Why Reinvent The Wheel? Former RN Officer Renovates Disused Water Mill To Create Sustainable Business

Over the course of twenty years, Brendan Bellis clocked up four million air miles, while working in the Navy and oil and gas industry. Initially, this figure may not paint him as the greatest bastion for the environment. However, it was this exposure to the huge amount of energy being wasted across different cultures that contributed to Brendan’s desire of creating a sustainable business. There was one particular incident while working in Abu Dhabi that clinched it for him.

Brendan says: “I walked into a huge shopping mall where literally hundreds of large cars were being left running with nobody actually sitting in them. It turns out the air con had been left on to ensure the cars were kept cool enough for the drivers upon return. I decided then it was time to take control of my destiny and use ‘the gift’ I’d received to give something back to the community.

The gift he refers to is the farm which has been in his family for generations. Based in a beautiful spot in Exeter sandwiched between National Trust and Duchy of Cornwall land, it is home to a 600 year old weir and water wheel, requisitioned in World War Two for its iron. Brendan is now partnering with new technology to renovate the watermill, using titanium and aluminium for, a lightweight and traditional looking water wheel, to bring it back to life and generate electricity.

Brendan was originally inspired by an ex-Forces colleague in South Africa who had used pioneering technology to make his winery sustainable. He says: “We both despaired that mill technology has become redundant. This basic technology is still still valid today and I believe society will eventually come full circle and return to these older methods combined with new technology.”

From a full feasibility study Brendan calculated he will generate enough electricity to supply the equivalent of, on average, 30 domestic houses annually. His overall vision is to supply an on-site, electricity intensive, rural business and make it [and the farm] completely sustainable.. Potential customers include a server farm for an internet company and a firm who need to store and cool medical supplies.

Any profit made will then go back into the business financing the building of tree houses to cater for tourists. If the business goes well, Brendan has considered buying up other places and training people in how to create their own sustainable business.

Flock mill 350One of the biggest challenges for Brendan has been obtaining enough funding, and, in particular, getting his head around the ever-changing world of business grants.

He says: “It’s not a world that the ex-military are familiar with, in particular the logistics of the most effective ways of financing – for example, there are considerably more options than just borrowing from the bank.”

Brendan is a recent attendee of the X-Forces Business Start Up Workshop – in partnership with the OA, which provides help and information to ex-military, who are considering setting up their own businesses.

He says: “I really appreciated knowing there were similar people out there with similar goals. It was very helpful and has opened up numerous networking opportunities.”

However, Brendan does credit his ex-Services background with helping him get this far. “When I come across a hurdle in business I don’t necessarily think of it as something to ‘get over’. I just work out another direction to go in. The Services encourages versatility and lateral thinking.”

He adds: “The forces mantra of being prepared is so useful in civvy street – a bit of very professional persistence, networking, industry knowledge and a grasp of business basics really helps get things moving. I’m also finding that ex-service personnel are well regarded by banks, institutions and support networks. We generally come with a respected set of skills that’s trusted – it helps if you can drive it in an effective direction.”

Despite the pressure of starting his own business, Brendan feels he has it in proper perspective. He says: “I passionately care about it but, having had 2 long-term global careers, I don’t want to be a millionaire with no hair – it’s not worth running myself into the ground. My quality of life and enjoyment is proving much more important to me now.”