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Ep. 32 Mendip Activity Centre with George Combe

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23 Nov, 2023

About Episode 32

Mendip Activity Centre: Tobogganing, outdoor education and award-winning camping in North Somerset with George Combe

Set over 250 acres Mendip Activity Centre is the largest independent activity centre in the West. With a dry ski slope, toboggan run, watersports on the river, rock climbing and much more.

During the pandemic, the team took the decision to open their campsite to the public where previously it had only been open to schools and children’s groups. The result has seen over 100,000 visitors and a rapidly growing reputation for being one of the South West’s best campsites.

“Young people today are half as active as their parents. Being outdoors, taking part in these activities and these adventures, really supports both physical and mental well-being, it helps us to grow resilience, helps us to gain confidence, and to have this greater sense of connection with nature.”

In 2022 they won silver in the South West Tourism awards for best campsite and they are awaiting the results of the 2023 awards which will no doubt be fruitful.

We chat about:

> How the family owned Centre has grown and changed over the years, from providing outdoor education and activities for schools and education groups, to attracting over 100,000 members of the public in addition to their educational programme.

> The success of the campsite Mendip Basecamp which opened as a result of the pandemic in order to ensure the business survived. Their new half-board Camp Bigfoot experience as well as the first of their annual festivals in collaboration with the Rotary club in order to raise money for local charities.

> The marketing strategy that focuses on content creation in particular video footage. The success of their Black Friday campaign, offering 50% off adventure vouchers, and the importance of providing good value experiences to build long-term customer relationships.

> Upcoming projects and initiatives for 2024, including the development of accessible target sport ranges, an accessible viewing platform for tobogganing, and the focus on making the outdoors accessible to everyone through the Mendip Adventure Foundation.

> The training courses offered at the center, which have trained around 50 people in outdoor instruction this year.
> Sustainability and their important role in education as well as installing solar panels and partnering with a local ecologist to understand more about the 250 acre site.
Full Transcription
George Combe, Kelly Ballard

Kelly Ballard
I’m delighted to welcome George Combe with me today from Mendip Activity Centre. Good to see you George.

George Combe 04:01
Thank you very much for having me, Kelly.

Kelly Ballard 04:04
You’re welcome. I can’t wait to hear more because I first met with the Mendip Activity Centre back last year when I was doing some work with the AONB. I was working with Jim Hardcastle on the 50th anniversary of the Mendip AONB. And I remember driving through the Mendips at the time, and he pointed it out, he was like, we have this amazing place, he said, but it’s freezing up here. So I knew about the Churchill Ski Centre, and I happened to come with my kids to the toboggan centre, however, over the past year through yourself, George and from watching it on social media, all of a sudden, it’s become a thing within the visitor, economy of the West, that’s become really exciting. And I really want to find out more because in our brief chats, you’ve told me that things have changed – how you changed direction after the pandemic. But before we go there? Please can you tell everyone what you do at the Mendip Activity Centre? And can you describe what it is?

George Combe 05:11
Yeah, absolutely. Well, thanks, thanks for that introduction. That’s brilliant. We are a multi activity centre based on the edge of the Mendip hills. And we are not far from Weston-super-Mare. And actually, Bristol itself isn’t far away. So we’ve got these amazing kind of population densities on our doorstep.
What we do is we provide outdoor education and activities and experiences to a wide range of people. Primarily, and this is what we’ve done for a long time, we work with schools and education groups, but we also do a huge amount of work with the public. And this year, we’ve welcomed over 100,000 people to come and visit us, whether it’s for a day trip, or staying at our campsite.

So I’m in charge of business development and growth. To be honest, it’s it’s the best job in the world.

I don’t know why I’d want to do anything else. It’s amazing. And what I do is, is largely strategic. So I’m looking at the direction we’re going, and I’m finding out what’s new, and how we can improve how we can develop how we can be innovative. And that means I work across the whole business. I work across marketing, operations, a bit of sales. Actually, I am a qualified outdoor instructor that that’s how started where I am. So I have that kind of knowledge and experience as well.

Kelly Ballard 06:35
Brilliant, I’ll come back to that. In terms of the multi activities that you do there, I came with my family in the summer, to the Base Camp experience, which I’d like to describe as like an all-inclusive camping experience with these activities. And I’ve got to say, and I’m not just saying this, because you’re in front of me now. It was honestly the best family holiday we’ve ever had. Because normally when I go on holiday, the kids can go off and they can do what they want. And we rest. We do stuff together. And that’s the fun bit. But this was amazing. And we did frisbee golf, we did axe throwing, we did orienteering, and archery, and like paintball, archery, and we were doing it all together. It was a real leveller with our families, and what I found amazing was that all of these experiences were available for you to do at a campsite. So what else is there to do?

George Combe 07:44
Yeah, amazing. I think we bumped into each other when you were there on your trip. And you absolutely jammed everything in. Yeah, I’m so glad you came along and had such a positive experience.

So, in terms of the campsite, Mendip Basecamp is the campsite and, and that’s relatively recent, we’ve only opened that to the public in the last few years that that was the kind of key direction that we changed as a result of the pandemic, we kind of had no choice, it was the only option left to us. And my goodness, we’re pleased we did, we haven’t looked back.
We’ve flown through that and we were absolutely chuffed last year to win silver at the South West Tourism Awards for Best Campsite, which was just overwhelming, you know, after only three years of being there.
The beauty of the campsite is there are really two ways you can visit, it is very much focused on families, it’s not exclusive to families, but families are our main market. You can either come along and do a kind of DIY experience. So you booked your camping (and there are some glamping experiences), and then choose how much you want to do on top of that, whether that’s activities. We have live music, we have circus skills, and as you experienced, we’ve got over 20 activities – the majority of which are on-site within walking distance.
Or you can book an all-inclusive experience and camping food, I think was what you experienced. Yeah, actually, it was the very first one we’d have ever delivered. So that was a brand new venture for us which went really well. And we’re Yeah, we’re hoping to relaunch that for next year with some changes and some adaptions, but that’s the concept, and it’s just it’s been way, way more successful than we ever could have imagined.

Kelly Ballard 09:34
I think it’s a great site as well because, we’re a camping family, and I love nothing more than to have a fire and it’s a place where you can have fires which is fantastic.
You can also go down to the lodge, which is near the ski slope and the actually you’ve renovated the lodge recently which is the main lodge and bar and area, we can come back to that, but you’ve also got a space where we could go and have food and sit around underneath a giant teepee where we could all have marshmallows and sit around the fire and there was music. It was just such a natural experience.

So you’ve got the ski slope, and people can learn to ski and snowboard and the like. And you’ve got this new bar. You’ve been renovating that.

George Combe 10:30
Yes, so we’ve been at this site, at the Churchill ski centre, for 11 years now. We were invited to take it on 11 years ago, and that was an amazing opportunity for us.
We went from a very small company that for a very long time had been based out of the back of a barn, and we were what you would call a roaming Outdoor Education Centre. So, we would go to people, we would hire other venues and use that space to deliver activities or deliver school trips. Then we had this opportunity to take on this site, and it is incredible.

It’s 250 acres in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and it’s just an absolute haven for adventure.
There’s so much wildlife, and we love it. The ski slope has been there itself for the longest period of time, and it’s quite unique because it’s it rolls around the hill, it’s got curves, it’s got bumps, it’s got lumps. And so it’s a really exciting place to either carry on skiing or to learn to ski.

We’ve got a beautiful bar, the Alpine lounge, which overlooks the ski slope, and then further up, we’ve got Mendip Lodge, where there’s a bar downstairs, and there’s the option for accommodation on top. So really, we were just absolutely blessed with our facilities.

Kelly Ballard 11:55
Wow. Well, tell me who owns it and tell me that a little of that story.

George Combe 12:01
Yeah, it was founded in 1987, almost 40 years ago by Jim Haywood in his spare bedroom in Yatton.
So we’ve always been in North Somerset, we’ve always been in the local area. Then it was taken into ownership by a chap called Dave Eddins a little bit later. Dave had started at Mendip as a trainee, which many do and I’m happy to share later that’s how a lot of our team start with us and grow with the company. So Dave obviously did, to the extreme degree by buying the company. And he now runs it and owns it with his brother Rich.
So we’re very much a family owned independent activity centre. And that’s something we’re really proud of. We want to remain independent and we do as much as we can by ourselves. We have our own team, we try not to contract too much out, even to the degree that we have our own facilities team who do most of our projects and exciting development.

Kelly Ballard 13:00
Excellent. I was just thinking about that when I came and visited it actually had that family feel. And I really felt that from everyone that was there looking after us. I guess we saw more staff than we normally would, because we had that Camp Bigfoot experience, but everyone was so passionate about the place. I had lots of conversations with the instructors who talked about going there as an apprentice, or after college. And they were so happy to be there – yeah, a really, really good culture.

George Combe 13:46
Oh, amazing. That’s, that’s fantastic to hear, that’s exactly what we experience every day to be honest, when we’re working, it’s generally a really great place to work. And it’s, it’s a huge cliche, right, if you love your job, then you never work a day in your life. And it’s a cliche, and people like to call it a cliche, but it’s true.
We find we struggle to lose people, people who want to stay with us forever and ever which is fantastic. And that’s one of the reasons we’ve grown because we exist for the people we work with and we provide people with amazing experiences.
We realised a very, very long time ago that actually looking after your team, and supporting the growth of them is the most fundamental thing you can do to support a positive culture. They are the people who do the hard work and deliver those amazing experiences like you and your family had.

Kelly Ballard 14:44
Oh, is that how you started there?

George Combe 14:46
Not quite, it’s a little bit different. I actually studied at University in Manchester. I studied drama and English literature, so completely different to the outdoor industry. Whilst I was on my degree, I started to do quite a lot of creative facilitation work. I ended up working, for example, in prisons, where I would deliver drama workshops to the people in prison as an opportunity to help them to grow and to develop. And at the same time, I was falling in love with rock climbing. And I probably spent far too much indoor and outdoor rock climbing and not enough time studying. So I put these two things together and realised that I loved working with people and could see the real benefits of offering them opportunities to grow, you know, using one one sort of tool, actually, I could use another tool I could use the outdoors to also help people develop.
I went and did a kind of apprenticeship in North Wales to become an outdoor instructor and then after a bit of time I moved back down to the South West where I grew up and started working at Mendip as an outdoor instructor. So I was a pure outdoor instructor for a few years, and throughout my time at the company, I’ve been there for seven years now. I’ve grown as we have, and taken on these new opportunities and exciting developments to kind of forge my own path and my own role and help us go to the next level.

Kelly Ballard 16:18
That’s fantastic. And am I right in thinking that Base Camp? Sorry, Camp Bigfoot was your idea?

George Combe 16:27
Mendip Basecamp was created in 2020, and the campsite and I led that project. It was very much used as a way to survive the pandemic, if I’m being completely honest. Overnight, as a lot of people did, we lost all our work, especially as at that point, working with schools was by far our biggest kind of model. And we couldn’t deliver school trips for a very long time.

We decided that we would open our campsite which already existed for schools, to the public. And at the time, I think we had six weeks to make that transformation. The story we like to tell people, which is completely true is we didn’t even know if the government were going to let campsites open, at that stage. So we were taking a big gamble. But actually, we had nothing to lose.
So I laid on that project and overnight Basecamp became this massive success.
Then over the years, it’s developed and it’s grown and yeah, then we introduce Camp Bigfoot, which is, a development from what we already do with schools. We deliver school residentials to over 100 schools every year, most of them from the local area. And what we wanted to do was to offer something similar to families.

Kelly Ballard 17:42
And this year, for the first time, did you have your first festival?

George Combe 17:52
Yeah, we teamed up with the local Rotary Club to deliver the festival. So the intention was it to raise funds for local charities, and it was really successful. Again, it was a family festival. The majority of the public offering we do is, is designed to be suitable for families.

We had an open air cinema on the Friday night and then loads of bands in the Saturday, there were lots of activities to take part including archery active, there were some Nerf gun battles, we put up our climbing tower and it was hugely successful. It was really small this year, we did that purposefully, but we’re hoping to launch another festival next year, That’s the plan. So watch this space.

Kelly Ballard
I’m so coming.

George Combe
Please do Absolutely.

Kelly Ballard 18:39
We always go away on bank holiday weekend with a group of friends and I know that you held it the weekend just before the schools went back this year. So it’d be interesting to know whether you do that again. As a parent, the last thing I want is for my children to be knackered the day before they go back to school. That said, having had such a great experience, and I’ve really wanted to take my children to a festival and knowing the balanced experience that you can get, I think it would be the perfect thing for us.
But yeah, I’m kind of like your biggest ambassador so tell me when the dates come out because I’ve got hundreds of parent family friends that I’m kind of like ‘we got to go’.

George Combe 19:20
You will be the first to know Kelly, don’t worry, you’ll be the first to know.

Kelly Ballard 19:25
Because the word is getting around – your place is just really really good.

Okay, so you say Camp Bigfoot has worked? What did you learn from doing that? What worked well, and what would you do differently?

George Combe 19:49
Yeah, absolutely. I think what what works really well, and what we knew would work well, is the coming together of different people, different families – creating that group experience, that that group bonding, and then going on a journey together.

Outdoor Education is really, really important, and perhaps Im a little bit biased. But I think it’s one of the most fundamental things we can do to support particularly young people in this day and age, you know, young people today are half as active as their parents. Being outdoors, taking part in these activities and these adventures, really supports both physical and mental well being, it helps us to grow resilience, helps us to gain confidence, and to have this greater sense of connection with nature. So we’re really keen to continue that vibe of building relationships with different people from different families, whether it’s other adults or whether it’s with other young people, as well as with our instructors. So that works really well.

I think the thing that we’re exploring with the campsite is exactly how long people are keen to come and stay for, because we describe ourselves very much as an off-grid campsite. What that means is, we don’t have electric hookups. We have luxuries, like flushing toilets and hot showers. And we’re really flexible. And, and you know, so we don’t have a checkout time, we let people pitch where they like, you can have fire pits, you can bring dogs. But for us, it’s about trying to find what’s the perfect length of time that people want to come and stay with us. Is this a whole week? Or actually, is it perhaps only a few days, so maybe offering some different experiences so that people can choose what suits them is the direction we’ll be looking at?

Kelly Ballard 21:45
That’s interesting. Thank you for that, when you described that kind of educational coming together, I mean, I’ve been working in outdoor experiences for a long time, too. And I talk about it, and I kind of communicate it. But I’ve never felt it like I did that week, in the way that you said, and I kind of overlooked a little bit the interaction of the different families and how we came together. Because we at times, you know, there were eight of us in a group and we were split up from half of our family, which meant that we were with half of somebody else’s family, and we got to know these people. It was like, it was amazing and being out in nature, as you say, I mean, my son is, you know, my both my children, in fact, are neurodiverse and I think that was what made it amazing, is that it is their happy place. It’s all of our happy places. And yeah, I do think that there’s so much in that. So thank you to you and your team, because it really was amazing.

George Combe 22:54
Fantastic, can I just pick up on that, what we find actually is that the outdoors can be one of the most inclusive places, because I think you described yourself earlier that it’s it’s really grounding. Some of the best experiences are when you remove all kinds of limitations, and everyone is experiencing the same thing together. For example, something like caving, which is one of my favourite activities to deliver myself, everyone’s in the same boat, and everyone is pushed outside of their comfort zone. And therefore they’re in the same experience. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a grown man, or you’re little child, you’re experiencing something new, and something to engage you and to make sure that you forget about the outside world potentially for a moment. And that’s why we find it’s such a such a brilliant thing to do with, for example, when people are neurodivergent.

Kelly Ballard 23:52
You have a few experiences there that are good for team building. I mean, a lot of it can be used in that team building capacity. I can imagine that is a big market for you? Has that always been a big thing for you?

George Combe 24:07
Yeah, absolutely. We do a fair amount of work with businesses who are looking for, I think increasingly, for a team day out – a fun day out. It’s a chance to go out and stretch their legs, and to just enjoy being outside of the office.
Traditionally, there’s been a lot more leadership and team development, perhaps that that model is changing a little bit with the flexibility of online learning and coaching in you know, in today’s world of work, but yeah, we find it’s more popular than ever, that companies want to come out and just go for a really good fun day. Recognising the benefits, the same benefits we just talked about, of being outdoors having a laugh, learning about each other in a different environment. Yeah, true, isn’t it.

Kelly Ballard 24:54
It also brings back your inner child. I mean, it relaxes you and also brings back that element of being a child again, it’s just great. So let’s think about your marketing. I’m a marketer and this is a big area of interest for me. I see you on social media, and you are very active, and you do some really creative things. And it always feels to me like organisations that have a lot of young people, and those who’ve got a real love of where they work are really happy to step forward and kind of be part of that. How does it work at Mendip Activity Centre? In terms of content creation?

George Combe 25:44
Yeah, absolutely, we have a relatively small marketing team, of whom we’ve got someone who’s full time. Then there’s two or three of us who have multifaceted roles. So we do lots of different things of which marketing is one of them. I think the thing that we focus on is content and content creation and the nature of what we do really suits that, outdoor activities look amazing on video and they look amazing on photos. And people are really keen to take that content themselves. We work with an amazing local chap called Mark Grey, and I’m sure he’ll be embarrassed for the shout out. But he is a customer of ours. And he’s a part-time videographer and photographer and he comes along and in return for bringing his family for free. He just loves taking photos and taking video. It means we get the best footage because it’s not staged is real live footage of people actually going out and having an amazing time. And actually, that does the work for us. Of course, as we know, there’s a lot more to marketing than that. It’s often about the data and having the right list and the right kind of content. We were on the phone to Facebook earlier this morning trying to work out how our latest content ads are working and that sort of thing. If you’ve got the right content, you’ve got the right footage, I think the rest kind of comes with it.

Kelly Ballard 27:08
Yeah, it’s true, isn’t it? I was not sure whether you listen to my conversation with the guys at Urban Tandoor, that was really interesting, because their whole marketing is based on content creation and creativity, and it’s similar and they don’t really do anything else. And I think you’ve got the basis for that as well.
I noticed as well, we’re coming up to Christmas and Black Friday. We’re recording this as Black Friday is coming up, and you’ve got this amazing deal. It really is amazing, some people give 10% off, 20% off, but you’re giving 50% off!

George Combe 28:01
Most of our adventure vouchers are 50% off during Black Friday. So that’s a that’s something that we’ve grown over the last few years and it’s been quite successful as a bit of a campaign. It really fits in with what we do because it means you know, we can have a successful marketing campaign, but also means we can continue to provide genuinely good value activities and experiences. And I think that’s quite important for us. Because we’re an independent family led and very family run organisation, we want to make sure that what we do is good value. That doesn’t always mean it’s cheap. Good value isn’t the same as being cheap. But if someone can come and do an experience and go, Yeah, I had a really good time. And it actually was really great value, what I got for what I paid is worthwhile, then we’ve done our job.

The other thing we find is, once we’ve got a customer, because we have so much on offer, we have a customer for life. They can start with us when their children are maybe four or five and take part in tobogganing. And then as they grew up through the years, they’ll take part in more and more activities. And we’re seeing this experience now where we are having people come along to our apprenticeship, who have been coming to visit us for 10 years for as long as we’ve been at that site. And that’s amazing, because it’s genuinely worked. We’ve genuinely inspired some young people to go and change their life or, you know, on the back of the outdoors. Definitely,

Kelly Ballard 29:26
I guess, going back to the discounted approach, I see a lot of people who are promoting that kind of half price visits because they’re trying to drive footfall in the next six to eight weeks, the quieter periods. unless you’ve got an event on then trying to get people through the door, but you’re offering this as gift vouchers for next year they are Christmas presents. I think in this time, of austerity and tough financial times I think it’s an amazing present that you can give to people and I think you’re right that lifetime value is really important.
It may be that in future, you can’t offer it for as long because you’ll be inundated and you know, you have a kind of set window, or maybe you do it in a different way, but right now, as you’re growing your awareness for people, and you’re building that database of people that know and love you, it’s absolutely right. So yeah, I’m buying one! You see, you’ve hooked me, can you see how I enjoy this I am?

I am also aware that you offer training courses at the Activity Centre. Is that right?

George Combe 30:37
Yeah, absolutely, training is a very big part of what we do and actually, it always has been since we were founded, that’s only expanded and increased in the last few years. So over the last year, we’ve probably trained almost 50 brand new outdoor instructors, some of them through our apprenticeships. We offer a 12 month apprenticeship, and some of them through our intensive training course. So we run an accelerated outdoor instructor training course. And that is designed for anyone aged 18 and above who want to become outdoor instructors. It doesn’t matter if you have a bit of experience or none at all. And it actually doesn’t matter if you’re 18, or if you’re 50, we have had people in their 50’s come and take part in this course. So, it’s a four-month residential course and it takes us all over the UK, as well as basing a lot of our training in Somerset, we go on national expeditions, and we even go abroad for a ski trip to finish off the course. So that’s a really exciting element of what we do and particularly so because it means we are growing the outdoor industry beyond just ourselves. We’ve got instructors now who work literally all over the world who were trained right here in the West Country. And that’s something we’re really proud of. That’s amazing.

Kelly Ballard 31:51
I know that sustainability is really important to you, what have you been doing around that area? And what are your plans? Can you tell me more about that?

George Combe 32:00
Yeah, absolutely. Clearly, we are outdoor educators and we have this incredible 250 acre site, so supporting that environment is really important. We’re putting lots of goals in place to try and improve our sustainability. Both, in terms of what we do, and we’ve just installed 24 solar panels and we’ve been slowly upgrading some of our single glazing and boring things like that. But actually, what we’ve kind of recognised is the biggest impact we can make is through education, through the 1000s of people, whether it’s families or schools who come to stay with us each week, each year. And we have just started a partnership with the AONB, who you mentioned earlier, we’ve employed one of their ecologists for one day a week.
So Nathan is an absolutely fascinating guy who knows more than you could ever think possible. And he’s been out and about on the site, working out ways that we can continue to improve it. And it’s an absolutely beautiful sight with flora and fauna. There’s butterflies, there’s mushrooms we’ve got, there’s lots of deer in the sight loads of insects. And we were doing all this work to try and manage that look after the sort of the nature that we have, and also work out ways that we can present that to other people, and that we can teach others.

So increasingly, we’re trying to do more work with schools based around sustainability. There’s meant to be a field studies GCSE being introduced in the next few years, and we’re really hoping this happens, because it’s gonna really help them encourage the engagement of young people with the outdoors and with nature even more.

In actual fact, that’s a big part of what we do on our school residentials. Our school residentials are generally five day long trips, and schools come from the local area, but also from all around the UK. And they stay with us. And as part of that, as well as during all the activities that you took part in that they also will learn about nature and about the environment and about what they can do to support it.

Kelly Ballard 34:08
Fantastic. Wow, there’s so much going on there.

How many staff do you actually have at the site?

George Combe 34:15
We employ around 80 permanent staff, and then that will increase in the summer as we have sort of busier time.

Kelly Ballard 34:23
Interesting. You’ve also you’ve won quite a few awards. You mentioned one earlier. What are you hoping for in this year’s South West Tourism awards? what have you entered?

George Combe 34:36
Goodness me? Well, we’re up for a large visitor attraction of the year. We’re up for the campsite of the year award again, and also for events of the year which is around our Twilight Tobogganing activity.

So this is our festive event. It’s one of our real success stories actually. It was developed a few years ago by one of my amazing colleagues, Emma and she is introduced the idea that we could put a festive twist on tobogganing. We introduced Twilight Tobogganing and that’s grown through the years and it’s now this amazing hour long experience, which is designed for the whole family. So it’s not just for young people, and it’s Christmas themed. We think it has a similar vibe to the campsite in that actually, it’s not just about the commercial element of Christmas, it’s really natural, it’s really laid back. After their tobogganing experience, there’s a snow machine, fairy lights, and magical music. Families go up into the woods, and they have a magical experience with campfires, they roast marshmallows, they have hot chocolate, they’re sparklers – it is out of this world. And it’s always one of the most stressful weeks of the year when we set it up, but seeing the faces of the families after they complete those first few sessions is as rewarding as you can imagine.

Kelly Ballard 35:54
That’s so amazing. Amazing. I haven’t been so I have to come. That’s so good.

George Combe 35:59
We need to get your family.

Kelly Ballard 36:03
We’ve been tobogganing so many times there, but I don’t think we’ve done that experience. It sounds amazing. My son is 13. Now my daughter is 12. So they’re getting to the age where, you know, it’s they still love it, and they’ll come along with their younger cousins. It’s something that lots of different ages can do, isn’t it but it’s often for the younger ones, they like these things. But as a parent, it’s the most amazing thing to tire your kids out. So if you haven’t been you must go.

So what’s coming up for you in 2024?

George Combe 36:38
What’s coming up for us in 2024? Well, I’ve got lots of things I can tell you. And lots of things I can’t tell you, you know, watch this space, keep the surprise waiting! We’ve just started work on some brand new target sport ranges, which we’re really excited about. So these are partly funded by North Somerset Council’s Rural Prosperity Fund. So thank you very much to the Council. And what’s exciting about these ranges is they’re going to be accessible. So we’re going to be able to offer them to all manner of people from all backgrounds, whether they’ve got disabilities or not. And that is going to be fantastic for our archery and our air rifle and it’s going to increase that capacity. At the same time, we’re also building an accessible viewing platform for our toboggan slope. And tobogganing is our most popular activity by a very long stretch. So, we’re really excited that we’re going to be able to, you know, increase the offering of spectators to tobogganing.

Actually, accessibility is one of the things that we’re focusing on quite a lot over over the next little period, we founded a charity a couple of years ago called the Mendip Access Adventure Foundation, and it’s now run as an independent charity and we’re the main partner. The goal is really simple, we want to make the outdoors accessible to everyone. And I when I say accessible, I mean that on the global sense, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got a disability or what background you’re from, everyone should have the chance to be outdoors.

Everything we’ve spoken about already should be universal. And you know, along alongside the charity, we’ve got some exciting projects we’re launching. One of them is we’ve just gone into a partnership with Snow Sport England and we’re going to be delivering some skiing lessons for people with learning difficulties. And yeah, that’s one of things that’s happening and coming up in the new year.

Kelly Ballard 38:35
Wow,that’s brilliant. Thank you George.

My last questions to you George.

Where are your some of your favourite places to eat, drink and visit in the West? So firstly, where’s your favourite place to eat in the West?

George Combe 38:51
Goodness me these questions are difficult because I’m I am one of those people who I don’t stop I very rarely have a night in at home so I’m always out doing stuff I love going out to eat. I would have to give a shout out I think it’s been mentioned on the podcast before for the amazing Japanese restaurants in Weston-super-Mare where I live so both Sakura & Ikanji are amazing. There’s also if you like Korean fried chicken burgers, there’s a place in Bristol Four Wise Monkeys just by St. Nick’s market, it is out of this world really good.

Kelly Ballard 39:22
Hmm. Interesting. That was not been mentioned but the Japanese restaurants have thank you. How about a drink? Have you got a favourite place to go and have a drink or coffee?

George Combe 39:31
Oh, good question. Yeah, I love a good drink. I’d have to shout out the Crown at Churchill which is round the corner from Mendip, as well as Thatcher’s Railway’s really great. These are brilliant places I can go for an after-work drink and I also I’m a bit of a sucker for a craft beer. So all the new craft breweries popping up in Bristol, like Left Handed Giant are a favourite of mine as well.

Kelly Ballard 39:59
There’s a few of these breweries that are opening up in Weston as well aren’t there?

George Combe 40:03
Absolutely yeah, very good as well.

Kelly Ballard 40:06
Yes, the Crown is somewhere you can walk to from the Mendip isn’t it, from the Activity Centre, I found that’s always good to have a pub that you can walk to from a campsite

George Combe 40:15
It’s a proper pub, you know, it’s still kind of got dirt on the floor.

Kelly Ballard 40:24
And how about your favourite place to visit when you’re not at the Activity Centre?

George Combe 40:30
Oh, is this a another great question. And I mean, I love the outdoors. So you will always find me on the Mendips. My boyfriend lives in North Devon. So I spend a lot of time down there as well. But then culturally, I would say I love going to the theatre. So you’ll often find me in the theatre. The Bristol Old Vic is one of my favourite places in the world. It’s just wonderful. And in fact, I’m going to the theatre tonight. I’m going to watch the mousetrap in Weston.

Kelly Ballard 40:59
Fantastic, is that at the Playhouse?

George Combes

Kelly Ballard
Oh, brilliant. Thank you so much for those, George because you’ve mentioned a few places that people haven’t mentioned before. So thank you and for sharing all your thoughts and insight. And well done, every time I meet you, you are like a ray of sunshine. So keep doing what you’re doing. You’ve been absolutely brilliant. Thank you so much.

George Combe 41:23
No, thank you, Kelly for having me on the podcast. It’s been really fun.

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