Betws-y-Coed - a village full of talented people

This community in the hills of Snowdonia may be small, but it's full of people big on talent WORDS BY EMMA MAYOH PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS

Jacha Potgieter has travelled the world but it is Betws-y-Coed he’s settled in. It was his wife Gwen, from Deganwy, who brought the South African to North Wales. But the passionate conservationist is still busy helping animals in other parts of the world away from this small village in the Conwy Valley.

He has worked on game farms in South Africa as well as a professional cat hunter based at a weather station in the subarctic. The cat population had grown to more than 5,000 and was threatening species of birds and other wildlife.

But closest to his heart is the campaigning he undertakes for the humane treatment and protection of apes and orangutans.

He has volunteered in places like Borneo and Cameroon and fundraised for Ape Action and the Orangutan Foundation.

He said: ‘I hate cruelty against animals and things like palm oil and bush meat, where wild animals are killed for meat, as well as rainforest destruction. These are big issues for me. I want to be able to make a significant contribution.

‘I try my best to help. There are lots of apes that need it and sometimes it can seem overwhelming but if I can help just one then I will be happy. They are lovely animals.’

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His passion for conservation led him in another direction, to become an artist. He studied fine art at Liverpool John Moores University and now paints and photographs orangutans and apes to raise even more money for the two organisations.

Jacha, who also gives talks to schools, said: ‘This is something I very much enjoy.

‘It is also helping to raise awareness of something very important to me. I now travel to places like Borneo to get more information for my art work. I sell the paintings and most of the proceeds go to Ape Action and the Orangutan Foundation.’

Much of his conservation ethos has been transferred into the running of the Alpine Coffee Shop in the village, the caf� Jacha helps to run with Gwen. It is the only caf� in Britain to be completely palm oil free. They make everything from scratch, including their own vegan ice cream. They use leftover tea and coffee to create compost to grow herbs for the caf�.

Jacha’s work is exhibited in the caf� and they hold events to raise money for the two charities. Visitors to the caf� have raised the largest amount of money from individuals for the organisations. The total was �6,000.Gwen and Jacha hope to open their own gallery in the village next year.Jacha said: ‘We think it would be good for Betws-y-Coed.

‘It is such a beautiful village. I can’t get enough of it. We are so fortunate to live in such a nice place. Everybody is busy because it’s a tourist place but if people want help or if you need help, it will always be there.’

The new gallery will exhibit Jacha’s work and feature the work of local blacksmith, Gerallt Evans. The former semi-professional rugby player, who has travelled the world representing teams across Wales as well as in Cheshire and Wirral, set up in the profession ten years ago at his farm Tan Lan, just outside Betws-y-Coed.

There he creates everything from door knobs, gates, fences and balconies to shop signs, interiors pieces and special commissions. His work can be seen in the village at the railway station as the 36-year-old, who is also a trained engineer, created the canopy and the decorative iron works for it. He has also created beds adorned with mermaids for new apartments that Jacha and Gwen own.

Being a blacksmith runs in the family. His great uncle, Ernest, plied the craft in nearby Llangerynyw. Gerallt has now established a reputation as an artist blacksmith.

He said: ‘My great uncle would have loved the opportunity to be as creative as I am but the industry was different back then.

‘I love the challenge of trying things I’ve not done before or taking on difficult projects. I feel really proud too that I have been able to do pieces for my local area.’

Another person who contributes to the Betws-y-Coed community is Sue Vincent. The florist set up her quirky little shop in a tiny alcove between two buildings a year ago. Here she sells everything from garden tools to vintage furniture and also designs floral arrangements. She runs the business with partner, Simon Plummer, a tree surgeon.

The couple yearned for a lifestyle change and becoming a part of the Betws-y-Coed community has allowed that.

She said: ‘We meet all sorts of people who visit the village and then they come back because they have enjoyed it so much.

‘There is a really strong village atmosphere here and a fantastic community feel, it’s almost old fashioned. We both love being here.’