FH: Stories | Romney Tweed

Romney Marsh is instantly recognisable for its sheep, which have roamed on its distinct landscape for many centuries.

And now, wool from the iconic Romney sheep is being used to make premium-quality tweed, thanks to a trailblazing local enterprise.

Romney Tweed is a social enterprise set up in 2013 by Pat Alston, her husband Robert and friends Anne Clifton-Holt and Faith Cowell. Rising levels of local unemployment at the time and the decommissioning of Dungeness power station sparked their drive to use a natural local asset to create a uniquely Kentish product and support the local community.

“Unemployment is such a big problem for young people on the Marsh.  One day I was speaking to a local sheep farming family and realised that they have to send their wool to Wales to be cleaned, spun and woven. All I could think was the jobs that could be created here if we had a mill,” Pat explains.

You could say that it was pre-written into Pat’s future to base her venture on the Romney sheep – in 1936 her grandmother spent £1 on a small, shingle plot of land surrounded by hundreds of grazing Romney sheep, on which to build a bungalow which Pat and Robert still own.

Pat’s idea was simple, but extraordinary: a Romney tweed, from the wool of Romney sheep, made by local weavers.

She set out to discover if Romney wool would be suitable for a premium-quality tweed. With the help of a friend on Savile Row, they visited textile enterprises in Yorkshire and developed their plans for a tweed company which would create local jobs and return all of its profits to the community.

“We found that Romney wool doesn’t just make tweed – it makes wonderful tweed!” Pat describes. “From suit-making to accessories and soft furnishings, we’ve found that it’s so versatile, and it has a unique selling point: it’s the only tweed made from the wool of a single breed.”

The design and weaving of samples is carried out in the weaving hub at Old Romney and plans are afoot to move on to a production loom.  For the time being the rest of the process will continue to be carried out in Yorkshire with the end goal being to set up a weaving industry on the Romney Marsh

Romney Tweed runs monthly weaving lessons and outreach programmes for local schools and colleges. Rosie Green, their weaver-in-residence, a Graduate of Central St Martins and the Royal College of Art, is teaching traditional methods of weaving and the creation of colour palettes inspired by the natural landscape of Romney Marsh.

“We had our first work experience placements this year – next, we’re hoping to expand into apprenticeships and get people excited about weaving and fabric design as a career,” says Pat.

The impact of lockdown was a spring board to improving their website and introducing an online shop, with the support of Folkestone & Hythe District Council. “We have a good relationship with the council; before the pandemic, we attended all their business advice meetings and have appreciated their hard work to keep us informed of all the support and information we need to keep our business going.”

Pat and the team have big ambitions for the future. “We want to continue our partnership with schools, and our bespoke work with brands like the Royal St George’s Golf Club – we designed their signature tweed,” she concludes. “Once we are fully back to normal, we hope to become a tourist destination, and invite people from all over to fall in love with the Romney Marsh and Romney Tweed.”

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