I recently had the privilege of speaking to a local U3A group and they asked me to talk about the development of Old School Crafts and the setting up of a craft centre. In researching and preparing for the talk I realised just how far we had come in the last few years. Searching through old photographs and videos made me realise the work that we have put into not only the building itself but also into the development of the business. I was also reminded of the personal trials and tribulations we have had and so I thought it would be useful to summarise what I said here as I think our story so far is a reminder that perseverance and hard work are probably the key elements of setting up your own small business.
We live in an old school. The school itself is in the small village of Minting and when the school was first opened in 1851, Minting was a thriving community. During the tenure of the local vicar, The Reverend Francis Bashforth (https://mathshistory.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Bashforth/) the dilapidated church was rebuilt and our school was founded. Later a large school room was added in response to the education reforms of the 1860s making schooling for children under 13 compulsory. The original 1851 school was built around an older cottage and our ‘front’ room was the then school room which added onto the back of the original cottage.
The later, larger, school building served the children of Minting until 31 December 1964 when it finally closed. The first people to buy the old school turned it into a carpentry workshop and the house is testament to their skill as we benefit from stripped pine doors and panelling in the front room and our hallway.
After the carpentry workshop closed, the school room was converted to be an artisan bakery which sold cakes far and wide include some prestigious clients in London.
When we bought the house in 2012 we really wanted a small house with a large garden and the old school room was a bonus. However, we needed to work out what we wanted to do with the building. Various options were considered including a B&B, holiday let or even a micro-brewery. However, our shared passion for hand-made, quality, crafted items meant that we eventually decided to create a craft centre.
Sadly, the building had fallen into some disrepair and the lath and plaster ceiling regularly shed lumps of plaster and the floor was so rotten in places that the electrician fell through part of it checking a wall socket; so there was work to be done.
We set to and any work we could do ourselves we did, including insulating and panelling the 7m high ceiling and painting the whole building inside and out. We brought professionals in to rewire and install a central heating system and toilets and had another team to replace the floor where needed and sand the rest of the floors to return them to their Victorian beauty.
We installed a small kitchen area to serve the lunches and drinks and we felt we were ready. We designed our logo and after several designs realise that the wonderful South facing Victorian windows perfectly summed up our business. We took advice from some excellent small business advisors and carried out research on pricing etc.
However, things did not go to plan. Sadly Zoe was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and started a course of chemotherapy. This obviously put a stop to the development of our business whilst Zoe got better, but by the end of December 2019 Zoe had finished her treatment and the prognosis was looking excellent so we started again to make plans.
Three months later in March 2020 the whole Country went into lockdown; no businesses were allowed to open and there was no immediate end in sight. Our second attempt at opening had again been thwarted! At this stage it would have been easy to give up.
However, we are both passionate about our crafts and also in promoting the joint message that creating things with your own hands is the best therapy possible to improve your mental health and that in making useful, practical and beautiful items, people gain a genuine sense of the worth of material objects and are more likely to care for them, repair them and hence generate much less waste. So we didn’t give up and we started again to offer courses working with a range of wonderful people to offer courses as diverse as print making, willow weaving, wet felting and our forthcoming Macrame Course.
Whilst it is still tough for people to commit to courses given the uncertainties around COVID again at the moment we don’t intend to give up easily and we look forward to next year and working with wonderful artists and artisans who are as passionate about their work as we are about ours. For us it is onwards and upwards into what we are sure will be a positive 2022!