Following a £4.4m landmark investment by the Cardiff Capital Region, Zip World, famed in North Wales for having the fastest zip line in the world, have brought their unique brand of adventure tourism to heart of the breath-taking Rhigos Mountains. Aiming to boost the South Welsh economy, while utilising the jaw-dropping landscape to breathe new life into this icon of the regions coal mining history, the site opened to the public on April 26. Keen to see this extraordinary transformation and witness the Zip World experience for ourselves, we caught up with Ellie Watkins, who manages all the local marketing activity, and the wider team to understand more about the past, present and future plans for Zip World Tower and what it’s like to actually work there.
“Bringing happiness to the people of South Wales”
“I see my role as bringing happiness to the people of South Wales” said Ellie, an attitude and enthusiasm that is exhibited by all the staff we spoke to. “I see it as an opportunity to help create fun, memorable experiences for people.” The enthusiasm shown by Ellie characterises the attitude and behaviours of all the staff – no one sees their role as ‘just a job’ – everyone sees it as an opportunity to help create fun memorable experiences for people. And that memorable experience actually starts with the journey to the site itself…
Driving into the Rhigos Mountain and seeing people queuing up, all excited to be participating in something totally different and all looking for a bit of real adventure after being stuck at home for months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with the spectacular mountainous backdrop is truly a sight to behold. As people zipped overhead on the 70mph Phoenix line we were greeted by Ellie, keen to show us around the site. Zip World Tower has a bustling entrance filled with merchandise, video footage of what you can expect to experience playing on the overhead screens, and instructors fitting people with equipment ready for their flight down South Wales’ most impressive outdoor adventure sites. From the very offset you are enveloped in an aura of excitement and anticipation.
Ellie’s enthusiasm for her job was clear from the offset. With a background in teaching, marketing and adventure sports, from working in New Zealand – an area famed for its adventure sports – this role plays right into her strengths.
“I worked for A. J. Hackett (the father of bungee jumping) and I just loved everything about providing people with that experience. When my dad, who’s local to this area, showed me the job opening at Zip World for the Marketing Coordinator I just knew right away that this was the job for me”
Celebrating the new whilst championing the old
“Watching people coming down the zip line, relating to the history or just viewing the site will be a fantastic trip down memory lane for many. Some of the first people to experience the lines were actually the ex-miners themselves. Tyrone O’Sullivan, one of the original architects of the Management Buy Out of Tower colliery, has been extremely supportive of our opening and has been involved heavily with our media coverage and is hoping to visit with his family to do the zip line very soon!”
By incorporating some of the original buildings into the fabric of the new facilities Zip Word are making maximum effort to combine history with new infrastructure and in so doing are creating a destination that will resonate with people on so many levels.
“The miners have been so supportive of Zip World we want to do everything we can to keep that story live and front of mind.” Said Ellie.
Now in the process of working with a media company to film the history of the colliery and the miners to create a visual story that will do justice to their legacy, this will add yet another dimension to the visitor attractions.
Winning the hearts and minds of the community
On the question of the philosophy and values that underpin the Zip World approach Ellie said; “We don’t want to be a business that just operates here, we want to be involved, be part of the fabric of the local community and even small things like communal litter picks to clean up the area are a way we can give back and positively engage. Recently, we put a litter pick event out on social media and we had 25 volunteers show up to help and now were being asked when the next one is taking place! The level of engagement and community spirit here is just fabulous and we want to do everything we can to encourage and develop that even further. Everyone seems to want to see us succeed and that is truly heartening.”
Using the power of the Zip World Brand to support and develop local inhabitants and initiatives
“We believe strongly in supporting local charities and local initiatives as well as employing local people… Its early days yet but we have started offering sponsored zip lines where we provide free rides for charities to raffle to raise funds . Our plan is to work with one primary charity and for that we have chosen Valleys Kids – an amazing charity that has changed the lives of so many children in ex mining communities. We are currently putting together a plan for how we are going to work together and will be communicating more on that shortly – so watch this space!”
“We are also hoping to develop an after school club and feature events such as ‘a day in the life of’….. so that school children can experience first-hand what some of our roles involve. Educational trips are offered currently at the North Wales site where the history, the stories and the heritage of the area are brought to life. Our longer term aim will be to replicate this in Rhigos.”
Creating a “go to” place for families and businesses
Another aim is to make Zip World a “go to” place for families and businesses – but not just to ride the big zip lines…..
“To encourage families, we have “Big Red” which is aimed at 5-12 year olds and a bargain at only £10 for two rides. Combine that with a meal deal or two at our Cegin Glo Bar and Bistro with its spectacular backdrop and you have a family day or evening out that is accessible for many in a pretty special location that makes it that little bit different. This is all still in the early phase of development but it shows that we are totally committed to creating a destination for our communities that is a lot more than a one-off thrill. Kids parties too is all under consideration for future offerings.”
For businesses Zip World are hoping to provide an events offering utilising their bistro-style restaurant with its fully licensed bar serving hot and cold food and capacity for 176 people (30 to 40 in a separate mezzanine) plus a 100 covers outdoors. This would be a perfect space for corporate team building days, events, business breakfasts and more.
“We have so many ideas and the site has so much future potential said Ellie “it’s an incredibly exciting place to work and I feel privileged to be a part of it”
From a tourist attraction to a tourist destination
The area already boasts tourist attractions the Penderyn Distillery, Garwnant Visitor Centre, Royal Mint, Cyfarthfa Park and the Bike Park Wales. This will only add to the pull of this part of the region and make these areas of outstanding beauty and post-industrialisation come back to life again and pull people from all over the UK to come and experience everything the region has to offer.
There’s also the Cegin Glo Bar and Bistro where we sat down to enjoy a coffee and take in the spectacular backdrop. This would be a great location to visit regardless if you wanted to go zip lining.