Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and the national lockdowns, which forced many parents to swap their day job for home-schooling, James and Alison Fedorowicz enjoyed visiting small-scale distilleries and took part in gin-making activities.
“We’d always been interested in the process of making gin and we both talked about making our own recipe at some point and when our careers were severely impacted by the lockdowns, we decided to give it a go!” explained Alison. She had previously been an event organiser and James was an airline pilot, and they both were spurred on to take a chance on setting up their business.
James began to research the production process and legislation around gin distilling. It was while they were walking as a family around their local area, that they took inspiration for their recipe from the Knot Garden at the 15th century Buckden Towers. The historic location had been created for Katherine of Aragon following the annulment of her marriage to Henry VIII. They decided to focus on ingredients such as pomegranate, sweet briar rose and almond which featured in the garden. Working with a local distillery in Northampton, they developed and tested their recipe for gin, which they named Knot Garden Gin.
They launched their first batch in December 2020 using Facebook Groups to promote the product and with help from Alison’s brother, they set up a website. “We were doing things as cheaply as possible, and we were really blown away by the positive response of customers – we sold the whole batch!”
They reinvested the revenue that sales had brought in and using the licence of the microbrewery next door, they were able to develop another batch and store it in his premises. The second batch went on sale in January 2021 and again was popular. James commented that “We were living very much hand-to-mouth, investing the money from one batch to fund the next.”
At this stage the couple were working on a new recipe, Silk Road – an easy drinking summer gin inspired by the flavours of the East, which they then launched to market in June 2021. Alison also started to organise a special event at Buckden Tower for local small-scale producers of food and drink to showcase their wares. This was a success, with over a thousand attendees, and it has since been repeated, creating a network of local businesses who support each other. They have also developed a rum called Windy Ridge and another gin called Sakura Moon, taking inspiration from the name of one of their daughters.
At the start of 2022, they decided to become VAT registered to take advantage of potential wholesale opportunities and they started to look for funding options for their own distillery. They heard about the CPCA Growth Hub Start and Grow Programme through a Facebook group and got in touch to find out how they could get help with their business growth plans.
“We had been growing organically but needed to push the business forward more quickly than was possible at the current rate,” stated Alison. They found out about the grants available through the Start and Grow programme and attended workshops in order to work on the grant application. They applied for a grant to contribute towards the cost of a copper still and storage containers for the alcohol as well as a bottling machine and water purification system. They also wanted to fund marketing campaign activity to promote their products and to help purchase equipment such as a weather-proof, branded gazebo for outdoor events to look more professional.
“The process was nail biting –we got more excited as we progressed through each stage. We had invested so much in the application and when we received the notification that we had been successful, we were totally elated.” explained James.
Having also received the relevant licensing approval from HMRC, they set about procuring the equipment and starting to make their own recipes, in their very own still. This included bespoke products for corporate clients and own label spirits for a large local estate. They also worked to develop their network of contacts and build their sales through events, markets, local boutique drink retailers and select farm shops, pubs and wedding venues.
“The Start and Grow programme grant has made a significant difference to our business – it has been a real gamechanger! It has allowed us to keep control of the company but to achieve our growth goals quicker than would have been possible without it,” commented Alison.
She added that the help and direction given to them from marketing consultants, funded by the grant, has helped them to identify the most effective marketing activity to implement, based on results on their social media platforms.
“The business is not highly profitable yet, but it means the world to us to be able to create our own spirits, in our own still, on our own premises and the future is very positive in terms of our ability to grow, thanks to the Growth Hub Start and Grow grant” stated James.
The Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority and its partners received £2,529,600 funding from the Community Renewal Fund (CRF) for this business support and grant programme (Start and Grow), which was delivered across Peterborough, Fenland and Huntingdonshire. It helped to equip new and existing enterprises with the business skills they need for sustainable growth and creating new jobs. The project was also supported and in partnership with Peterborough City Council and Fenland and Huntingdonshire District Councils.