It’s a sunny spring morning in Leigh, and Ben Guinness is on the ride-on mower at the Sawmill. He zooms around his recently-finished vege garden which will supply the restaurant and the family, while his parents, Marguerite and Grattan, weed, plant and harvest industriously. The huge garden is bordered by stacked slabs of concrete recycled from the recently-renewed footpaths around Leigh. Must have been hard work? “It’s all in the technique,” he shugs, “but one of my knees is a bit buggered now.”
While we’re in the garden, Ben talks of his plan to build a track around the perimeter of the eight-acre property, with some camping or glamping spots – despite the various sweet accommodation options the Sawmill has, it’s never enough for the big gigs.
There are always more plans afoot with the Guinness family. Ben’s also keen to set up a little museum collection of original machinery from when the café was a working sawmill – he’s tinkered on them in his non-existent spare time till most of them are going. His favourite – a 1943 Lister crank-start, three-cylinder generator – goes well, and in the case of power cut, can power the tills and lights. “If anyone feels like working up a sweat trying to get it started, come and see me,” Ben invites. “Although again – it’s all technique and I’ve seen a girl start it when a big bloke can’t.”
There are plans to expand the conference business – the Leigh Sawmill has excellent facilities and can put together food, accommodation and team-building packages for corporates. A high-end outdoor barbecue area will work well with the existing facilities. And of course, Leigh needs a pool. “We thought it’d be fantastic to have somewhere out here when kids can learn to swim, divers can learn to dive, elders can exercise,” enthuses Ben. “After all, we’ve got the land…”
The big question currently is what to do with the now-empty brewery building? “We’ve all been mulling it over,” says Ben, whose gorgeously restored little wooden boat currently resides there. More accommodation? A day spa? Various workshops? Recording studio? There are many options, but brothers Ben and Ed Guinness are hedging their bets. One thing is certain: the right thing will present itself and they’ll casually put something extraordinary together – it’s the usual way of things at the Leigh Sawmill.
Meanwhile there’s nothing like seeing some live music at the Mill, and music director Susan says the coming summer gigs will include lots of variety. “Expect the return of some crowd-pleasing favourites and a few big names we’re not allowed to announce yet – definitely something for everyone.”