One way to keep yourself on your toes as a small business owner is to watch videos of yourself saying what you are going to do in the future, from a few years ago. This video I am posting here, is particularly relevant, since it was filmed at the end of the Girona Cycling Festival in 2015, by Howard Sayer of DASH Video Productions, with the interview led by Shane Starling. That was the 2nd version of the event, and yesterday, the 4th came to an end.
Michelle and I were just signing the papers to buy La Bruguera de Púbol, and were 1 month away from leaving London, our home of 20 years, and starting the Halo Cycling Project. Oh, and what we didn’t realise was going to be 2+ years of renovations, landscaping and upgrades on the estate.
Watching this video again – I am proud. I might come off as a bit naïve, idealist, and certainly very excited, but we’ve achieved the big ticket items: we’ve created a haven in the countryside; been fully booked two years in a row; we’ve given something back to the cycling community (and the wider Ampurdan local one); we’ve had return clients, and certainly turned some heads.
We’ve done a bunch of unexpected things (to us, and others), such as unwittingly create a retreat destination for yoga practitioners, a space for childrens’ art workshops and a venue for African dance seminars – all this out of a gallery which was on site that we didn’t even expect to renovate. This multi-pronged approach has turned out to be really pleasing. Whilst I love cycling, it isn’t Michelle’s passion to the same extent, and it turns out that we have both been really excited about facilitating these other pursuits taking place in the space we have created.
We certainly didn’t come here with a vision of converting the estate to run on renewables and sustainable energy sources either. We did this once, in London, to an 1865 semi-detached Victorian house, and it nearly killed us. Bringing the 19th and 21st centuries together was an architecturally and emotionally daunting project, and yes, the result was really incredible, but it was hard. But hey – bring on 2015/6, and here we are installing solar photovoltaics, air source heat pumps, log biomass boilers, intertia tanks, hundreds of meters of piping and almost 40 radiators, in a building 7 times the size of our previous London house, with workers who speak neither our first or second languages. Not to mention that we both said “never again” (in sweary English) when we finished the project in London. But we did it. Whilst we have 1 more step to be fully off-grid (batteries), we are playing a bit of a “wait and see” game with the Spanish government, as we monitor their [lamentably pathetic] environmental legislation for improvement, before taking a final decision on the specifics of our next move.
We’ve been finding our feet, and figuring out our role here, and on this planet – and I think it has boiled down to being the custodians of a beautiful, relaxing forest retreat: a space for self-improvement and contemplation, affordable financially, and at little cost to the environment. We are lucky that the state of the London property market in the summer of 2015 was the way it was; we are lucky our eco-conversion of a listed building was so appealing to buyers when we wanted to sell; we are lucky that it was near the Olympic site in London and hence gained value; we were on the lucky side of what was a dire real estate crisis in Spain and the Spanish residential property market; and we were lucky to have family who believed in some of our ideas, and saw them as investment opportunities. As such, and because it is just the way Michelle and I are, we want to share this place with people – in the name of self-improvement. It’s not middle-class guilt. That’s not a good motivation. It’s a desire to create smiles. Someone coming here and leaving happier, better, calmer, or simply more rested than they were when they arrived – that’s a success. And that’s a smile for us, and them.
Where I want US to improve is in our impact for #womenscycling. The state of the sport, and perhaps our lack of connections directly into the women’s side (I am after all, but a man, as they say), has meant that we have, believe it or not, even had trouble giving away stays at our place to women’s teams and clubs. Despite our discount incentive programme, we have had “almost stays” on several occasions that have been scuppered by very women’s-cycling-specific issues, such as riders having two jobs and no opportunity for team-wide coordinated holiday, or teams not being able to afford flights despite accommodation being at cost. In other cases, its simply the fact that we are new, unknown, and there is a kind of inertia, where teams go where they have always been, and end up in Calpe or Mallorca, at the same budget sports hotel as every year – and miss out on the gorgeousness of our bijou estate, and the Girona hinterland. If you are reading this, and have contacts in the women’s cycling world, then please, fire them our way – we are here to help, and its something I want us to do better. I want to see a women’s team and/or club training camp here by the next Girona Gran Fondo.
Otherwise, enjoy the video, and see if you can tick off the things I was saying we would do then, that we have since done. And if you have ideas of what you think could work at La Bruguera, or what you would like to see, or you want to come and experience something we already do here – get in touch. You can catch us on hello (at) halovelo.cc, or via Facebook on the Halo page.
PS – yes, I still wear those sunglasses. But that T-Shirt is now in the bottom drawer, covered in wall paint, poly filla and veggie garden muck. That is my new life.