Plant-based food and fashion enthusiasts are in for a treat following the opening of the latest businesses supported by Merthyr Tydfil’s ‘Meanwhile’ scheme.
St Tydfil Shopping Centre is the venue for the two new ventures, a boutique and art gallery – and the county borough’s first plant-based and vegan/gluten-free friendly store and café.
Plantbased Natural Foods is a newly refurbished unit upstairs in the indoor market run by local couple Mark Evan Oakley and Natalia De Celis. Mark, 41, who has suffered from mental health problems, says he is a walking advert for the lifestyle.
“I’d had multiple stays in hospital,” he said. “The last time I came out of one, feeling awful, I started researching lifestyle choices and gradually introduced plant-based eating to my diet.”
He eliminated sugar, processed foods and caffeine, took up cycling -completing a 100-mile sponsored bike ride – and lost 6st in weight. “I changed my lifestyle eight years ago and have been plant-based for three years. It’s saved my life – you definitely are what you eat.”
Mark discovered the Council’s Meanwhile scheme, a partnership approach improving the appearance of the town centre by bringing empty premises back into use.
The Council’s economic development officers, Merthyr Tydfil Enterprise Centre, Tydfil Training, Business Wales and property owners have all joined forces to provide support including preparing business plans and finding short-term low and rent-free accommodation.
Mark had help in drawing up his business plan and finding his premises at a reduced rent. He also had a grant towards the premises refurbishment, enabling him to trade.
Natalia, who has catering experience and is also plant-based, will be helping prepare the food, including tasty treats such as falafel wraps and patties, salad boxes and much more.
The store and café will initially be open six days a week from 11am-4.30pm, also providing a delivery service for local businesses in the area.
Downstairs in the shopping centre in New Market Walk, Paula’s Boutique and Art Gallery is the brainchild of former Cardiff hotelier Andrew Owen and Gary Bailey, who has over 30 years’ experience in retail.
After opening their first shop together in Bridgend, the partners have moved on to Merthyr Tydfil, with Gary – who was New Look’s regional manager for Wales and the South West – and Andrew the store’s directors, and Andrew’s sister-in-law Paula Owen, from Treharris, the manager.
Paula’s stocks a wide range of quality ladies’ clothes from Italy and France. “It’s currently mainly the Lagenlook European style of layering, which works for all body types and goes up to size 26,” said Paula. “It’s low maintenance, washes well and doesn’t need ironing.”
The boutique is a riot of seasonal colour and the fabrics will switch to lighter Italian cottons and linens in the summer. There are also shoes, jewellery, cashmere scarves and an art gallery selling contemporary paintings and prints.
The trio describe the offer as ‘boutique-style clothing at high street prices’. “It looks expensive but it’s incredible value for money,” said Andrew. “We’re not going for a massive mark-up.” Paula’s is open six days a week from 9am-5.30pm.
The Council’s Council Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Public Protection Cllr Geraint Thomas said 18 Meanwhile businesses had now opened in Merthyr Tydfil since the scheme began four years ago.
“The town centre is continuing to grow a culture of niche independent stores that boost our vibrant and varied economy, and these two new businesses are further welcome additions.”
If you would like some support from the Meanwhile scheme, please contact Merthyr Tydfil Enterprise Centre on 01685 727509.