‘It’s been about surviving’ says Rickmansworth brewer who started his business months before the pandemic
19th August 2021
Rickmansworth-based Creative Juices Brewing Company is one of hundreds of businesses across the district to receive support from Three Rivers District Council to help them adapt and survive the impact of Covid-19.
When highly respected London-based marketing director Ben Janaway gave up his job to turn his home brewing hobby and passion into a business, it seemed like the stars had aligned. His son had recently been born and he wanted to spend less time commuting into the capital. His office had recently moved south of the river adding an extra 30 minutes onto his hour commute, so it seemed the perfect time to make a change and realise his dream.
Finding and converting an old dairy from which he could operate his new business was the cherry on the cake – the foaming head on the pint. It was February 2020, and all was going impeccably well.
We all know what happened next.
Pandemic hits hard
Like the rest of the world, Ben’s new life and his Creative Juices Brewing Company and tap room at Woodoaks Farm were turned upside down as the Prime Minister appeared on television screens to tell us all to stay at home. Like millions of other small businesses, especially those just starting out, the impact was swift and brutal. For Ben, it meant no more customers.
“I set up the brewery on my own and managed it with a couple of people who helped in the tap room which was fine, because we had an inside space and it was a small manageable space,” he explained. “Then when the pandemic came we had to shut it all down. My wife was classed as a key worker and we have two little ones, so I had to go back home – I couldn’t brew or anything, not that at that point there were any customers to brew for anyway.”
Help was at hand. Like hundreds of businesses across the Three Rivers district, Ben applied for and received a Restart Grant to help his fledgling business adapt to the dramatically changing circumstances.
He continued: “In all honesty, the grants have been about surviving. Because we were so new we didn’t have a huge audience base already, but by the same token we didn’t have a huge team of people here working either. Actually it was a case of battening down the hatches and trying to come out the other side.”
The old dairy building’s quirky shape proved difficult to accommodate social distancing, but when the rules relaxed over summer, Ben’s company was able to do more outside. A crowdfunding campaign started and a chat with the landlord farmer secured a corner of the field on which to put some tables and chairs so that people could have a drink outside. Towards the end of summer 2020 they installed a tipi to counter the weather, before another change in the rules rendered that redundant too.
“We started doing some home delivery and some takeaway services through the front door. It impacted us heavily to say the least. When we reopened we then had to introduce table service and hire more people for our host team to manage running back and forth from the tap room serving drinks, and that worked quite well.”
In the 18 months since Covid changed everything, grants such as those from Three Rivers District Council have been as a lifeline for the brewery and tap room.
Ben said: “It was a case of survival for us, that was the goal and we have done that. We have come out the other side. We had a bounce back loan as well. But the grants have basically seen us through; if we didn’t have those we would have long since been in the red, that’s for sure.”
But what of the future for the Creative Juices Brewing Company now that businesses across the district are welcoming customers back through their doors and the world is beginning to look a bit more recognisable?
“Volatile is the word that keeps coming up to describe business at the moment. Sometimes it is busy, and other times it is empty and there seems to be no rhyme nor reason,” he said. “It will be a while until we find out what business as usual looks like. Our original business plan is long out the window, now on a week by week basis we are trying to work out what our priorities are for the coming days rather than planning too far ahead.”
Cllr Sarah Nelmes, the Leader of Three Rivers District Council, said: “Every business across this district has their own story to tell of how they coped and adapted to the challenges of the past eighteen months. As a council we have been keen to do all we can to support businesses, and we will continue to expand that support as we move to focusing not just on survival but recovery, including with our newly launched Three Rivers Business Growth Grants, and ensuring our local economy bounces back even stronger.”
The district council is partnering with Hertfordshire Growth Hub, powered by Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, to deliver the new programme of support. Find out more about the Three Rivers Business Growth Grants here: https://www.threerivers.gov.uk/news/district-council-supports-businesses-with-new-grants-to-boost-local-economy