From working underground to overseeing the growth of Newport's-own Tiny Rebel, Ian Cummings has quite the tale to tell. DAN BARNES met him to find out more.

SITTING in the restaurant at Tiny Rebel's brewery bar in Rogerstone, Ian Cummings reflects on how he went from working underground at Oakdale colliery to overseeing the exponential growth of one of the most exciting beer brands in the country.

"I started my working life as a tradesman," he said.

"My apprenticeship was with a company called Crown House Engineering in Cardiff."

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Ian Cummings at the Tiny Rebel brewery bar, Rogerstone. Picture: DBPR


It was during his time at Crown House that Mr Cummings served his time underground.

"It was two years in Oakdale Colliery above and below ground," he said.

At the time, a few of the pits were being merged together – North Celynen, South Celynen and Oakdale - into one larger operation.

"It was certainly an experience," he said. "The winter was the worst, you’d go down in the darkness and come up in the darkness, you wouldn’t see daylight."

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Ian Cummings

He added that despite not being from a mining background himself, the miners felt no animosity towards the contractors and a "them and us" mentality never developed.

"They were always very welcoming, it was like they were your mates," explained Mr Cummings.

"The camaraderie down there was unbelievable."

He worked in the colliery at around 1977-78 and during that time he became a father.

"My son got taken into hospital with meningitis in December 1978," he said. "They had to get me out from underground to go to the hospital."

However, it wasn't as simple as just returning to the surface.

Mr Cummings explained: "In those days we used to share lifts - one guy would take the car and four of you would jump in – so before I could go to my son I had to find the guy who had the car."

He continued: "Working for Crown House was a fantastic grounding, working within the commercial sector or the heavy industries like Llanwern or the Orb Steelworks.

"I couldn’t have had a better apprenticeship."

Mr Cummings worked with the firm from 1972 until 1987, working six and a half days a week and using the free half day to play rugby for Rumney in Cardiff.

"A friend of mine was looking at starting his own electrical company with me in tow and so I thought that, if I’m doing this for somebody else, then maybe I could do it for myself.

"So, we started an electrical company called C&C Electrical in Cardiff. It was a partnership that lasted about two months - the bank wanted security of our houses, he wouldn't commit to that so the partnership ended and I was on my own.

"I was working out of our home and 12 months later we had to get an office and start employing people. By 1996 the business was turning over about £3 million."

In 1999 C&C was bought out by a company from Scotland.

After enjoying a well-earned rest, in 2004 Mr Cummings bought Whitehead Building Services. The business was turning over just more than £2 million at the time and employing about 10-15 people.

"By 2006 the turnover was close to £8 million and employing a lot of people," he said. "The turnover had gone up dramatically in those first few years due to the synergy with its previous owner, Byron Faulkner.

"Both Byron and I had the same principles in business - employ apprentices, train them, and keep them employed in an environment that they enjoy working in. Today we have employees that have worked with the business for close to 40 years."

Mr Cummings eventually handed over the running of Whitehead's to his son-in-law Rhys Morton following the decision to spend more time with his family.

Over the years, Whitehead's have been keen supporters of St David’s Hospice Care.

Room five, Crickhowell, in the new, £5 million, 15-bed hospice at Malpas, Newport, has been dedicated to Whitehead Building Services, Tiny Rebel and 54321 Cymru, in recognition of the family’s charity fundraising events over recent years.

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Room dedication: Ian Cummings (centre) with Emma Saysell, of St David’s Hospice Care with (l to r) Jan Cummings, Rhys and Hayley Morton and Brad Cummings Picture: DBPR

One of the more high-profile events was the Whitehead Tour de Gwent cycle ride in aid of the hospice, this event has gone from strength to strength with the input from Rhys.

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The Tour de Gwent is just one of the ways Whitehead's have supported St David's Hospice Picture: DBPR

Each of the 15 rooms at the hospice, named after either a South Wales castle or river, have now been dedicated.

Mr Cummings was managing director of Whitehead's when he first chose to support St David’s Hospice Care.

He was keen to point out that, successful as the firm had become, he had not started out to solely make money.

"That was just a by-product of hard work but then gives you the ability to re-invest," he said.

Bradley Cummings and Gareth Williams - later to be co-founders of Tiny Rebel - had both been working for the firm in Bristol as electrical and mechanical engineers. They had also become very keen on homebrewing.

"They told me they’d like to brew commercially," explained Mr Cummings. "So, we discussed it and decided that the plan was for them to go away and find six brews they thought they’d be able to take to market.

"I remember driving down to a place near Stonehenge to pick up our first piece of brewing kit.

"The boys sent me there and when I saw what we were buying my first thought was 'We’re paying nearly £1,000 for this kit? I could’ve got a metal basher in Newport to build it for us'.

"Seems a long time ago now, February next will be our eighth year."

The pair would brew a batch every weekend in their garage. They would bottle it and send it out to their friends, neighbours or anyone that wanted to try their beers with a Q&A form, and this was where the business started.

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Ian Cummings chats to the South Wales Argus' Dan Barnes. Picture: DBPR

"The boys got to the stage of completing that first task sooner than we thought, where they had five really good beers," said Mr Cummings.

"It was then that we said: 'Right, were going to push the button on this'.

Fast forward to the present day, and the Tiny Rebel canning line will produce an output of about 2,000 cans in an hour.

"The problem with that is that it’ll only do 330ml cans and it takes us half a day to change the tooling enabling the line to fill 440s," said Mr Cummings.

The brewery has plans to put the existing canning line into the new facility to produce a variety of different can sizes and then their 'all singing, all dancing' new machine will "do whatever we want it to do and can 8000 units an hour".

"The first brewing kit we had here was 50 litres," he said. "When you think about that compared to what we’re brewing on now, it’s mad."


He added that Tiny Rebel had become a totally different business to what he was ever accustomed to.

"I like to think that what I brought to the table is for me to take some of the day to day long term projects away from Brad and Gareth so they could focus on brewing," he said.

However, as obvious a location as the Rogerstone site might appear, it was not the first choice for Tiny Rebel’s expansion.

“We were originally looking to take over Newport Market," explained Mr Cummings. "It was a great location. We were looking to take over the whole market – keeping the offices at the front, creating a boutique hotel at the back or student accommodation. Downstairs would have been 70:30 brewery and provisions market.

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Tiny Rebel have won various awards over the years Picture: DBPR

"The Newport Ship, as a museum, would have been on the atrium at the top."

However, by the time the idea was presented to Newport City Council, Tiny Rebel had already outgrown the site and we had to walk away from the project.

The choice was made on the Rogerstone site thanks to the council's estates department, who made the company aware of the site however, it was not without its challenges.

“The main problem when we moved in was the asbestos, it was everywhere and in everything," said Mr Cummings.

For the early years Tiny Rebel was funded by the "bank of mum and dad" as support from the banks was proving hard to come by, "the business continually re-invests in itself and has found a great bank in Lloyds”.

"I believe in their mission and the employees bring so much to the company," said Mr Cummings.

“Not just in terms of how hard they work, but the culture is outstanding and I’m really proud of that.

"That said, their vision was different to mine – I was still in the 60s/70s when it came to branding.

"They wanted the bear as their logo, the distinctive branding that included its own font style and I thought “well, that’s never going to work. People can’t associate with it” and look what’s happened there, wasn't I proved wrong."