Bringing Business To Life: Orchard Retreat

Since opening their dream-come-true collection of bespoke cottages and yurts, Orchard Retreat, Vicky and Nick Ritchens (along with their daughter Maddy and the now famous Moon Dog), have won a roll call of awards – just this week extending to a silver from Green Tourism. It’s a fairytale of calm that develops with the seasons.

What inspired you to launch Orchard Retreat?
We wanted a change in lifestyle for ourselves but we also saw an opportunity to create a business focused on reconnecting friends and family with an emphasis on nature and the natural environment. We’re set within 15 acres of organic orchard and wildflower meadows and wanted to make the most of these natural assets with a business nestled within them literally and metaphorically, giving people the chance to become immersed in a more simple way of living, albeit temporarily.

What are your sustainable priorities?
Minimum environmental impact. To do this, we keep our site organic and work hard to ensure infrastructure is low impact. For example our yurts were sourced locally (1.5miles away) using wood from sustainably managed woodland and we run a non electrical bio digester (waste processing system) in our glamping area. We ourselves recycle, limit plastic use, buy local and use natural bath & cleaning products – and encourage guests to do the same. We also carefully manage our small woodland to produce a carbon neutral source of fuel for the wood burners in our yurts and cottages. We are as energy efficient as possible, using a wind turbine company for our electricity as well as having our own water source via a bore hole. This is now being reflected in our award from Green Tourism  – we gained silver in their accrediation scheme due to our existing green credentials and we’re looking forward to working on what we can further improve.

How has your eco strategy developed as the business has grown?
We launched in May 2014 and our plans develop year on year – as we learn more, the business benefits. We’re currently focused on the supply chain of our products. We have always used and bought locally sourced, made and sustainable products (where possible), but we want to ensure we are souring the most eco friendly and cruelty free options. A prime case being that, having discovered Method and Ecover’s (cleaning products we currently use) parent company is still linked with animal testing, we have just this week approached a Devon-based company, Greenscents.co.uk, which is already ranking highly in the organic and cruelty free stakes and we’re about to transfer our cleaning products to them.

How challenging is it to maintain your eco principles?
It is challenging from a financial point of view, as being eco comes with a price. We haven’t been able to do everything we want to do yet – solar panels, for example, are still on our wishlist. It’s disappointing that government incentives are reducing given the amount of great green energy options there are out there. That said, we are constantly researching and updating and are now looking at ways to improve our energy efficiency. We already use a wind turbine electricity company and are changing all light bulbs which haven’t yet been swapped over to energy efficient equivalents.

Do you feel pressure from your customers to be more eco?
Not overly, funnily enough, although our guests love our natural products and the local offerings in our shop and surrounding outlets (there is a farm shop and a pub nearby). It’s more about how we want to operate as a business. It is important to us to be as eco friendly as we can and then our guests can enjoy the benefits and see how easily it can be achieved. One guest bought some of our organic, natural bath products (Aromatika) to use in the outside bath. She said she didn’t realise natural products could smell so nice or work so well and that she’d make the switch when she got home. It was really satisfying to have been part of that family’s shift towards more conscious living.

What advice would you give to anyone hoping to launch a sustainable business?
That sustainability isn’t an afterthought, it is fundamental to your business plan even if you aren’t able to implement it all initially. Have short, medium and long term goals. We have learnt the hard way and want to go back and make changes that will be more costly at this point but will make us more sustainable in the long run. Also, sign up with experts like we just have with Green Tourism – they offer guidance as well as accreditations – don’t go it alone, there is plenty of help out there.

Which other sustainable businesses have inspired you? 
The Eden Project which we visited in 2003 when it was in its formative years (it opened in 2001) and were amazed at the level of sustainability that could be achieved in an attraction so large. In those days we lived in Gloucestershire and saw the rise of Ecotricity in Stroud and how sustainability could galvanise the community generally.

Orchard Retreat’s awards and accolades 
Silver – Devon Tourism and South West Tourism award 2016/7
Bronze – Devon Tourism 2017/8
Gold accreditation – Visit England 2018 Glamping
Silver – Green Tourism, 2018