Farming wife Brenda Lewis from north Pembrokeshire has been a keen cook since studying catering in college – but becoming an independent business woman would have been beyond her wildest dreams.

Now with support from Farming Connect’s Agrisgôp programme, this busy farming wife and mum to five grown-up children has developed the confidence and skills to become an entrepreneur too.

After many years of working as a dinner lady in her local school, which fitted in with the needs of her then young and expanding family, Brenda has, despite a relatively shy and modest personality, been slowly acquiring and building up a number of successful rural businesses.

She says the catalyst to her steadily evolving planned programme of business initiatives, all linked with her small family farm, Wenallt in Felindre Farchog, was joining a Farming Connect Agrisgôp group in Pentre Ifan, near Newport some years ago.

“Agrisgôp gave me the confidence and the gentle but persuasive push I needed to turn my ideas into reality,” says Brenda.

Her newest venture is taking over her local pub, the Salutation Inn, just a mile or so from the farm, which, in its latest guise of community hub, is breathing new life into this sleepy village.

“The first Agrisgôp group I joined was facilitated by well-known Pembrokeshire business woman Olwen Thomas.

“Olwen’s support, together with business experts she brought in to help advise us and the positivity from the other members, made me realise I could turn what I thought were just pipe dreams into reality, which gave me the confidence to investigate new ways of introducing more revenue to the farm business.

“Most importantly, it gave me the courage to talk to an accountant who addressed the group and to start working on a business plan which convinced my local bank manager he should support me."

More recently, Olwen provided the piano-accordion accompaniment to professionally trained Welsh opera singers, both from local farming families and also members of an Agrisgôp group, at a packed-out community musical evening in the pub!

Brenda’s late father had bought Wenallt, a coastal smallholding in the early 1960s, originally running a small dairy herd on around 38 acres. But when the price of milk fell, he quit dairying to focus on beef before finally letting out some of the land and turning to sheep, which resulted in a number of farm outbuildings becoming redundant.

“Because we’re so close to the tourist hot-spots of Cardigan and Newport, I hoped there could be potential to convert one of them into a farm tearoom, especially since the one in the village was closing, but it was an idea which I would not have had the courage to take forward without the guidance and support I received in Olwen’s Agrisgôp group.”

And with Brenda’s undoubted skill at turning out delicious home-made lunches and teas, all utilising top quality local farm produce, she soon attracted a steady stream of regular visitors, particularly during the tourist season. The reputation of Wenallt Tearooms grew steadily, and Brenda was soon ready to take on the next challenge.

“I started Wenallt Outside Caterers, expanding the tearoom business into catering for local funerals and other larger-scale events including agricultural shows.”

It was also about this time that Brenda discovered that the person running a mobile van catering for farmers visiting Cardigan mart was planning to scale back so she took the plunge, bought the van and now runs that enterprise too.

With one of her sons now running a flock of 150 Welsh mountain sheep at Wenallt, alongside working for the family’s haulage and engineering business, while Brenda’s tearoom and catering business grows year on year, what recently persuaded her to throw heart and soul into yet another new business?

“At the end of last year, our local pub in Felindre Farchog, a sixteenth century coaching inn, came on the market.

“Although the village only boasts a handful of residents and very few amenities, it’s in a prime location, not just for tourists but for local community groups too. I saw it as a dual opportunity to build it into a thriving business which would also provide a new central social hub for locals too.”

So when the going gets tough, the tough get going and Brenda decided to again join an Agrisgôp group! This time round, it’s an all-female group, led by leader Lilwen Joynson, which actually meets in the pub. And yet again, the support of Lilwen and other ladies in the group gave her the confidence to proceed with the purchase and consider her options for maximising a return on the investment.

Thanks to Brenda’s vision, the Salutation Inn is fast becoming a popular meeting place for locals and visitors alike, as facilities improve, bookings for events increase and the reputation of the restaurant builds. There is also a new campsite on the horizon and more exciting ideas in the pipeline.

“Although so many women in farming are key influencers and innovators, a lot of us lack the confidence to make our views known and to put our ideas into practice. Turn your dreams into reality, join an Agrisgôp group!”