THE CORONAVIRUS pandemic has been a dreadful time for most traders across Britain, but a group of food producers who banded together in the first lockdown have been speaking about why they have found reason to smile.

A year since Kit and Matthew Newell of Wye Valley Meadery thought up an idea to connect Monmouthshire’s producers, the Wye Valley Producers (WVP) still meet every Friday, currently at Chepstow’s Drill Hall, to operate an increasingly popular click and collect service, where customers can place their order, drive to the hall and have it transferred to their car seamlessly.

Kit and Matthew Newell of Wye Valley Meadery

Kit and Matthew Newell of Wye Valley Meadery

Kit and Matthew (above) have joined fellow organisers Angharad Underwood, Ben Ford, and Hannah Turner to speak about the power of togetherness.

“When lockdown hit last year, it became apparent we were in for a really tough time,” Kit recalled when asked how WVP - now 23-producers strong - came about.

“We obviously never thought it would be as tough and drawn out as it has turned out, but we realised back then some producers were probably driving stock to the same customers, and felt it was crazy.

“We asked others whether they felt it would be a good idea to start a sort of drive-thru service, and it went down really well.”

By April five producers set up shop, with the help of TV presenter and local food producer Kate Humble, beside Monmouthshire Upcycle at Station Road.

Producers put money into a pot to support the upkeep of the website and deliveries, and in return become WVP members and are able to share ideas and join click and collect services.

“Kate gave us good reach and people seemed to start hearing about us quickly,” Kit recalled.

“Being a food producer in a rural county can be a very solitary place, and it can quickly feel like things are going wrong. Matt and I are lucky we’ve got each other when one of us is having a down day – and there have been plenty in recent times. But some of the other producers are running their businesses alone. We know that for those people, WVP has been a calming influence.

“We are fortunate that we all have different businesses and we don’t compete with one another. That means we’re all very much in it together and we share ideas about how to move our businesses on. We bounce off each other.”

Besides a slight bump in the road which led to the group having to leave the Upcycle site for the Drill Hall last summer, they have gone from strength to strength.

Hannah Turner of Brookes Wye Valley Dairy

Hannah Turner of Brooke's Wye Valley Dairy

Hannah Turner (above) of Brooke’s Wye Valley Dairy, which specialises in the sales of ice cream and brie, says it saved the long-running family business’s trade at a time their consumers stopped ordering.


“We had no access to direct orders as we’d never sold directly to customers before,” she said. “Our big orders rely on tourism and hospitality, so when that stopped traders stopped ordering.

“It got to Easter and we had freezers full of ice cream and very few orders.

“We had never sold directly to customers other than at festivals, where I had also met some of the other producers. I didn’t know them a great deal, but when I heard about the idea we couldn’t wait to get on board.

“It’s really helped us to diversify and let people know that we’re still here and still producing.”

Raising awareness of quality produce in the Wye Valley is top of the group’s agenda, and organisers hope it will have a long-lasting impact in encouraging people to try unique products well after lockdown.

Katja Klein, member and organiser of WVP, of Kontext Coffee Company near Monmouth

Katja Klein, member and organiser of WVP, of Kontext Coffee Company near Monmouth

Katja Klein, member and organiser of WVP, of Kontext Coffee Company, near Monmouth

Earlier this month Monmouthshire's foodie traders - including organisers of Abergavenny Food Festival, the Angel Bakery, and the Walnut Tree - joined WVP and others for a Zoom session to talk about plans. Many said they hadn't realised how many unique producers were in the county, and emphasised the need to work together to raise awareness.

“I think WVP would have come eventually (regardless of the pandemic), but I’m not sure it would have been as impactful as it has been,” Ms Turner added.

“The pandemic has given us a chance to stop and think about what we need to do to raise awareness and stay relevant. Before this pandemic I was working every hour of every day, and it’s very difficult to take a step back and think clearly sometimes.

“I’m glad we’ve had that time to take stock. Meeting other producers and working so closely with them has been a great learning experience.”

Ben Ford of Parva Spices

Ben Ford of Parva Spices

Ben Ford (above), a former marketing executive who swapped life in London to start his business Parva Spices in Tintern, joked the group has “saved my Friday nights in lockdown”.

“It’s something really great to have come out of this period, and I hope it makes people realise how many unique producers there are in Monmouthshire,” he said.

“A centralised distribution service has been a brilliant idea, and I think it has potential to really grow after the pandemic.

“I’ve diversified by making a range of frozen meals in lockdown, and the group was really supportive in helping me to do that. I think that’s particularly important for new businesses to know that others believe in the work you’re doing.”

Angharad Underwood of the Preservation Society

Angharad Underwood of the Preservation Society

The group regularly meets on Zoom, and Angharad Underwood (above), owner of the Crick-based Preservation Society, says it has helped her to cope with emotional toll of the pandemic.

“Overnight we lost our orders from hotels, festivals and markets,” she said, remembering the impact of the first lockdown announcement last March. “That hit all of us hard.

“I didn’t know Matt and Kit very well at the time, but had seen them at events, and felt the idea of the click and collect market was a brilliant networking opportunity among other things.”

Moving forwards, the group hopes to set up the click and collect service at a new Caldicot base, which Wye Valley Meadery moved into this week.

Ms Underwood added: “It’s been hard work at times. We’ve put a lot of hours in, but it’s been well worth it. I really feel like I’ve met friends for life, and friends in this line of work in a rural county are invaluable.

“I didn’t know many of them at all before the pandemic. Now it feels as though we’re family. I’ve never known a more resilient group of people.

“We could have all rolled over and accepted that things just weren’t going for us, but we’ve fought tooth and nail, and I’m so proud.”

To find out more about WVP visit