Boulder Hut co-founder, Sam Oxford, has been climbing for the past 10 years. She started putting plans in place to open Boulder Hut when she was being made redundant in 2012. Having had Jack in 2015 she realised the huge gap in the market for a climbing wall which caters for everyone from birth.
Our journey so far
I (Sam) love being outdoors and spent a lot of time walking in the Lake District. I had always liked the look of what the climbers were up to. However, I’d always thought I was petrified of heights. Imagine how surprised I was when I went to Go Ape for a friend’s hen do and absolutely loved being at height in a harness. Then, one of my friends was going for a learning to climb session (where she ended up meeting her husband!) and I went along too.
Ant got into climbing through his years in the Scouts. He really got the bug during his early twenties when he became a regular at Rock City in Hull. After several different jobs, he decided to return to study. Sheffield was the obvious number one choice so that he could go climbing in the Peak District. After 5 years enjoying the gritstone of the Peak, returning to work took him to near Manchester. Here he continued to boulder at many indoor walls whilst also exploring the various Welsh bouldering venues.
Back in 2011, Ant and I were living in Chester. On weekday evenings we were travelling to either Liverpool, Stockport or Oswestry to climb. With a 40+ minute journey each way, the idea was born that we should open a climbing wall in Chester.
This was initially about our passion for climbing, but as we did our research and the years progressed we realised the incredible business opportunity in front of us. We started creating a business plan in 2012, and have had many mentors, financial and business advisors help us along the way.
We chose Ellesmere Port because it has great transport and motorway links, and has the size of building that we need. The proximity to Cheshire Oaks, which has 8 million visitors a year, also helped us make our decision.
There have been a few challenges along the way. Initially, we started as a community interest company and applied for numerous grant applications. These were all rejected. We were also battling being sleep deprived with a newborn whilst still trying to make Boulder Hut happen!
Crowdcube was a massive challenge. Even just getting on there and passing their due diligence was a major hurdle. Then we had to come through 8 weeks of juggling the fundraising (meetings, emails, phone calls, updates and answering questions on the discussion page), my day job, and looking after Jack.
Another challenge was trying to find a suitable building. One serious contender was taken off the market and we wondered if we would find another just as good. There have been lots of exciting moments too. Getting our change of use planning application approved, reaching our funding target, and then over funding to £403k were all incredible.
We work together as a couple really well. We definitely bring out the best in each other when we’re facing a challenge; we both bring different skills to the table. I’m a good organiser, love running a budget, and have human resources and campaign experience. Ant has a great understanding of everything required to run a successful business such as the day to day running, book keeping, financials, project planning, team dynamics and management, recruitment, marketing, creative aspects and much more. We both have a good understanding of what climbers are looking for in a climbing centre (from different viewpoints) and since becoming parents we’re keen to develop a centre that caters for children from birth; enabling little ones to learn key movements and techniques in a fun and engaging environment.
Having Jack totally changed our outlook on the business model. Before Jack came along we were just about building a climbing wall. Now, one of Boulder Hut’s main focuses is getting children to climb, and growing the next generation of Olympians. We don’t believe that our approach to integrating children’s climbing has been done before and we’re so excited to see it in the flesh!