Wellness connects with the crowds at The Big Retreat festival

For the 3,000 visitors seeking an adventure for their five senses this week at The Big Retreat Festival, set amid Wales’ spectacular Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, the only dilemma is what to go for among the 400 experiences. 

Although the four-day getaway is billed as a retreat for space, nature and human connection, for solos, couples and families it is also about revelations.

Here discovery – be that trying new things, making new friends or finding a balance – has never been more relaxed.

And that’s the captivating crowd puller that even Amber and Adrian Lort-Phillips did not realise the power of when they first developed their concept out of Amber’s well-being gym business.

Today their events, glamping and hospitality group includes the annual Big Retreat festival’s events, an accommodation side and The Little Retreat, set in a walled garden of an old castle site.

Here a luxury glamping operation for small parties offers geo domes, hot tubs and seasonal stargazer bell tents.

It proved to be the stepping stone for its big sister that launched to much acclaim in 2019. Now the large crowds are returning and the Lort-Phillips are forecasting an overall £2.5million turnover for their businesses in 2025. 

Fortunate to have family land in a stunningly beautiful region where she could host the events, “it hit me that the true frontier of wellness, that was becoming a global industry, was in places such as where we lived, so why not celebrate that and that’s our momentum,” explains Amber.

“The natural advantages enabled the business to have flexibility. Even so I was surprised by the chord we struck with others. 

“We are getting bigger and better as people from all walks of life come together to celebrate and enjoy a network of authentic, vibrant and transformative experiences. Guests know us as very safe, inclusive and non-judgemental.

“We centre less on wellbeing products and services which is the traditional approach and more on connecting people. Lockdown increased appreciation of that.

“People come from all over now, from Wales, Scotland, Europe and the US. They leave more energised, positive and informed, so ready to make a difference to their communities and themselves.”

The Retreat’s pricing is also different, says Amber. “We include 95 per cent of activities in the ticket, which means there’s no payment for luxury toilets and showers. For our predominantly female and family-skewed audience on a one-of-a-kind wellness journey, such aspects are really important.” 

And size matters. “Too big and it doesn’t work for festival-goers, too small and it’s not commercially viable,” she adds. “Managing growth is about being the perfect size and delivering a more valuable experience in the space we have.

“Our arts and crafts are really popular – people love making things and being able to reconnect with what they loved as a child.”

The couple are now looking for other sites to host more Big Retreats in Scotland and England, while running smaller, bespoke retreats throughout the year in Pembrokeshire. 

A team of 100 is employed over the whole festival period, and overall the event’s trade generates £1million for Wales’ economy. “We create a strong supply chain using local suppliers, visitors stay on to visit other places in Pembrokeshire, they tell others and they come back,” explains Amber.  

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After £800,000 of backing from personal investment, funding from venture capital sports, entertainment and knowledge investor Station12 and invaluable support from the Welsh Government,“we are going through a period of sustained growth”, she says.

Diagnosed with behavioural condition, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), she has turned that into a business advantage too. 

“The organisational demands are massive, but having ADHD means I can spin a lot of plates,” she observes. 

The Retreats are becoming a flagship and making an undoubted contribution to the region. 

But there is a historical context to this also that should not be forgotten, says Amber. 

This centres on the pioneering Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act that came into force in 2016 which is about improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales and requires public bodies to think about the long-term impact of their decisions.

She explains: “This enshrined in law the idea that people’s well-being can be a big driver of prosperity and resilience. When we started this was beginning to receive well-deserved recognition and it’s how people regard our events, there is a very benign chain reaction.”

This year sees the introduction of an app with an interactive map to ensure pleasure seekers don’t miss a thing.  

Another new element is Spicy Wellness, with guests getting the chance to be led by experienced Tantra teachers for initiation into Conscious Touch. There will also be Energy Orgasm sessions – although be prepared there could be quite a queue for those.

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