a little nutty, whacky and someone who thinks outside the box’ (a fairly accurate description!) it is clear that she is incredibly hard-working and determined. Living with husband Rob, and their two adorable flat-coated retrievers, Frankie and Benny (she assures me she has never eaten in their restaurant namesake), you won’t find her sitting still, instead she will be working on her next big plan in what can only be described as organised chaos.
She says ‘I like to work with people who make things happen, I don’t like laziness and I like people who share and help others. I believe that if we help each other, the world is a better place. I love supporting local businesses and will only recommend people that I have worked with or met personally, this way I know that a person or place is truly great so can sell it to others.’
The husband and wife team bought a derelict property in north Wales back in 2001, and together built their home with a warm, open door policy. Working to a strict budget, they were not without their setbacks in the early months, and were surprised at Christmas not by Santa, but the local council serving a closure order on them! The ensuing drama was what could be described politely as disorganised bureaucracy but it set their project back 9 months, and resulted in a new batch of planning permissions.
As hinted at above, Jo and Rob love entertaining and Jo has a passion for cooking and local food, therefore it was no shock to me that their building and development resulted in opening a B&B. Jo explains how the idea came about; ‘During a train trip to London, I sat opposite the owner of the Light House B&B at Llandudno. We talked (and talked) about how he had set up his B&B, the things to look out for, things to do and not to do. It was an inspiring journey – when I got home my first words to Rob were ‘we’re opening a B&B’!’
Since, the B&B has continued to grow, and inspired by a local talk about dairy milk, Jo enrolled with the Food Technology Centre, Anglesey to learn about making her own cheese. It’s not in her nature to do things half heartedly and The Little Welsh Cheese Company was established in 2014 and she appeared in ‘Top of the Shop with celebrity chef Tom Kerridge earlier this year. She explained that her new business was ‘born from my passion of all things food. My first cheeses include a Mature Cheddar, Caerphilly and a Gouda style cheese. They are handmade the traditional way and are suitable for vegetarians. I use milk from a local farm at Treuddyn, where the cows graze on welsh pasture. The cheeses are pressed and then left to mature, some in their own natural rind, under ground in a tailor-made cheese cave in our cellar. My Welsh Cheddar needs time to mature in order to develop its distinctive and complex flavours and textures and it can mature for anything up to 24 months. When the cheese reaches its perfect maturity, it is divided into Little Welsh Cheeses, ready for cheese lovers everywhere.’
And believe it or not, she’s still expanding!
After being made redundant from her day job as a Health and Safety Consultant, Jo and Rob decided to look for other revenue streams for the B&B, so plan to run training courses and rent this fabulous space out for events. Excitingly, the B&B will therefore soon be re-branded and become known as ‘The Venue Hope Mountain’, and I am confident it will become the place to be for local events and courses.
Jo was so unfortunate and suffered a completely unexpected brain haemorrhage in April 2009, resulting in a stay at The Walton Centre, Liverpool and several months off work. It is clear that she now grabs every opportunity with both hands. If the above doesn’t demonstrate just what a fantastic lady Jo is, consider her ‘extra curricular’ activities. Every year the B&B acts as a lunch stop for ‘a hike around Hope Mountain’, raising funds for the Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital and the Walton Centre. Amazingly, this year was it's 13th year running and they raised an incredible £20,000 for the Walton Centre alone. Jo also helped to organise a Bentley Car Rally in 2017 for the Walton Centre which raised in excess of £35,000 which went towards the ‘Sid Watkins home from home’ building.
And the fundraising doesn’t stop there, this year Jo is on a mission to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Research on behalf of her mum who unfortunately was diagnosed with mouth cancer.
Jo is a passionate business owner and champion of local and rural enterprises, and can also be found on the committee for the local groups linked below. When she does have a spare moment however (though I don’t know how she can squeeze it all in), she enjoys sewing and has dreams of converting a section of the house into a sewing room. A self-confessed lover of the Welsh countryside, she feels happiest driving up the hill to her home, and can’t wait to welcome old friends and new ones to her door.
Find Jo at the following:
Clwydian Range Food and Drink
Flintshire Tourism Association
Clwydian Range Tourism Group.
Wrexham Food Festival.
Chair of the Flintshire Destination Management Partnership