Buried deep down a country lane, just outside Milverton, is a company that turns waste wool from the manufacture of carpets and textiles into innovative and environmentally-friendly products. ‘Woolly Shepherd’ produces felt goods such as boot-liners,box-liners, wine coolers and acoustic ‘clouds’ for spaces where good-quality sound insulation is essential – all from natural material that would otherwise be thrown away.
Part-owner, Tim Simmons, bought into the business two years ago, having previously worked in sustainable building. “I was familiar with working with natural building materials and my sister-in-law, Nicky, had worked in the wool business,” he said. “Nicky co-owned the company with Sally Hebeler, so there are now three of us involved. Farmers brought fleeces here to be used, as the price they were being paid by the Wool Marketing Board for wool was too low to cover the costs of shearing and transport.
“From the fleeces Nicky and Val made box-liners as an alternative to polystyrene. I took over from them and looked at using wool waste for insulation. It has exceptional properties, deals well with moisture, is soft – and sustainable.”
The ‘clouds’ resulted from a moment of inspiration. “The idea came from hi-fi speaker cabinets, Tim explained. “That led me to the idea of making sound absorbers on walls, then ceiling absorbers – and why not make them the shape of clouds? We trialled them in North Petherton and they were given the thumbs up by an acoustic engineer. We tested them in Southampton University’s reverberation chamber – an expensive process but one which assured us of the clouds’ ability to cover a wide range of voices. Now we’re working with Pritex, a manufacturer of acoustic insulation which is part of Relyon, to test our products.”
Woolly Shepherd now supplies ‘clouds’ and acoustic panels for clients such as the National Trust for its reception areas and for the Royal Marsden Hospital’s MRI suites – sites where voice clarity is important. Schools and village and church halls have also been supplied with acoustic ellipses and wall panels. Langford Budville Village Hall was able to successfully host BBC Radio 4’s ‘Any Questions’ there in February, having had acoustic panels fitted to improve sound quality. Pizza Express has also recently expressed an interest in the products – and St James’ School in Taunton is shortly to take delivery of new blue clouds, the first time coloured material has been used.
“We’ve deliberately made the products easy to fit,” Tim said. “Clients provide us with details of the space they want us to cover and we give them a video and installation instructions to avoid the cost of fitting them ourselves.”
Asked about the future of the business, Tim said, “At the moment we get wool waste for processing. We send it to Yorkshire to be washed, then it’s carded in Cornwall or Yorkshire. We used to send it to Axminster too. Now carpet manufacturing has finished there we’ve put in a bid for their carding machine. Ideally, we’d like to bring the whole process under one roof.”