One of the things the last year has brought is a rise in the number of people learning new creative skills, whether via online tuition or just having a go at home. However, the beginning of a series of lockdowns meant that many small creative arts businesses had to change their working practices and business models. I spoke to Lucy Weaver, owner of Pink Parrot Pottery in Great Bentley, Essex to see how she dealt with the challenges of the past year.
You had only just moved into your current premises when the first lockdown happened and it was a time when many already established small businesses really struggled to keep going. How were you able to adapt to ensure that the business didn’t fold before it had even started?
At first it was a worrying time and we did have to make some difficult financial decisions. However, once the restrictions eased slightly, I decided to offer out some paint-at-home baskets so people could hire the equipment and items to paint then return to me for glazing and firing (with a lot of cleaning and disinfecting between each hire!). In a time when entertainment and leisure activity options were scarce, this proved extremely popular, and at one point I had 12 baskets going out per week! At Halloween, Christmas and Easter I then put together some mini-craft kits with a pottery item along with a few other crafts and in total sold over 150 of these.
Were many of your customers at this time people who had not necessarily tried pottery painting before? How did you support them in learning a new skill at home?
The majority of people were new to pottery painting but keen to do something with their families within a Covid-safe environment. The kits included instructions and I tried to keep my Facebook page updated with examples and ideas. Several people who painted once then returned as customers over the year and also then visited the studio once I was allowed to open between July-October.
In the latest lockdown, you’ve taken your creative skills out into the local community and set up a project called The Brightlingsea Badge Challenge along with another local businesswoman and artist, Olivia Goddard, which has brought the community together through the creative arts. Where did the idea for that come from and how successful has it been?
The idea actually sprung from a comment from a friend! In the early weeks of the first Lockdown, my daughter and I made a model of Colchester Zoo and afterwards a friend suggested we apply for a Blue Peter badge. However, on investigation I discovered my daughter (age 5) was too young to qualify, so my friend joked that I should make her a Brightlingsea Badge! I then remembered a button badge maker I used as a child and decided to purchase one and make my own. I approached Olivia to help as I love her quirky style of artwork and knew they would make fantastic badge designs. She was more than happy to oblige and kindly did these for free so all money could go towards local charities. I then came up with a range of badges from Arts & Crafts, Home Baking and Science, etc. which people could claim by completing activities. We decided to do a Bronze, Silver and Gold option to allow an aspect of extra challenge and make it accessible for all ages. From Jan-Feb 2021 we managed to raise over £700 and donated to 10 local charities all from that one idea.
I have also used this scheme to combine my business with our latest project, which is a type of treasure hunt/town trail. I spent the last month painting up a range of mini lighthouses in honour of our local landmark, Bateman’s Tower. I then contacted local businesses and asked if they would be happy to place these in their windows for children to walk around and spot over the Easter holidays. I hoped for 10 locations but ended up with 23 so had to get painting more!! We then sold maps for another local charity, and after just Day 2 we are already at over £150 raised.
Our theme for this issue is ‘Coming Unravelled’. How important do you think the creative arts have been to ‘re-ravelling’ people in terms of their mental wellbeing over the last twelve months?
I think the creative arts have been hugely beneficial to so many people during this time. I myself am a creative person anyway and have always used art and crafts as a way to unwind. However, during the past year I have found so many more friends also starting new activities and discovering new skills in order to gain some sort of control in this time of chaos. With so much more time at home, it feels rewarding to be able to start a project and have time to see it through to fruition and have a piece of artwork at the end of it, rather than the usual act of having so many things left unfinished lying around. One friend started making some beautiful resin designs whilst another started a business making hand-crafted repurposed wood items.
Once Lockdown is over, will you be keeping any of the practices going, or will you return to being solely based in the studio again?
I will certainly be offering takeaway kits as these were so popular and people have fedback how they enjoyed having unlimited time to get their items finished. I may also offer Zoom workshops at some point. I had planned to offer these and have attended several myself, but with home schooling and also still teaching part-time in a school, I have actually been too busy!
My hope is that the studio will be able to reopen once indoor leisure and hospitality resumes at the end of May and I am so looking forward to sharing my passion with people in person! A year ago when I signed the lease on the studio, I had so many plans for events, workshops and building a creative community within the space so I am hopeful that in time this will become a reality. I also used to visit lots of Mother and Baby groups creating handprint ceramic keepsakes and have really missed this aspect so have already been booked in to offer these at a few venues before the studio reopens.
At present I am planning to open from May half term, allowing prebooked sessions for two households or groups of 6 at each table on Thurs-Sat every week, then hopefully a more relaxed set-up once restrictions are dropped in late June.
One of the consistent messages over the last year has been that being creative is a fundamental part of human nature and it is a way for people to fully express themselves. Visual art and Creative Writing are of vital importance in our society and it is businesses like ‘The Pink Parrot Pottery’ that are the cornerstone in helping people to express themselves through the arts.