Couple take ‘leap of faith’ to open climbing business

Helena and John Williams on their climbing wall in Pembrokeshire
Helena and John Williams on their climbing wall in Pembrokeshire

Life’s a beach for a former Lancaster couple who threw caution to the wind and opened up a climbing centre business in a Welsh seaside town.

John and Helena Williams, who met as teenagers at Central Lancaster High School, opened up Overhang in the seaside town of Tenby on the Pembrokeshire coast last year and have not looked back.

The couple, who have two children, run Tenby Climbing Centre in a former Lifeboat House right on the beach in the popular resort.

Helena, 32, who lived in the Greaves area of Lancaster, said their love of outdoor climbing and the lack of indoor climbing facilities in the area caused them to take the “leap of faith” into business together.

She said: “John wanted to join the army so we got married when we were 18, and John was posted to Cyprus.

“We spent just under three years out there and that’s when we developed our love of climbing.

“We returned to the UK and lived and worked in a number of places, and looked at going into the pub trade.

“We bounced about for a bit and came back to Lancaster, but it was a holiday in Milford Haven in Wales that made us think of moving there permanently. We loved the Pembrokeshire coast so much and decided we wanted to live there. We had a pub for a year, and then John got sick, so we came out of that, and moved to Haverford West where John became a lifeguard.”

It was in this role that John saw a gap in the provision at the leisure centre where he worked, and decided to look into introducing a climbing wall there. We produced a business plan and got a wall built there, and that’s when we saw the opportunity in Tenby,” Helena said.

“The old Lifeboat House is owned by the council, and we saw it had come up for rent.

“It was literally a shell, so we drew up some plans and managed to get some funding from Sports Council Wales in 2013. It was a lot of planning and sleepless nights, and it took about a year to get everything together. We finally opened in July 2014.”

John, 33, who grew up in Skerton, said the poor summer weather had really helped the business this year.

He said: “It’s been a mental summer, when it rains we get hammered.”

The business is busy all year round however, as visitors and holidaymakers call in for taster sessions during the summer, and school groups, Scouts and climbers make use of the undercover climbing walls in winter.

Helena added the local response to the new venture, which employs two other members of staff, had been good.

She said: “Lots of people were so excited about it, and we had the backing of the schools. It started off quiet but its just steadily picking up.”

The couple said they weren’t ruling out opening another similar business in the future. Helena added: “We wondered whether it was worth the risk but I can’t imagine what it would have been like if we hadn’t done it.It was definitely a leap of faith.”