I first got to know Matt about eighteen years ago when we taught together in a Bristol school. He always had a warm personality with a good sense of humour that endeared him to students and staff alike.
He was also a very generous colleague, never hesitating to help in any situation. On leaving the school, he invited the whole of his Tutor Group (about 30) to Kenn Village Hall for a leaving party where he had organised horse riding, bouncy castles and a buffet. Every single student turned up, and probably all remember it to this very day. It was and is typical of Matt – always prepared to go the extra mile.
Matt taught part-time for over thirty years, and established County Castles, the family run business for which he is so well known, alongside his teaching, during the weekends and summer holidays.
County Castles is a thriving business, hiring a fantastic variety of bouncy castles for birthday parties and celebrations as well as corporate events such as festivals, school fairs and carnivals.
Matt also hires out a host of fun items like ball pits, slides, water zorbs, gladiator dueling and indoor/outdoor garden games. Operating under the same name, County Castles he also offers donkeys for hire, indoor and outdoor garden games and the sale of seasoned hardwood logs. Check out County Castle here:
Matt’s sale of the logs also dates back thirty years and is currently on the increase with the advent of wood burners. It’s equally popular during the Summer months when people buy for for log pits and chimineas. Matt is currently constructing a dedicated website – I’ll add the link here as soon it’s up and running.
Matt is heavily involved in his community; he was a founder member of MARLENS, he is a very active member of Clevedon Pride and was the Festival Director of the MARLENS / Tides Festival that took place in September and he also has the concession for the boats and zorbs on Clevedon Marine Lake.
Matt is a fascinating person to talk to and had some great tales to tell about Clevedon and his work in the town. He particularly loves the Pier and while in Gordano Sixth Form, invited a young lady to spend the afternoon on the Pier with him, only to see it collapsed into the sea as he drove past the band stand! What a shock that must have been!
Matt originally obtained the business for the boats on the Portishead Lake Grounds thirty years ago, and maintains that he was successful because he offered to take responsibility for Clevedon as well. However, the Clevedon business came to an end in 1988 when the lake wall became damaged. He continued with Portishead for the next twenty odd years but did not reapply when they were looking for someone to take on the entire project.
When Clevedon Marine Lake was restored, Matt once again applied for the concession and was successful. Like many others, he had a great summer down at the lake last year and is keen to improve on what he offers every year. Responding to the safety concerns of some of the parents, he is planning to cordon off some of the splash pool area with ten metre long inflated tubes He is also replacing his bubble zorbs which are a familiar sight on the lake with roller tube zorbs.
It was interesting that he should have mention safety as this was a concern articulated by Joe Norman the esteemed MARLENS Chairman. Matt said he supplied visitors with vast quantities of plasters during the summer! But, joking apart, he is first aid trained and has also funded one of his team to do the training. Read what Joe has to say about the lake here:
I was intrigued by how Matt came to start the donkey business which he loves so much and has operated for the last thirty years. He clearly remembers the day his first three arrived; they came from Blackpool in a Luton van and were in the most appalling condition. He nursed them for a full twelve months before they started taking rides. Unbeknown to Matt at the time, one of the donkeys, Heidi, was with foal (she had a thirteen month gestation period) and gave birth on Passion Sunday. I am sure you can guess her name! Heidi is still with Matt and although she is too old at forty plus years to give rides, she still makes the odd guest appearance at a care home or a fete and she is always to be seen at local Palm Sunday celebrations. Heidi’s original companions sadly died but Matt now has twelve donkeys, most of them being working rescue donkeys sourced from a horse dealer in Ireland.
The latest addition to the donkey family is Mac short for McCafferty; Mac was also rescued from Ireland. Mac is still a little ‘head shy’ so Matt is getting him used to having his upper body touched and caressed before he meets his public.
Matt is not the only member of the family who is crazy about the donkeys, his daughter Ronee loves them as much as he does. He went as far as saying that he wouldn’t have been able to manage them for so long had it not been for Ronee’s tremendous care and attention to their welfare. No decision about the donkeys is made without Ronee’s blessing.
Matt’s donkeys are hugely popular in local schools, in other areas of North Somerset and on the outskirts of Bristol. He also makes them available for ‘reindeer’ rides and at ‘The Clevedon Lights Switch On’ which this year is on 30th November.
Matt has links with the Donkey Sanctuary to make sure he keep up to date with the donkey care standards. At the height of the summer last year he withdrew them from the Salthouse Field because of the tremendous heat.
Finally, we talked about Clevedon Pride who describe themselves as:
‘……….a volunteer organisation dedicated to the regeneration and improvement of Clevedon Town Centre.’
This dedicated group of volunteers do so much good work around the town – they do a litter picking collection, gardening and planting. They organise Clevedon Open Gardens which gives everyone the opportunity to explore the secrets of hidden and private gardens not usually open to the public. Last year they organised a fun but challenging treasure trail around the town and gave £250 to Theatre Orchard to finance their annual programme. The roses they have recently planted in Queen’s Square look quite beautiful.
Matt’s role in this group is similar to that of the role he takes in many of the organisations he is involved with, he organises, he enables and he provides, whether it be time, a PA system, a trailer, a boat, a plaster, safety mats, even a donkey! If he’s got it then he’ll give it to you. It was great having time for a quality conversation after all these years. All the best for the future Matt.