Where were you born? How long have you lived in North Somerset?
I was born and brought up on the borders of London and Essex in a town called Chingford (yes, I know – Sharon from Essex!). I’ve lived in North Somerset since 2010 after spending 7 years living abroad, first in Indonesia and then in Egypt.
Were you ‘crafty’ as a child? Can you tell us about something you made? Do you still have it?
I’m not sure I’d describe myself as ‘crafty’, but I’ve been sewing since I was about 12, and the usual knitting, embroidery, cross stitch type crafts followed on. My Mum, who passed away recently, taught me all these crafts. I hated needlework at school- they made you do it properly and it was so boring! Mum made it fun. Although I guess I have to credit the needlework teacher with that fact I know how to do a proper tailor tack. Having moved around quite a bit, I tend to declutter regularly so I don’t think I’ve hung on to anything significant.
What formal training have you had to run a business/shop?
Ah, yes, formal training! At the grand old age of 50 I decided it was time to get myself a degree (I dropped out of Uni the first time round when I was 19). I was coming back to England with my daughter and had been looking at job opportunities, and it seemed that for even the simplest job you need a degree these days. So, I went to Weston College to study for a Foundation Degree in Business and Management, and then went on to UWE to top up to a ‘full’ degree. I was very lucky to be able to study full time, with the support of my husband who was still working abroad at that time. I’m not sure it equipped me to run a shop, but it really made me think about certain aspects of business that didn’t quite feel right to me.
I also have over 20 years’ experience in international banking, have worked for the NHS and adult education facilitating parenting courses, and in Egypt worked for an expat organisation delivering their Trips and Tours programme! Eclectic mix, perfect grounding for my current maid of all work role!
Why did you choose to run The Blue Room?
Just as I finished Uni in 2013, I saw the previous owners were closing The Blue Room. All the time I was studying I’d been wondering what I was going to do when I finished. I wanted to work locally, wasn’t keen on working for someone else, and wanted to try to run a business differently. I knew The Blue Room was a social enterprise, so I thought it might give me the chance to meet all of those goals. And who wouldn’t want to work surrounded by beautiful things?
What were your goals when you first started – nearly five years ago?
Apart from the personal goals, I wanted to explore whether it’s possible to run a sustainable retail business as a collaboration between suppliers, the business, and the local community. Something where the benefit is shared fairly between everyone who makes the business work. With its focus on local suppliers I hoped TBR could be a vehicle that contributed to its local community at both ends – by providing somewhere for local people to sell and teach and somewhere for local people to buy and learn.
Which of those goals do you feel you have met? Which are you yet to attain?
I feel we’ve met (note we not I) all except one, and that is the sustainable i.e. able to stand on our two feet and grow. But that’s not due to anything we’re particularly doing wrong – it’s simply a very difficult retail market right now and if any retailer tells you they’re not struggling they’re not telling the whole truth! All it means is we must be constantly looking for new ways to draw in more customers who we know will come back. We have many amazingly loyal customers who come back to us time and time again, and that’s the key for a small, local business like The Blue Room. It’s what will sustain us through these difficult times. Just don’t mention Brexit!
Have you got new goals for the future?
Time to be able to take more holidays with my now retired husband.
Tell us about where you work at home? Do you have an office? Or do you use the kitchen table?
Yes! In theory I have an office in our small bedroom, but it’s gradually become my sewing room and there’s now no room for anything else. So the kitchen table it is.
Do you prefer to work at home in silence? With music? The TV?
Bit of both. I mainly listen to Radio 4 at home, but I’m equally happy with silence. If I have some mundane admin to do (there’s a lot of that) I’ll often do it in front of the TV with yet another rerun of some detective type series. I’m addicted to all the ‘soft’ detective stuff – give me a Poirot or Midsomer Murders and I’m happy.
Is there a craft/art that you’d like to have a go at?
I can’t paint or draw for toffee – so not that. If there’s ever a space on a workshop, and I’m not working, I’d love to have a go at fused glass.
Can you tell us your favourite Artist (in any medium), musician, TV programme, book, place, colour and food?
I don’t have a favourite artist or musician. I tend to like individual pieces rather than a particular style or genre.
TV programme – as above, anything detective.
Books – bit of a Lee Child fan!
Place – less the place but more the sound of the place – Cairo during the early morning or evening call to prayer.
Colour – blue (yes, really, check out my wardrobe!).
Food – ha, my downfall – if crème brulee is on the menu I will ALWAYS choose it.