Sian and Dafydd Roberts, who run the famous café and visitor centre at Coed Y Brenin were served with ‘Notice to Quit’ on March 3rd by their landlord – Forest Enterprise. Coincidentally, Forest Enterprise wants to open a new cafe and visitor centre, run by, er, Forest Enterprise. Chipps at Singletrack magazine has seen red and earlier today launched an email campaign to save the Roberts' pioneering, 10-year old business.Sian and Dafydd have worked at the visitor centre since 1990, when they started the bike hire service there. They took over the running of the café in 1995 and the Visitor Centre shop in 1996.
According to Dafydd Roberts, they had negotiated ‘Heads of Terms’ with Forest Enterprise for a contract tailored to the unique needs of the Coed Y Brenin visitor centre in 2000. Again, according to Dafydd Roberts, Forest Enterprise is claiming not to know anything about such a document and the land agent with whom it was negotiated has retired.
Unless this order is challenged by Sian and Dafydd, they will have to leave the café by the end of March – just four days before the Coed Y Brenin Fat Tyre Festival.
Trefor Owen of Forest Enterprise told Chipps at Singletrack magazine that service in the café wouldn’t be interrupted, but he couldn’t or wouldn’t say who was lined up to take over the café or how they planned to have it ready for the thousands of riders expected for the Fat Tyre Fest. He simply said that it was going to be taken back under F.E. management. (Currently Sian and Dafydd run the café as contractors)
He also added that there was "no sinister link" to the timing of their Notice to Quit being just before the Fat Tyre Festival. As far as he is concerned "it is merely a business matter and not worth talking about."
Sian and Dafydd Roberts were instrumental in getting sponsorship for one of Forest Enterprise's trails at Coed Y Brenin, the Red Bull Trail.
The success of this trail, and then future trails at Coed Y Brenin, were the basis of the granting of huge amounts of money for the development of trails throughout Wales. This model was then used by other areas as an example of how building mountain bike trails could attract riders and pump millions of pounds into the economies of remote, forest towns.
"No one has been able to convince us that a café run by Forest Enterprise will come close to recreating the character and ambience that Sian and Dafydd have brought to the place," argued Chipps.
"Anyone who’s been glad of a friendly welcome from the ever-cheerful Sian, or a coffee and baked potato from Dafydd at the end of a long day’s ride will testify that they are a major part of the mountain bike experience of Coed Y Brenin. We’d go as far as saying that it wouldn’t have become such a popular place without their help."
Chipps warns that if the Roberts can be thrown out, other businesses operating in Forest Enterprise forests could be at risk also:
"Who's to say that this won’t happen at other homely visitor centres around the country?
Is the Hub in the Forest at Glentress next? Or Nant Yr Arian? These cafés are run on a similar basis to Coed Y Brenin. Will we have to put up with Little Chef food and prices in our forests? And after that, what’s next? Charging you to ride the trails? Who’s to say? A fiver a ride anyone?"
Chipps, who isn't a political animal and is slow to anger, has had his touch-paper well and truly lit by the actions of Forest Enterprise:
"A cynical observer might infer that Forest Enterprise are keen to get Sian and Dafydd out so that they can build their new visitor centre, staffed by Forest Enterprise staff and capitalise on the success of Coed Y Brenin's trails. The success that was forged in large part by the café run by Sian and Dafydd.
"It’s unlikely that any Forest Enterprise-run centre would be able to offer expert advice on trail conditions, dub reggae, apricot oaties or cheese on toast for £1.50. Mountain bikers have made up the majority of visitors to CyB since the early-90s, when there were less than 20,000 visitors a year. There are now over 200,000 a year.
According to a Forest Enterprise press release, the new visitor centre will help to attract even more visitors:
"Forest Enterprise Wales has announced plans to create a world-class sustainable centre of mountain biking excellence. The scheme will make Coed-y-Brenin Forest Park the primary centre for the sport in the UK."
"Coed-y-Brenin now enjoys an international standing on a par with mountain biking trails in California and Idaho. It is therefore important to ensure that visitor and rider facilities are developed to complement the world-class trails. Only then can Coed-y-Brenin claim its rightful place on the mountain biking world stage"
According to Terry O' Keefe, FE Wales's Forest District Manager. "Coed-y-Brenin is a living forest: a place for work and for play, for people and for wildlife. It's a special place for challenge, excitement, relaxation, fun and discovery. Everyone has a vested interest in maximising its potential while at the same time preserving its unique character and keeping it special."
However, Chipps argues that Sian and Dafydd Roberts "have helped create that ‘unique character’ of Coed Y Brenin. In a recent survey of serious mountain bike riders, ‘Sian and Dafydd’s café at Coed Y Brenin’ was the number one café mentioned and, in addition, the most important consideration for mountain bikers was that the visitor centres and cafés they visited were run by mountain bikers."
Singletrack magazine is running an email campaign to help prevent the eviction and is urging letters of complaint to be sent to Bob Farmer, the Director of Forest Enterprise Wales:
Director of Forest Enterprise Wales
National Office for Wales