Somerset, United Kingdom – Paul was running a design agency in London when, after attending a course in the city, he picked up beekeeping as a hobby. What started as a side project quickly turned into a successful company – selling locally produced urban honey to luxury department stores like Harrods and Selfridges. He and his co-founder soon shut down their respective agencies to focus on honey full time. Searching for a greater quality of life took Paul to rural Somerset, where he found an increased connection to nature and a happier environment for his family. But more surprisingly for him, it was the encouraging community of entrepreneurs and ideal location to grow his business that provided the biggest contrast to his life in the city.
What made you want to move to the countryside?
Initially our move to the countryside was purely to improve our quality of life and find somewhere where we could live and start a family.
We had some good friends here that we have known for a long time. And in terms of food businesses it’s a really interesting area. Some great companies are based here like ‘Westcombe Dairy’ and ‘Wild Beer.’ In Frome there is an independent market and lots of small, interesting businesses. It really appealed to us from that point of view. Kate [Paul’s wife] has an interior and design store in London called Nook. She could see the potential for setting something up around here as well.
What have you been up to since you moved here?
Two weeks after moving our son Billy was born, so Kate focused on him. The house we moved into needed a lot of work, and we’ve been spending a lot of time doing that. Then we got married, and I launched the new company, Black Bee Honey, in September.
The whole year has been about change – the baby, the move, marriage and the business. But we don’t regret the move in the slightest. I think it’s one of the best decisions we’ve made.
My new base is a co-working space in Frome with lots of other small businesses. In the future I’d like Black Bee Honey to be based either in Frome or Bristol. They are both really interesting places for food.
How did you get into beekeeping?
Me and a friend went on a beekeeping course in London. We really loved it and went on a few more courses together. Chris ended up traveling to New Zealand and worked on a bee farm where they were doing hive rental. When he came back he said we should do the same thing in London and it started from there. It was quite daunting at first, but we learned quickly. By the second year I was doing independent inspections on hives.
I’d been in design for about 15 years and I never really got much satisfaction out of it. Me and my mates would always be planning hikes in the Himalayas and walks in the Lake District, spending as much time in nature as possible. Beekeeping kind of enabled that connection to nature in the city, but moving out here means I get to be even more connected.
What’s your vision for Black Bee Honey?
We are trying to change people’s perceptions of what honey is. We want to show the magical journey – from flower to hive to jar. We are working with British bee farmers, it’s a profession under threat. They are on the decline as much as the honeybee is. We want to support the farmers, and build an exciting brand.
There aren’t any honey brands that people relate to – they are all very generic. We want to offer people something different and show the variety of honeys and flavours from all over Britain.
Are you going to produce the honey for Black Bee Honey yourself?
We still have bees in London, and I will be installing a couple of hives here for the next season, but on a smaller scale. It keeps us involved and enables us to take people to hives and show them what an incredible product honey is.
Beekeeping is very time intensive and risky as a way of generating income. You’re so dependent on the weather and on how the bees perform in the face of diseases and pests.
We’re trying to build the brand, so we need the time to focus on that side of the business. We are working with a guy in Exmoor in west Somerset who produces a heather honey and a wild flower honey for us. He’s been bee farming for about 30 years, has up to 1,000 hives, and looks like a wizard [laughs]. We’ve got quite a bit of experience, but it’s nice to work with people who know the trade inside out.