Becky Wood and husband Iain have faced some unexpected challenges setting up their new business. Here, Becky tells Fiona Finch how a life long love of ice cream created a new opportunity for them, despite health obstacles.
Becky Wood enjoyed her part time job at Lancashire’s Myerscough College.
But when illness caught up with the equality and diversity expert she realised it was time to leave and focus her energies on a new enterprise.
She and husband Iain had recently set up their St Annes-based business The Ice Alchemists and fun ice cream and family became her focus.
As ice alchemists their ambition was to create freshly hand crafted ice cream rolls with inspired flavourings before customers’ eyes for sale at festivals and pop-up events and as wedding desserts.
The novel business idea was inspired by Becky’s Bangkok based sister-in-law who told them of the delightful ice cream rolls made at street stalls there.
Becky said: “I’ve got a love of ice cream. I’m an ice cream enthusiast. I grew up going for walks in Chorley with my family and making trips to Frederick’s (ice cream makers0 every year.
“I thought it was a really unique and novel way of making ice cream and it was a way of getting people more engaged with ice cream. I thought it was really fun and something we could be so creative with. We love the ‘alchemy’ involved in recipe making for our ice cream rolls, hence our name.”
For Becky it was a second business venture - in 2011 she set up a small business called “Cortez’s Gold” leading chocolate workshops for private groups especially those with special needs, school and community groups :”I always knew I would have liked to work in a more creative industry and I love food, especially sweet food.”
But if starting another new business from scratch was challenging an unexpected obstacle arose - shortly after the launch Becky discovered their four month old baby son was dairy intolerant. The ice creamrolls are made using Jersey milk. As a breastfeeding mum she had to give up dairy produce herself - and not let Samson anywhere near the ice cream making or tasting process.
Although this proved testing, and ruled out tasting new creations too, it was already clear that Iain would be making the rolls and Becky would be sorting the admin. side of the business. Becky suffers from fibromyalgia and hypermobility syndrome. The fibromyalgia developed following motherhood and can limit the amount of physical work she can do.
She explained: “The fibromyalgia started after the birth of my first child in 2014. I had a traumatic birth and then I got really ill 16 days afterwards.”
She was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis and ten days later had her gall bladder removed. Fibromyalgia was triggered and the symptoms which include pain and fatigue can vary from day to day: “It first affected me by wrist pain and we thought it was carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive strain but over the last couple of years I’ve had all the tests and it’s none of these things. It spread into my back, my hips, my ankles, my knees, my neck and particularly my lower back.”
She added: “At the moment it’s manageable and I’m hoping it’s OK. A few months ago it was not the same story.”
Becky,33 and Iain,35, met as students at Bolton University in 2010 and got married in 2013.
Her job on graduating certainly had nothing to do with ice cream - after studying international tourism management she became an equality and diversity adviser, first in Bolton and then at Myerscough. Iain had studied multimedia and website development
The Ice Alchemists was born while Becky was on maternity leave with second child Samson . She said: “I knew what my symptoms were like at that time . I was trying to plan ahead and hopefully move to a more flexible lifestyle.”
Returning to Myerscough she worked for another six weeks. ”After day one it was clear I couldn’t sit at a desk all day long. It affects your posture so much. If you have underlying health issues around muscles and joints it’s a recipe for disaster really unless managed correctly. That’s when I made the decision to focus on The Ice Alchemists.”
She praised the College for doing everything it could to help her:”They really did try to help as much as possible........ They were great. It was very difficult. It was my career for a good few years. It was something I was really passionate about helping people in organisations to be as inclusive as possible..”
The fact that Samson had such a severe allergy had also aroused “a desire to be present more”
After his diagnosis Becky was advised by a paediatrician to remove potential allergens from her own diet.
Some 14 different allergens had to be removed and she recalled “Samson was so poorly and would not take a bottle and he had blood in his nappies. He would develop a severe hives rash, have diarrhoea and vomit.”
The family was advised he might outgrew his dairy intolerance and happily at 13 months that happened.
But for Becky there was another lasting effect. She said: “I’m vegan now. I would never have done that for myself... it’s what you do for your children.”
Needless to say undaunted she hopes to now extend her company’s range: “My ambition is to open a full vegan arm to The Ice Alchemists. I think it might be coconut milk based ... we’re trying a few different recipes.”
The business has grown in other ways too, two friends joined the company as shareholders in November. The four are looking forward to a busy year ahead.
Becky said: "We love that we don't just offer a tasty treat but that we get to experience the thrill of people watching their ice cream being made, the theatrical nature of the rolling is exciting, especially when it's their first time seeing it.
"We offer tried and tested menu options but love nothing more than working with a client to create a menu that reflects their tastes and ideas. We sometimes even create different coloured ice cream rolls to complement the colour theme of an event.
"When we are invited to create and serve ice cream rolls at weddings we invited the happy couple to make their own special tub of ice rolls by using a slice of their wedding cake - or a doughnut from their doughnut tower. This is usually great fun and we often see the couples turn it in to a bit of a competition ... and we ask the guests to be the judges."
The Ice Alcehmists have set up their stand at festivals and events ranging from Garstang Ice Cream Festival to the Manchester Jazz Festival as well as in a local department stores.