Why did you decide to start keeping bees? Did it start as a business venture or was it just for fun?
I started keeping bees around 2006 purely as a bit of fun – something outdoorsy to do on the weekend – but it soon got me gripped. What started as a hobby has grown substantially, from producing a couple of jars of honey in my first year, I now produce around two tonnes a year – and I still run out of honey!
How have you developed the business? What have you learnt from the process?
My partner Richard is also a fellow beekeeper (it’s one of the ways we met!) and we have the benefit of different ways of thinking. I think my scientific approach to beekeeping really helps and is proving effective so far. I have learnt that should you approach things methodically and certainly learn from your mistakes, with accurate record keeping – in some respects no different from running an experiment.
We are quite successful at keeping bees given all the pests and diseases with which we have to contend. We produce over 7,300 jars of honey every year and supply a number of retailers around South Wales. Our honey has been judged as one of the best in Wales in 2016 and 2017 by the Great Taste Awards, and we are the only ones to get it sequentially.
Running a business is challenging. As we run it part time, time management is important, as well as developing skills in project management, finance, sales techniques and marketing. With the help of some Welsh government funding we are now building a dedicated facility and honey farm, the first to be set up and built in Wales in well over a 100 years, so we are getting stronger. I have learnt that persistence and resilience are important – there have been a lot of late nights!
What made you start the programme for helping people with post-traumatic stress disorder? Why is it important to you?
My partner Richard was in the military and then worked for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), following his service in places like Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Afghanistan and Iraq. He found early on into his beekeeping that he was developing coping methods that would help him in other situations of everyday life.
It is enormously rewarding, and as far as I am concerned, if we can help someone in need, especially with a novel idea, we should do our best to do it.
This inspired me to hand over some of our equipment to a charity we set up in 2013, where we teach beekeeping to other people suffering from PTSD for free – notably those who were in the military – helping them develop their own coping mechanisms.
We have helped some 36 people to date over the years. This has been very rewarding but I also had to develop my interpersonal skills to a different level and develop strategic plans to teach over the course of a year. The service has helped the majority of the people that have come here, with some having to wait for years for conventional treatment.
We always make it clear however, that our work here should not be in lieu of professional help, but those lists are long and we have been successful in helping participants in the meantime, teaching them a skill they can then go on to do alone and potentially bringing in a bit more income for them. It is enormously rewarding, and as far as I am concerned, if we can help someone in need, especially with a novel idea, we should do our best to do it.
You’re a Registered Scientist – why did you decide to work towards that qualification? How important is that recognition to you?
I decided to apply for the Registered Scientist professional award as I wanted to be able to demonstrate, in a meaningful way, my transferable skills and the knowledge and professional practice that I built up when I returned to science. The process itself was straightforward and the support I received from my mentor was invaluable. The feedback from the Royal Society of Chemistry registers team on my application was very useful – the whole process was a great opportunity to reflect on my skills and experiences. I was very proud and humbled to receive RSci designation and the opportunity to be presented with the certificate in front of family and colleagues at the regional meeting in the Wales Millennium Stadium was a great moment. Since gaining RSci I have had promotion and working towards the award I feel really helped.
What are your plans for the future, both in terms of science and beekeeping?
I will be getting into research in a bigger way. With thanks to Professor Steve Kelly and Dr Mark Wyatt I will be conducting my own research while doing some work for the NMSF, concentrating on the implementation and further development of new instrumentation designed and built at the facility. Not only will I be doing some great and interesting work, a higher qualification is quite possible as an end goal.
The bees will also be important, project managing my new production plant and farm as well as taking on staff later in the project. But I feel very much at home at the NMSF, so science will continue to be the one thing I am most passionate about. Luckily, my life’s experiences have given me a broader knowledge than others in our industry might have.
As a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry Early Career Network Committee, I’m keen to ensure that others who want to change career, or return to a career in science, can have the support and encouragement they need to succeed. I think my story will only encourage and embolden them – it’s never too late to make a change!
You can find out more about Rhodri and Richard’s beekeeping business, Mêl Cilgwenyn at Cilgwenyn Bee Farm near Llangennech, and charity, the Bee Free Project, on their website.
Find out more about our professional registers and how to apply for Registered Scientist, Registered Science Technician and Chartered Chemist status.
Looking to change career path or return to a career in science? Members can contact our careers service for free careers advice and support.