Ex-TV boss and singer invest £500,000 to transform historic Welsh building into a bar and bistro

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An ex-TV company boss and his opera singing wife have spent £500,000 transforming a 19th century seafront building in Wales. The old sailing loft has been turned into a bar and bistro celebrating local heritage and the Welsh language.

Called Lloft, the building was once where canvas sails were made and fixed when the village of Felinheli was a bustling port with vessels transporting Welsh slate across the globe. In recent years the building became derelict before being taken on by local couple Dylan Huws and Elen ap Robert.

Dylan has called the project a labour of love. The former owner and managing director of Welsh television production company Cwmni Da, he masterminded the company’s transition into an employee-owned trust. “We felt there was an opportunity to create something special with a building that’s been at the heart of the community for centuries,” said Dylan, whose grandfather and great-grandfather were both seafarers, NorthWalesLive reports.

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Llofft in Felinheli
(Image: Mandy Jones)

“We’ve been open for less than a year and we have unbelievable support from the community and the wider area. The Welsh language is very important to us here in Felinheli because it remains a bastion of the language, so we’re continuing the tradition of the natural use of the Welsh language within these four walls. The Welsh language is part of our business plan as much as anything else because we want to see the Welsh language being used and it’s integral to all that we do. We hope that it’s a place where the local community can come and feel that there’s a Welsh welcome but also anyone else who’d want to hear the Welsh language being used or who want to try out their Welsh or maybe read a menu that’s bilingual.

“We have some things that are in Welsh only and people can work things out for themselves – for example, there’s no need to translate words like caffi and toiled. The word Llofft can be challenging with both the ‘ll’ and the ‘ff’ but it gives people something to talk about and is actually quite easy to understand in English.”

Wife Elen, who sang professionally as an opera singer and was the first artistic director of the Pontio centre in Bangor, said: “The Welsh language is holding its own in Felinheli and we want to use it in a confident and natural way. We’ve also tried to get all our IT through the medium of Welsh and the dockets come up from the front of house to the kitchen all in Welsh, so the chef and kitchen staff see the meals required all in Welsh.”

Chef Josh Arrindell travelled the world cooking in countries as far afield as Australia and New Zealand before meeting his Welsh-speaking partner Lily McDonald from Bethesda. They now have a seven-week-old daughter. Josh said: “I am loving it here. It’s really important for me to understand the culture of Wales and learn the language. The best way to learn Welsh is to immerse yourself in it and that’s what I get here. There is a strong sense of community in Felinheli and it’s a stronghold of the Welsh language. Llofft has a very enlightened and inclusive approach to the Welsh language and they have made me feel very welcome and very eager to show me the ropes.

“I’m passionate about learning and I want to be fluent – it’s not as scary as you might think. On top of that, I work in an open kitchen with an idyllic view looking across the Menai Strait towards Anglesey. It really is amazing and I pinch myself every day.”

Llofft has been shortlisted for an award at the Gwobrau Mwyaf Cymraeg yn y Byd (Most Welsh in the World Awards) organised as part of the Bwrlwm ARFOR scheme that’s run by Anglesey-based consultancy firm Lafan. A spokesperson for ARFOR said: “Our aim is to create a buzz around the use of Welsh in a business or commercial environment and how it can help businesses thrive and provide careers for our young people so they don’t feel they have to move away.

“We have received dozens of nominations from a variety of businesses across the four counties of Ynys Môn, Gwynedd, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire and those shortlisted for an award are those the judges feel are doing their utmost to use and promote the Welsh language on their premises, their marketing and their social media channels. We have 30 finalists and we are conducting a public vote on social media.”

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