Richard Kelly is putting the finishing touches to a Romany caravan – in a workshop in the south Wales valleys.
The 52-year-old former HGV driver from Abertillery has just launched a business making the traditional-style wagons in a unit at the Ebbw Vale Innovation Centre (EVIC) in Ebbw Vale.
He has been aided in the first step of his imaginative enterprise by a start-up loan from the Newtown-based Robert Owen Community Banking (ROCB), whose managers were quick to spot its potential.
EVIC is owned and run by Tata Steel subsidiary UK Steel Enterprise, who have provided accommodation for the new business.
Richard said he gained inspiration for the venture after 15 years of living with his family in Ireland and befriending members of the Travellers’ community.
“They couldn’t have been a nicer group of people and living amongst them set off my dream, a dream I’ve had for the last 10 years” he explained.
Originally, Richard said he learnt most of his skills in carpentry from his father Peter John Kelly and his “jack-of-all-trades” grandfather Dick Kelly, who used to run the Six Bells Hotel in Abertillery.
He had wanted to start a business operating the Romany caravans as his own tourism enterprise in the area.
But a sudden collapse at the time of his 50th birthday and the subsequent months of ill health and the attached loss of income put paid to that idea.
Instead, he decided to develop a business plan for Kelly’s Romany Wagons and set about finding accommodation and business backing for the proposition.
Richard said the landlords of the Ebbw Vale Innovation Centre (EVIC), UK Steel Enterprise, “couldn’t have been more helpful” in offering him reasonable terms to rent the workshop unit.
And he met with a similar helpful response from ROCB whose £3,000 start-up loan helped him to buy materials and tools for building the wagons, which come with a starting price of just £1,700.
Now, just two months after beginning work on his first static wagons, through social media he has attracted inquiries from as far afield as Cyprus, Portugal’s Algarve and Bulgaria and there are already five firm orders in place for the wagons in the UK.
“They have all kinds of uses really – from ‘glamping’ to just nice features in the garden. People can jazz them up and even put plumbing in. There are lots of options,” Richard said.
If orders continue to flourish Richard said he plans to train a worker to help him and his initial target is to produce 26 wagons in a year.
Kim Robinson of UK Steel Enterprise said: “We’re delighted to have welcomed Kelly’s Romany Wagons to the Innovation Centre and we wish this creative and imaginative firm every success.”
Mark White, senior business manager with Robert Owen Community Banking, added:
“The Start Up Loans Company was set up to encourage people to go into self employment and to start their own business.
“Richard’s strategy of employment and training complied with the proposition that the start-up loan scheme was designed to help.
“He demonstrated a real commitment in his inspirational scheme.”