The New State of Independents
If you are a regular to this magazine, you will have no doubt read about some of our amazing independent Beeston businesses and the inspirational people behind them. It is their words that you will be reading in this edition. After all, no-one can describe the impact that the pandemic has had on them and their businesses, better than they can.
First up is Houlia, artisan baker and owner of The Doughmother on Central Avenue. With just over a year under her belt, this has been a particularly trying time for her. Whilst larger, older, more established businesses may be able to batten down the hatches until all this is over and survive on their profits, this is not an option when you are still building your business.
“The impact it has had on all sorts of businesses is undeniable. Cafes, restaurants and businesses of a similar nature have been hit quite hard and we started feeling its effects weeks before the lockdown was announced. With the government giving daily briefings, it became obvious to me that I had to take it one day at a time and adjust to the new fluid reality.
I have to admit that my brain was racing during the first days trying to weigh up what would happen and how to best plan for the following days. But I soon realised that thinking about it was causing extra stress and worry while experiencing an already stressful situation.
Sourcing the ingredients I needed became significantly more difficult as wholesalers, stockists and flour mills faced unprecedented demand and had to limit their services to cope with the pressure. Simply closing the bakery until everything assumes normality again was an obvious choice but would not have been a very helpful one on many aspects. I decided to have the shop open twice a week, primarily on an order-collection basis, instead of having the shop open 6 days a week as before the lockdown.
This way I can still have a presence as a business and also keep providing the community with bread during the lockdown, to some extent at least. I can balance out what is on-demand with what is on offer, minimise waste during these days of ingredient scarcity and implement a degree of social distancing. Under extraordinary circumstances, it is important to search for new modes of functioning so that you can keep going. It builds a new kind of resilience and strength in people.
It is extraordinary to see entire societies slow down, adapt to the new reality, learn to live with less and strengthen community ties. So I, in a way, appreciate it as an experience, I think we can learn a great deal from it as individuals and communities. In the post-COVID reality, after we have mourned our losses, we will be stronger and more appreciative of life and things we took for granted before.”
We are so pleased to be able to continue to buy fresh bread and pastries and support your wonderful bakery Houlia. So with the availability of The Doughmother’s delights restricted but not gone altogether, and being somewhat confined to our homes, we might be needing a little help with managing our waistlines! I know that strictly speaking we are allowed out to exercise daily, but that is not without its stresses and some of us might prefer not to, or cannot due to being on the vulnerable list.
“The last few weeks, as for many, have been a real rollercoaster of emotions; fear, panic, sadness but also at times overwhelming joy and happiness.”
For that reason it is good to see that keeping moving, and ensuring your favourite jeans will still fit after lockdown, is being made easier by the menu of online classes around the clock. I asked Kitchen Dancing’s Jo, how she had managed to re-create the personal and engaging dance experience from behind a screen.
“The last few weeks, as for many, have been a real rollercoaster of emotions; fear, panic, sadness but also at times overwhelming joy and happiness. It hit me around two weeks prior to lockdown that I was going to have to find a way to transfer the amazing energy and feeling that we all get from our dance classes together, into a new reality where we couldn’t meet in person.
The only solution was to go online which, to be honest, scared me to death due to my lack of technical ability, but when reality hits you either have to adapt or risk losing your business and everything you’ve worked so hard for. Fight and determination certainly kicked in. Thus the ‘disco den’ was born!!
I spent the first couple of weeks going round in circles with technology, investigating various online platforms, having frustrations with Wi-Fi and lots of head-scratching around the grey area of music copyright – the trials and research are still ongoing to create the ultimate online dance class and what’s even trickier is negotiating exclusive access to the Wi-Fi with the kids…
However, for now, I feel happy with the route I have taken with free music-themed dance fitness classes live from the ‘disco den’ (aka my lounge) on Facebook Live and Zoom which makes it accessible to all, with the option to contribute an amount which the participant feels is worthy of their experience. Any earnings over and above my usual weekly classes will be donated to a local charity. Although finances are being squeezed at present (especially as I also run a travel business), it makes me so happy to share my love of dance and music with others and also to see the positive impact it is having on others wellbeing at this time which is far more important right now.
This whole experience has not only heightened my passion for what I do, but strengthened my resilience and determination to continue down the bumpy road of self-employment. In the words of my hero, Dolly Parton ‘Tumble outta bed and I stumble to the kitchen. Pour myself a cup of ambition…!’ So here’s to stumbling through this difficult time together and coming out on the right side!”
Absolutely Jo, your energy and passion for life is bursting out of the laptop as I join in every Wednesday morning! The wellbeing aspect to our daily lives, in such a time of uncertainty and worry, is made that much easier by dancing your cares away a few times a week.
Hardly surprisingly, with all this extra time in our homes that compost and bedding plants are constantly on order and home improvements have taken precedence over the general housework tasks. Which brings me to our last small business owner Mark Lowe, who makes practical objects for the home that are as elegant as they are functional.
I caught up with Mark’s wife and business partner Marianne, who revealed an added tragedy to their lockdown story which has put incredible strain on their family and the business.
“Prior to lockdown, my parents were involved in a major road traffic accident in Aberdeen, Scotland. Mark and I spent a week in Aberdeen and then I stayed for another. My parents are now back in Nottingham and I am currently caring for my father, my mum is still in hospital. For us, at Mark Lowe, it hasn’t been a normal lockdown. Our business was put on hold and I haven’t been around very much.
With ‘lockdown’ we are both at home and this has given us time to spend on the business. We spent time developing new products prior to this and had exhibited them at a show. We have since photographed them and added them onto our website. The only issue was that with no essential travel we couldn’t go to our professional photographer and so the photography was completed by Mark, which I think he’s done a great job of!
We have limited access to materials and of course orders and postage are delayed, which we have had to be aware of when receiving orders. Thankfully we have some stock and choice options – lampshades in different colours and a range of cords in different shades.
We are at present mainly an internet based company and so this hasn’t been affected as such. Unfortunately, we had signed up to do three large design shows nationally and these have had to be cancelled, understandably. The knock-on effect of this is, we often meet potential buyers at the shows who have seen our products online and want to see them in the flesh and aren’t currently able to. Also, there are buyers who do not internet shop and this is where we would meet them.
Our children are at home, therefore we have joined in with the masses of parents homeschooling, and all its joys! We are staying positive and trying to make the best of our time together, being creative and organising our business, so that hopefully we can continue to grow and develop in the future.”
It is truly inspiring to hear how these wonderful creative people have both adapted so quickly to the sudden and dramatic changes, whilst considering their responsibility to keep their community safe. It is even more vital that we show our support for all of our indie businesses to help them weather this storm because they are living and breathing people in our community, and their creative contribution adds warmth and colour to our lives.
In the meantime, why not pop on over to their Facebook pages and show them some <3