Case Study: The Tide Climbing Centre

Taking Cornwall to New Heights

The Tide Climbing Centre has been described as many things: a game-changer for Cornish sport lovers, a melting pot for the local community, but if there’s one thing it’s been called time and time again, that’s ‘ambitious’.

So how did two young climbing enthusiasts manage to pull off such a feat so successfully?

“The choice was buy a house, or do the grown up thing of trying to start a really big indoor climbing centre.” Sam jokes. Sam makes up half of the team behind Cornwall’s latest and most impressive attraction; together with Sophie, the two have combined their shared love of climbing with the goal of creating a centre that is ethical, sustainable and impressive on every level.

Becoming The Centre of Attention

Upon entering the climbing centre, you’re hit with a sense of just how much of a mammoth undertaking it must have been to bring everything together in such a short space of time.

Equally as impressive is just how many different roles the centre plays. Yes, first and foremost it’s a climbing centre but it also boasts a café that serves local produce (with coffee produced a literal stone’s throw away), almost everything is either reusable or renewable and if you head towards the showers and changing room, you’ll also find one of the county’s biggest yoga studios.

The reasoning behind bringing together so many elements is simple: in doing so they created a place which is far greater than the sum of its parts, drawing in people of all ages and abilities from across the county and beyond.

“Our aim was to make Cornwall as good as it could be. Partly selfishly, because we want this, but I think it’s only going to make it better.” Sam says about their ongoing commitment within the local community.

As it turns out, they weren’t alone in this way of thinking: “It’s something we wanted to bring here and give to the community” Sophie tells me. “They’ve completely supported us and put their money into it as well. They’ve really got involved and helped build some of it, which is great.”

It’s a dedication goes both ways: One of Tide’s core principles is supporting its staff, sending ripples throughout the local communities and economy in the process. Not only are they a national living wage employer, but they also provide qualifications and DBS checks, meaning staff turnover stays low, but also ensures staff are in a better position if they do choose to part ways further on down the line.

A sustainable business from the ground up

Usually when we talk about making businesses sustainable, we mean ensuring the business has everything it needs to stay robust against the ever-changing business climate. But for Tide, this is only one part of it, and before any work could be carried out to the premises itself, Sophie and Sam had a vision of making a business that was environmentally friendly, and that leaves not just the local economy and environment even better than before they started.

The entire site is powered by a wind turbine, which is one of the things that immediately made location a good fit, but even the furnishings and obstacles needed to make a climbing centre were chosen with their environmental impact in mind.

The soft rubber crumb that you’ll feel under foot is 100% recycled, which Sam says was harder to work with, but now it’s installed that’s all forgotten and everyone can enjoy guilt-free exercise.

The all-important brochures (a longtime staple for the Cornish holiday-goer on the lookout for nearby attractions, especially on wet and windy days) are both 100% recycled and recyclable, as are the membership cards.

Even the toilet paper is ethically sourced from a company that gives a portion of its profits to build sanitary toilets around the world.

A business that weathers the storm

Anyone that’s spent more than a week in the county knows that the weather can be predictably unpredictable, so for lovers of outdoor activities that passion doesn’t go away with the changing of the seasons, but until now the choices of where you can go were limited.

The Tide may not be Cornwall’s first climbing centre, but to anyone serious about climbing the difference is (climbing) chalk and cheese. Even for those wanting to get started or give it a go at an early age, a huge amount of effort has gone into ensuring that it’s equally accessible to people of every age and ability.

To call the plan ‘grand’ is perhaps an understatement, which is why Sam & Sophie turned to Oxford Innovation for support.

The pair began working closely with Lynda Clark as their lead coach to help the idea come to fruition.

“Oxford Innovation basically pointed out all the ways that we could get funding that we didn’t even know existed” Sam said. “We needed a bit of a sounding board as well!” Sophie adds.

Upon seeing the finished product, Lynda was understandably pleased to see what Sam & Sophie had worked so hard to achieve:

Lead Coach: Lynda Clark

“I’ve been working with Sam and Sophie over the last six months. In that time, they have been the perfect clients. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with anyone who’s moved at such a fast pace.

We’ve been having regular meetings and every time they go away totally focused on all their goals and objectives that we’ve talked about plus everything they have achieved which has been amazing.

So to be here today in the climbing centre six months on… they have achieved so much.” – Lynda Clark

Crucially, Lynda helped give the business a firm footing in their strategic planning going forwards, though perhaps even more importantly she brought in other OI coaches from a wide array of backgrounds, giving the pair a wealth of experience to draw from, including help with marketing & branding, strategy planning, financial acumen, working with shareholders and recruitment.

In addition to Lynda, the team worked with five other OI coaches to help them prepare for various aspects ahead of its launch:

Tide Climbing with oxford Innovation business coaches

Ernie Capbert

Ernie Capbert was brought on to help Tide establish their brand identity, which is essential for a business that plays so many roles.

“Sam and Sophie have been a perfect client because their self-awareness is phenomenal. They’re not the type to back away as if they have all the answers. They’re fully aware that they don’t have all the answers.” – Ernie Capbert

“He just flew straight into our project and was totally excited about it. It validated everything that we were thinking about how we wanted our brand to go, and then thought outside the box and pinpointed areas in where we should look.” -Sophie

“He really helped develop the brand and encouraged us to develop a brand rather than just sticking your name on a building… we needed to get online and get up to date with how things in the modern marketing world are done.” – Sam

Andrew Upton

Andrew Upton helped strategise and fomalise plans, turning ideas that previously only existed in Sam & Sophie’s heads into written documents that could be then presented and worked from as a fully functioning business model.

“It’s always good working with a with a couple who have got really strong ideas, really strong experience on how to do it and just need a little bit of extra sort of guidance and experience and talk about it.”

“It’s a great facility for Cornwall, and I think a real opportunity for a successful business.” – Andrew Upton

“He sat down and actually worked through what strategies we should be putting in place and what we should be thinking about.” – Sophie

“He’d put things down on paper so we could show our staff and our managers the direction we want to head in. Everyone knows what decisions they should be making and when.” – Sam

Theda Gray

Theda Gray‘s financial expertise were used to help them really think about where their money was going and how to make sure it worked for them.

“We went in with a little bit of knowledge about our accountant. She broadened our perspectives and made us think longer term, where we should be focusing re-investments and things.” – Sophie

Richard Reed

Richard helped raised awareness of a shareholder’s perspective, which was an important step for business owners that put ethical values high on their list of priorities.

“It gave us the knowledge to be clear in what our shareholder agreement should say. How to understand them and what to avoid, which was really, really good.” – Sophie

Sarah Pryce

Sarah Pryce’s leadership experience helped build a strong team that Sophie & Sam are happy to share their dream with.

“Sam and Sophie are really good at combining their overarching vision with getting the detail right and I think they managed to balance those two things really well.

You couldn’t fail to be pleased when you walk into this place and aside from the building you get this awesome stuff, the kind of welcome that you get says to me they got the style absolutely right. It’s spot on.” – Sarah Pryce

“I think a lot of it was her encouraging us to make choices that we want to make but maybe aren’t the norm. So we weren’t comfortable making them. You want the right staff to apply for the job, but it’s hard to get that across on a piece of paper.” – Sam

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This programme is fully funded by the European Regional Development Fund 2014-2020.