We would like to share this great publication in the East Anglian Daily Times. Sarah Chambers did very well to interview four opinionated females at the same time! Here it is!
Article from East Anglian Daily Times – Business section on Wednesday 15th February 2012
IT takes grit, determination and a creative streak to set up in business in times like these.
For friends Emily McVeigh, Laura Churchill, Anmar Robinson and Emma Neilson it was a case of forging their own career or facing the possibility of dead-end jobs and a rather more bleak future.
With few enticing work prospects on the horizon for 20- and 30-somethings like themselves, the four have each succeeded in setting up their own Suffolk-based companies.
They have found that their experience of launching a business has brought them closer, and helped them to form an informal support network through which they help each other out.
“Four heads are better than one. We can ask for each others’ help,” says Laura, who has created a vintage clothes store in Halesworth. “It’s not like there are any jobs out there. I can’t possibly imagine coming up here other than making my own way.”
They have all been inspired by the past, and eras similarly challenged by the need for belt tightening balanced against a desire for glamour and escapism.
“Vintage” has never been more fashionable – so whether it’s clothing, cakes, tea rooms or “glamping”, the four have become determined to turn the clock back and introduce a new generation to the inspirational “make do and mend” mentality of a bygone age.
“In this tough economic time we are proving that young women have a place in the rural business world,” says Emily, who grew up on the estate where she is now launching her business career. Kenton Hall Estate, near Debenham, is a working farm with arable land, a tree-lined avenue and English Longhorn cattle.
The stunning setting lent itself to the idea of using the site as a wedding venue and a “glamping” site. The glamping experience, set to launch in March, will include luxury yurts or shepherd huts – enabling happy campers to enjoy all the fun of the outdoors with the comfort of private bathroom facilities and a bed – a kind of “retro” camping experience without the pain.
The weddings will be individually tailored, with a marquee which is able to accommodate 200 guests and provides views of the grounds and moat.
“As a young female starting a business in rural Suffolk, there have been difficulties to overcome. I have fortunately formed a network of like-minded young women who share my personal passion for the vintage revival over recent years,” says Emily.
Her friend, Emma, 33, recently took over the Cragg Sisters Tea Room in Aldeburgh and is giving it a new lease of life.
The business specialises in all things related to tea, with afternoon teas, loose leaf and feature teas. She also provides homemade food, including freshly-baked scones, cakes, soups and salads made with local seasonal produce where possible.
It was her dream to run a business like Cragg Sisters, and it was a case of persistence paying off, after approaching the landlords at various points to ask about taking on the leasehold.
“We opened on April 1, 2010,” explains Emma. “I ran it by myself. I grew up in Suffolk in Dunwich then went away to university and had some different jobs abroad, came back and worked in Woodbridge but I have worked on and off in this industry since I was 16.
“I felt I needed a challenge. It’s always been a tea room since 1949, since the Cragg sisters established it, so it’s got lots of history in the town and people have got some very fond memories of it.
“I’ve brought it back to life again.”
Emma admits she had no experience of baking cakes or scones before, but she but relishes a challenge and, once she gained the leasehold, set about redecorating the premises.
“It has been great. I have really enjoyed myself,” she says.
Trained pastry chef Anmar, 27, who helps out Emma at the tea room, has also launched her own business, Crumb-Bespoke Suffolk Cakes, which offers a bespoke cake design service.
Anmar, who works for Emma a few days a week, has been running her cake making service since January of last year.
Originally from South Africa, she became something of a globe-trotter, after finding work at sea.
“I have worked on private yachts for many years in the Mediterranean and that’s how I met my husband (Ben Robinson) and how we ended up in Aldeburgh. He’s a shipwright. I’m originally from South Africa. I left South Africa in 2006 and then I became a chef on this yacht and I travelled until the end of 2010 all over the Mediterranean and the Pacific cooking for lots of people.”
Eventually, the couple decided they wanted to settle down, start a more stable life and set up home in Aldeburgh.
Laura, 29, meanwhile, has set up Bluebird Vintage in Halesworth, a shop specialising in ladies’ and gentlemen’s vintage clothing and accessories from the 1920s to the 1980s. She also loves the lifestyle she can enjoy in Suffolk.
“It’s a great place to have your own business and a great place to live. I think we really want to promote Suffolk as a great place to live,” she says.
She has also launched a bridal range for those looking for a unique and alternative wedding outfit.
All of the women are big fans of each others’ businesses and are frequent customers.
Laura’s background is in theatre. She went to drama school in Kent and set up a theatre company, Shady Dolls, with some of her fellow graduates. The company, which is still going, is based in London. The group writes its own plays and performs them in London, Edinburgh and Valencia.
Emma, a fine art graduate, admits that there have been a lot of challenges involved in running a tea room.
“What’s actually been quite hard is building up the reputation again and giving people the confidence we are open. I think round here it’s a lot of word of mouth. We are trying to do different things to engage the community,” she says.
“I have always been interested in tea. I lived in China for a year after university. I loved the tea room culture. People would sit round and men would come round and pour the tea from a great pot.”
Emma has tried to bring that enthusiasm to bear on the business. She met Emily through her previous employers, travel company Dragoman, based in Debenham. Emily was friends with one of the director’s daughters. When she was setting up the tea room, Emily offered to help out when she was free.
They got to know Laura, who is originally from London, after she started stopping in for tea. She did a wedding fair with Anmar and got to know her through that.
“My mother-in-law lives in Bramfield and we used to come up and visit and me and my now husband decided to get married and loved Suffolk,” explains Laura. “Now we are Suffolkers we love it. Joe and I got married in July.”
Emily admits that setting up her new business from scratch has been “massively hard work” and that she had not appreciated how all-consuming it would be.
“I think the hours was the big thing and also constantly with social media constantly tweeting and trying to get a higher profile by tweeting and facebook and social media just consumes your time,” she says.
The women have all know each other for about the last 11 months, and in a lot of ways their business ambitions have been born out of necessity.
“There aren’t any jobs around here. You have to be a bit more inventive,” says Emma, whose husband works as project co-ordinator for Cycle Suffolk.
“There really are not the opportunities at the moment. You have to make them yourself.”
Emily believes that setting up a home-grown business has allowed her to live the lifestyle she wants, in the place she wants to be. The alternative would be a “dingy flat” in London, she says.
“I wanted the lifestyle. We know loads of people and they are bright girls and all they can find is waitressing in the evening,” she says. “I think you have to take a risk.”
Laura says that despite the challenges, her business has flourished in its first year.
“That’s why it’s important we support each other, because it’s difficult and it’s scary,” she says.
“It has been a good year. I have been told by other businesses that it has been probably the hardest year Halesworth has had for a very long time, which is kind of encouraging because I have survived and I have done quite well. I’m very unique in the area – people come from quite far.”
Customers are looking for something different, says Emma. They are not spending as much and are looking for “treats” to lift their spirits. People appreciate loose leaf teas and are happy to pay a little extra, she adds. She would like to open up the shop to craft events. She and Anmar work on different things, including vintage tea parties. There are many advantages to being in the county, she adds, but it has also been an adjustment.
“One of the beauties of living in Suffolk is it’s quite sleepy and slow paced but it’s also quite frustrating,” she says.
“It’s hard when you are on your own to try and think outside the box,” says Emily.
Emma adds: “It can be quite lonely when you are on your own, so it’s quite nice to get together and be creative about what you are doing.
“Vintage is very, very fashionable in the bigger cities. It’s much more mainstream than it used to be. Suffolk is only just waking up to it.”
Afternoon teas are “huge” in London, and the vintage movement also fits in with modern preoccupations with recycling, as well as providing good quality and value for money.
“What makes me really cross is people buy something cheap and it lasts them a week then it goes into landfill. Vintage clothing is high quality. I’m always mending clothes and a lot of the older people who come into the shop absolutely adore that. Fashion is very disposable now where it used to be an investment,” says Emma.
The friends have a host of collaborative ideas for their businesses, from fondue nights and “dining through the decades”, to dances with a vintage theme. They want to promote “being young and living in Suffolk”.
“We work together and inspire each other and come up with different ideas,” says Laura.
“It’s not common to be young and starting your own business, certainly at the moment, so we find it’s nice to have someone your own age to talk to.”
“Somehow we all fit in with each other, which is really good,” says Anmar.
“I think in these economic times you have to work together,” adds Emily.
Article published in the East Anglian Daily Times – Wednesday 15th February 2012