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Interview: Made By Granny

22 Oct


We sat down with Kay Armstrong to discuss setting up her cushion business Made by Granny and her plans for the future.

How did Made By Granny get started?

I had to give up work because I was poorly and couldn’t go in every day, so I wanted something that I could do from home. I’ve always sewn and done crafts, so Made by Granny, making cushions, is what I came up with.

What research did you do?

I looked on Facebook to see what other people were selling, and I asked family and friends what they thought, and then I made a few samples and showed them to people, and they seemed to think it was a good idea.

There isn’t a theme to the cushions as such, I just tend to use the more unusual fabrics. I don’t want to be doing all the flowers and the brocade that everyone else does. I want to keep them a little bit unique.


How have you gone about marketing?

I have a blog, and a facebook page and some business cards, and I’m going to be doing some Christmas markets soon. I want to become known locally before I throw it open anywhere else.

Upcoming events:

Ladies Leisure Night at Priorswood Infants School Taunton
(in aid of St Margarets Hospice)

Friday 21st November – 7.30pm

Christmas Fayre  at Archbishop Cranmer School Taunton
Friday 28th November – 3.30pm
Christmas Fayre at Wellington Football Club
Saturday 29th November – 10am – 2pm
Christmas Fayre at Lyngford Park School Taunton
Friday 5th December – 3.30pm

What are the benefits of self-employment?

Because of my illness if I don’t feel well then I don’t have to do anything, and when I do feel well then I can work – making cushions, going out, sewing, doing anything I need, rather than letting somebody else down.


What advice would you give to somebody considering self-employment?

I’d tell them to call Opportunity Plus South West I reckon. If I hadn’t had your help I wouldn’t have known where to start, I’d have floundered, thinking that I couldn’t do it, and given up. I think it’s important to find somebody who can advise and support you.

What are your plans for the future?

I’d like to have a big shop like Harrods! But realistically I’d like to carry on working from home, and maybe have an internet shop.

Can your business afford not to be involved in the weddings industry?

30 Sep

Despite most of us having to cut back on our expenditure over the last few years, the weddings industry has continued to boom.  You only get one (hopefully!) chance at a wedding, so most brides are determined to get it right, and aren’t willing to make too many sacrifices for their big day.  Most weddings will use several suppliers, from florists, to bridal boutiques, caterers and cake makers, to photographers and portaloo hire.  Some of these are obvious necessities for a wedding, but with growing creativity in weddings, there are opportunities for many not-so-obvious businesses to turn their hand to weddings.  Whatever your business sells, if there is a way to make it relevant to weddings, it could be your best business move yet.

I got married back in April, and we used a venue that provided a venue, a handful of chairs, and a cake knife.  The rest was up to us.  That meant we used a whole host of suppliers to make our day.  It was a logistical nightmare, but it was worth it for such a unique day.  I wholeheartedly recommend each and every one of the suppliers that we used, and you can see a list of them here.  Do take a look if you are planning any type of event.  (And again, I’m sorry if I have missed anyone of, I’m sure I have!)

A special mention goes out to The Very Vintage Hire Company Ltd.  Started just two years ago by a young single Mum, this is a business that has gone from strength to strength.  They now have a beautiful, inspirational, wonderful shop, The Attic, in the perfect setting of Exeter Quay, and hire props out to several events every single weekend.  The majority of events are weddings, though they have also dressed wedding fayres, summer balls, and various photoshoots.

Dawlish Triathlon

25 Sep

This summer was so glorious, we were lucky enough to spend a lot of time at the beach.  There seemed to be a constant stream of people swimming in the sea (and I mean swimming, not running in and screeching “it’s too cold” and coming back out almost immediately, which is my preferred method of swimming in the sea), and running and cycling along the seafront (and beyond of course, I just don’t venture too far from the beach).

This Sunday it is the Dawlish Triathlon, a gruelling and very popular race starting with a 750m sea swim, followed by a 21.5k cycle, and a 5k run.  I feel tired just thinking about it!!  Hundreds of people have signed up and put in a lot of time and effort training for it, for their own personal goals, and also to fundraise for various charities.

Several of my friends are part of the 40 strong Helen’s Tri-Hards Team, who have trained together and are collecting sponsorship for local charity, The Helen Foundation.  The Helen Foundation support the artistic aspirations of young people aged 7-19 years who live in Teignbridge, by providing prizes in schools, arts based workshops, individual bursaries and funding for special arts projects.  The charity was set up in 2006 as a living memorial to a local actor, Helen Kirk, who tragically died aged 24 after a road accident.

If you would like to donate to the Tri-Hards team, visit their Just Giving Page here.  Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to the charity. So it’s the most efficient way to donate – saving time and cutting costs for the charity.

Good Luck to everyone on Sunday!


Flexi-Mum Project

22 Apr

We are delighted to announce that Flexi-Mum, a pilot project set up by Opportunity Plus South West to support Mums of all ages to develop and improve their work-life balance, has been supported by the Big Lottery and has received an Awards for All grant.  This funding will allow us to inspire Mums of all ages and backgrounds across Devon and Somerset, and beyond, to pursue their goals, and make the most of their local resources.


We started running Flexi-Mum as part of the second phase of the main Opportunity Plus South West project.  A large proportion of our customers seeking business start up support in the first phase of the project were Mums looking to start their own business to gain more flexibility, or to top up their part time employment income, often using new skills and passions they had discovered since becoming a parent.  Flexi-Mum is designed to support Mums (with children of any age) with the specific difficulties they can face.  This includes things like:

  • Returning to employment after maternity leave
  • Starting your own business
  • Seeking new, flexible employment
  • Volunteering
  • Retraining
  • Choosing to take a career break to focus on parenting

We have been out and about meeting Mums across Devon and Somerset to discuss their needs/worries and have come across a range of inspirational stories and ways of managing work-life balance as a working parent.


With the funding we have been awarded, we will be publishing three magazines as part of this project, to inspire and motivate Mums.  If you would like to write an article for the magazine, please get in touch.  We are looking for a range of articles, and would love to hear your ideas.  This is a really exciting opportunity for anyone looking to get into any kind of journalism, or wanting to promote their business, or just share their story to inspire others.

You can find out more about Flexi-Mum by following us on Facebook, joining our Facebook group for peer support, and reading our blog.  If you would like to discuss your own situation, call our friendly advisors on 0800 043 2440.

View the Fleximum advert.

A Paper Rose

15 Apr

On getting engaged last year, I went straight onto Etsy and Folksy looking for inspiration for planning my wedding.  One of the first things I came across was Laura Gamble’s beautiful Paper Bouquets.  Laura has a Fine Art degree and started making paper flowers for her own wedding.  After everyone loved them so much at her own wedding, Laura decided to start a business making paper flowers for other people’s weddings.  She opened her shop on folksy in December 2011 – six months after her own wedding.  Laura also works as a classroom assistant.  She has just launched her own website.

For my wedding, Laura made me a bouquet, wrist corsages for my bridesmaids, windmill favours for the kids, and decorations for our cake.  I love that we can keep all of them forever, the flowers will never die and I don’t have to dry them our or press them or anything.  Everyone loved them on the day too, they really are beautiful.  (I promise that’s the last post about my wedding!)

How did you get started with A Paper Rose?

I studied Fine and Applied Art at the University of Ulster in Belfast, where I specialised in painting, but always loved craft and working with paper.  When I got engaged I decided I wanted an alternative to real flowers (I have quite bad hayfever so wasn’t loving the idea of sneezing all day!).  After a lot of experimenting, I settled on making my bouquet, the bridesmaids’ bouquets and the gents’ buttonholes from paper.  They were all roses.  I also made the table centrepieces, they were tissue paper carnations.  It was so great because on the day there was no stress about the flowers dying and I could keep my bouquet as a memory of the day.  I got so many compliments about the flowers that I decided to keep making them and see if any other brides-to-be would like them too.

What social media sites do you use, and which have you found to be the most successful for marketing your business?

At the minute I mainly use Facebook and am also on Pinterest.  I’m thinking of joining Twitter, but sometimes it’s hard to keep up with them all.  Facebook has been the most successful way of marketing my work in terms of raising people’s awareness, also after having taken part in a wedding fair and giving out business cards you can see a jump in “likes” on your page.  I sell my work online through Folksy and more recently Etsy, these have been my most successful ways of getting orders.

What is the best thing about running your own business?

I love the feeling every time you make a sale, that someone has chosen your work for such an important event in their lives.  I love that I can be creative and make some money doing it.  I work in a school, but during school holidays I love the days when I get to work on the business 9 – 5.  I really enjoy doing a variety of tasks, especially the designing and making, but also the admin side of things.

What has been your biggest challenge to date?

Never having enough hours in the day to do everything you want to! Trying to juggle working a job, caring for family, still seeing friends and then making sure I don’t neglect the business.  It’s very important to try and get the balance right!

What advice would you give someone wanting to start a craft business?

Go for it, even if it just supplements your income it’s a really rewarding way to be creative, it does however take a lot of time and hard work.  With Etsy, Folksy and other online sales platforms, you can work from home and make some sales even if you don’t have time to sell at all the craft fairs.

How do you manage your time between employment and self employment?

It is frustrating because I feel that I could go much further with the business if I had more time to work on it, but as a classroom assistant I’m sort of spoilt with my hours, I work 8:30 – 3:30 – so can get an hour of work done each day when I get home, before it’s time to make dinner etc.  I also have the school holidays to work on the business – which is great.  I usually spend an evening or two per week working on A Paper Rose and try and do a few hours on a Saturday.  It depends how many orders there are or if a wedding fair is coming up.  In the next few weeks I am doing a couple of fairs so I will be working a lot more hours to get ready!  Lists are a really helpful way for me to focus and get things done in a tight time frame.

What are your plans for the future?

I would love to be in a position to work fewer hours in a job, maybe 2 days per week and the rest on the business.  I’m planning to set up a website in the coming months to hopefully increase my online presence.  I’d also like to increase my product range.  I currently make bouquets, buttonholes and wrist corsages, but would like to extend the range to table centrepieces, hair accessories, paper flowers for home décor – to name but a few!  I’d also like to make some new paintings.

You can find A Paper Rose on Facebook, Etsy and Folksy.

Laura on her wedding day DSCN0667

Some businesses to check out if you’re planning an event

8 Apr

On Saturday I was lucky enough to marry Steve – the wonderful man who makes it possible for me to have two kids, a part time job, and my own business, and still have time for the occasional shopping trip and night out.  I won’t bore you with all the details of our wedding, but I thought I would use this opportunity to share with you some of the wonderful small businesses that helped make our wedding so special.  If you are planning any kind of event, please do check out some of these great businesses.  We tried to use local businesses, run by people we already knew, to make our day really personal.

The Very Vintage Hire Company – we hired all sorts including a Post Box, Deck Chairs, Crazy Golf Course (made just for us after I suggested it to them!).  Make sure you get hold of their gorgeous e-catalogue!  Find out more about the young entrepreneur that started the company in our interview, here, and check out her new shop, the Attic, based on Exeter Quay.

Virginia’s Vintage Hire – we hired our tables and chairs from this lovely company.

Angel Face – I bought my dress from this shop in Buckfastleigh, the staff were so friendly and helpful.

Perspectives Photography – amazing, beautiful photographer, definitely worth checking out.  Steal the Stage Photography also provided us with a second photographer and different point of view.

Il Vulcano – a pizza van with a real wood burning oven inside!

Red Rock Brewery – the local brewery provided the bar on the day.

Our friends created a band just for us, including members from These Reigning Days and Baskerville.

A Paper Rose – a friend did our fresh flowers but I bought my bouquet from here, as well as windmills for the kids, and decorations for our cake, which was made by Cakes Delicious.

Party Lights – masses of pretty lighting made our day look truly magical.

East Teign Nursery – our children’s nursery provided friendly staff to help entertain the hordes of children we invited!

Cliffden Hotel – Cliffden Hotel in Teignmouth is run by Action for Blind People and has beautiful grounds.

Liza Kane – Liza runs L.A Barbers and took on the mammoth task of calming my unruly hair!

Newton Print – Newton Print printed the invitations that Steve designed for us – everyone commented on the great quality of the printing (and of course the design!)

Love My Dress – this blog inspired me in my wedding planning.  They have just released their first book, which immediately went to Number One on the Amazon chart for weddings.

The Natural Wedding Company is another wedding blog, which featured an amazing wedding that I was lucky enough to attend.

Kate Garey – I bought lovely little hand mirrors as thank you gifts for my bridesmaids.

Linds from Shaldon Bakery (and the band Bad Mojo) is a friend and made us a fabulous picnic.

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – one of my favourite bands rewrote one of their classic songs, which Steve used to propose.

The Wedding Reporter – although we didn’t use this in the end, I just think it’s the most fantastic idea so I wanted to share it with you.  As an alternative/addition to photography and videography, The Wedding Reporter takes notes on the day which they write up into a beautiful and unique book to remember your day.

A massive thank you to all of the businesses mentioned above, and everyone else who was involved in the day.  Sorry if we have missed anyone out!

Simply Lovely!

25 Mar

Vicci was doing well in her career as an Internal Auditor, but craved something more from her career.  After finding out that she would be made redundant two years ago, she decided to follow her dreams and start her own business – Simply Lovely.  Vicci is 31 and lives in Cumbria in the Lake District.

mothers day card

“After graduating with a degree in Graphic Design I took a job, as most do, just to tide me over – after all a job is a job, right? Well 7 years later I found myself still in the same job, having worked my way up the ladder, I had a good wage and was fairly content working for an adult training provider as an internal auditor. I always wondered ‘what if?’ or ‘I wish I could just do something else’ – then I was hit with the bombshell that the company I was working for would no longer be trading and all staff were to be made redundant.

After 7 years this was such a blow but I knew that this would be my chance to follow my dreams. To pursue a career in the creative industry and even be my own boss!

It all happened really quickly, from the initial news of redundancy to leaving the company with my redundancy cheque being placed in my hands…my opportunity to do something for me!

I’ve always been passionate about design for print and decided to start designing for the greetings card market. I set up shops on Etsy and Folksy and opened up a Facebook page building my brand and customer base. Thankfully Simply Lovely has gone from strength to strength and not even 2 years into this exciting venture and I now have my own website, andwonderful customers who keep coming back for more!

Simply Lovely started as a dream, a concept, and now I’m designing bespoke wedding packages, event stationery, party invitations, guest books, photo albums, business packaging for other small businesses and I even offer branding packages to name a few things! It’s incredible how Simply Lovely has developed!

It’s been a roller-coaster and I can honestly say I’ve never worked so hard BUT it’s all for me, for the future and for my dreams. It’s certainly not easy but every sale and every happy customer makes it all worth while.

My redundancy was a blessing in disguise, it gave me the opportunity (and funds) to start something amazing and I couldn’t be happier with my decision to just go for it! If you don’t try, you’ll never know and may always be asking yourself ‘what if?’…”

And what makes it all possible for Vicci to run her business?

“I have an incredibly supportive family and friends that keep me sane and help out at extremely busy times, from post office runs to making reindeer bags!”