2013 feels like a long time ago, if I’m honest. It feels like a rather different world to today’s. Looking back to then, the memory that jumps out the most is just how ignorant and naïve we were to think things would be so easy. Indeed, people always remark to me how impressive it is that we started our own business at such a young age. I always assure them that the arrogance of youth has a lot more to answer for that as opposed to any talent or acumen. Truth is we were two lads who thought starting a brewery and taking the global brewing industry by storm would be easy. Predictably, we were very wrong indeed.
On the upside, there’s nothing quite like the spectre of humiliating, crushing failure to motivate in those early days. Having been as confident as we were, it left us with no choice but to doggedly persevere until things did eventually start to come good or blew up spectacularly in our faces. I didn’t enjoy the first 5 years of Fell very much. They were characterised by hard work and frustration, with very little to be hopeful about and certainly very little to show for it. It was the mother of all reality checks.
That said, hard work and perseverance paid off. We learnt a lot of lessons and eventually figured how to do things. We also invested… significantly. Our bars business irrevocably changed our brand for the better. We finally had a place where we could truly show people what we were about, and people could finally start to get on board. We invested heavily in the brewing process, giving ourselves the capacity required but more importantly the tools necessary to bring the best out of our brewing. Our beers are unrecognisably better today than they were a decade ago.
Above all else though, we invested in people. We became a team. Looking back now, I have to say, this has been the real key to our success, getting others to join us on the journey. When I think of Fell now, I don’t see the bricks and mortar, the tanks, taps and glasses. I see the faces and characters that make us what we are today. It’s very hard to describe what it is that brings us and holds us together, but I have no doubt in my mind that our most valuable asset lies somewhere deep in the structure of those bonds. We are more than a business, we’re a family.
The challenges have been immense. Covid rocked us to our very core, and the last three years have been at times truly exhausting. However, we’re still here and we’re doing alright. In fact, I think it’s fair to say we’re doing better than alright. It feels like we are really starting to find our feet and starting to figure out what it is that makes us tick and what it is we’re actually good at. This is an enormously challenging time for our industry, and indeed for most small businesses. That said, I feel something now that has been honestly quite rare this last decade; optimism, hope and excitement for the future. I believe our best years lie ahead of us, despite the uncertainty and challenges that our industry faces.
So how does that future look? Well, put simply it looks more local and more sustainable. We’ve spent the last decade looking beyond for our inspiration, motivation and purpose, while all along the thing that makes us who we are has been right under our noses. We’re Cumbrian, and that matters to us, deeply. This place is truly amazing and it’s in our blood. The future is about embracing that and wearing it more proudly.
Since day one, we’ve been in it for the long haul. Learning how that intention can sit comfortably and homogeneously with our environment, surroundings and communities is another key aspect of our future. We want our practices to enhance rather than damage and compromise those things. Put simply, our goal is to stand secure in the knowledge that what we do does genuinely sit sustainably alongside every aspect of our environment. I want to feel confident that Fell will help develop and enhance this place and the wider world for decades to come. The reality behind this ambition presents nothing less than our biggest challenge to date. However, it’s the most exciting one we’ve faced.
Lastly, when I think back to 2013, the thing that I really didn’t predict and has taken me most by surprise, is the sheer strength and vibrancy of the communities that surround us. I would never have predicted the complexity and power behind the relationships we have formed with them. People really are truly remarkable when they come together, and learning this is the thing that has changed me the most this last decade. So to everyone who has supported us, embraced us, welcomed us, championed us, stuck up for us, defended us, helped us… Thank you! This last decade has accidentally been the journey of a lifetime and I wouldn’t change a thing. I hope you can join us at some point in celebrating what lies ahead.