Ecocamp Glenshee was one of the first environmentally-conscious
camping pods sites in the area.
Run by husband and wife team Simon and Fiona Calvin it is situated in an
idyllic rural location on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park and just
a few minutes away from the Glenshee Ski Centre.
It offers a range of different accommodation including a romantic
shepherd’s hut, a goods wagon, wooden glamping pods of varying
sizes to suit couples, families or larger groups, and tent pitches.
Ecocamp Glenshee also offers guests and visitors the opportunity to go trekking in the stunning scenery around the site with their three llamas.
The couple first heard about GrowBiz through word-of-mouth from a friend and say the community-based enterprise support organisation has provided them with
down-to-earth advice on a range of subjects such as funding opportunities, sourcing private water grants, marketing, use of social media, making videos and just providing a sounding board for ideas.
Ecocamp Glenshee came about as Simon and Fiona both became increasingly fed up of what they describe as “normal, nine to five jobs”. They decided that they wanted to work for themselves rather than for other organisations as having more autonomy was important to them.
Initially, their idea was to set up an environmentally-based bunk house and education centre. They submitted applications for funding about two weeks prior to the global crash of 2009, after which no funding was available.
They began to look for new ideas, and it wasn’t until almost a year later when they were at the Scottish Game and Country Fair in Scone that they saw someone selling accommodation pods. From then on, the couple has been able to self-fund the project.
And as for the inspiration for the llama trekking, Simon explains: “Back in the early 2000s we were in the Wind River Range in the Rocky Mountains in the USA on a rock climbing trip and met a group who were on a multi-day trek using mules to carry kit.
“Soon after Ecocamp opened we had friends over, too much wine and the mules came up in conversation. Somehow mules became llamas and the rest is history!”
The enterprise journey
Neither Simon or Fiona have a particular background in tourism. Simon was a primary school teacher for 23 years and for the first 18 months of Ecocamp continued to work full time as a teacher. As the business grew, he gradually reduced his teaching hours, before eventually going full-time at Ecocamp about five years ago.
Fiona’s background is in archaeology and health and safety. She was the manager of health, safety and environment for The National Trust for Scotland before giving it all up to project manage setting up Ecocamp.
The environmentally-friendly ethos of Ecocamp is key.
Simon says: “We want to help our guests focus on the important things in their lives, slow down a little and leave behind their daily worries and stresses by experiencing the tranquillity and nature here at Ecocamp.
“Small changes can have big impacts in our lives and on the planet. We care deeply about our world and the environment we live in and do everything we can to protect that.
“We use environmentally-friendly cleaning products, ethically sourced furnishings and upcycle where we can. Our rescue hens provide eggs and our photovoltaic cells feed electricity back into the grid.”
And in terms of building their business, he says: “We got to where we are today quite simply by hard work, more hard work and hard work. Coupled with imagination and a willingness to take the odd gamble and having quality as our absolute focus.”
Although Ecocamp Glenshee has been largely self-funded and built up over a decade of hard work, Simon and Fiona are quick to acknowledge the support they have had along the way.
Simon says: “We have had good advice from a variety of organisations - GrowBiz, the Cairngorm Business Partnership and VisitScotland to name a few.
“The team of experienced enterprise facilitators at GrowBiz gave us great down-to-earth advice and they guide you rather than lead you by the hand.
“We have had one-to-one support and attended a number of learning sessions and networking events and would definitely recommend GrowBiz to anyone starting out.
“There are plenty of people out there who will have a go at you and your ideas and it is so important not to allow negativity to creep in and to focus on the people who want to encourage you, such as GrowBiz, and the customers who love what you do.”
Looking to the future
As far as the future is concerned, the duo are keen to further develop their customer base, invest in improving the facilities they have and increase their corporate customers for the llama experience.
Simon says: “We are really proud to have developed a successful business from an original idea which is well-respected and brings significant spending to the local area.”
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