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2020: The Year of the Local Business

Author: Leah Holford Published: 11th November 2020 12:09

The year 2020 is viewed by many as one of the worst in recent history. We've had wildfires, colossal explosions, deaths of much-loved celebrities, earthquakes and even a swarm of locusts in East Africa, just to give everything that genuine apocalyptic feel, all under the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic. It would be so easy for us to hold our hands up and surrender to the carnage that has been 2020, but we forget that for every awful moment of this year, there has also been something beautiful.

We had celebrities helping to home-school our children and giving us front-row seats to concerts in our living rooms, we reignited passions or found new ones with arts, crafts, music and more, major companies pulled together to give the world important things they needed; car manufacturers helped make ventilators, distilleries helped produce hand sanitizer and others helped produce and distribute millions of masks needed to keep people safe. Most importantly, I think we can all say that we've found a new appreciation for all of our key workers.

But, as is often the case, it's easy to become so overwhelmed by the bad that we sometimes forget to look for the good. We lose that fighting spirit to keep things positive and to make sure that above all else, we are happy.

When Lockdown 2.0 was announced, the whole nation groaned. Even though we knew it was needed and suspected it would happen, hearing the words gave everyone that sinking feeling all over again; though the local, independent businesses perhaps groaned loudest. Another lockdown could mean the end of not only their business, but the dreams they had because of it. They could lose everything they've worked so hard for. But did they give in? Absolutely not.

In the few days between the lockdown announcement and it coming into effect, I had the pleasure of speaking with several of these wonderful people about how they plan to fight to keep their dreams alive, despite the fact that they have so many restrictions placed upon their usual way of trading. To say I felt inspired would be an understatement. But they need all the support they can get, particularly during this latest lockdown period when they can't be out there, doing what they normally do to bring smiles to the faces of many.

Michael Stuart (Solent Taekwon-Do Academy)

Michael stuart of Solent Taekwon-Do academy standing in his uniform Michael launched his academy back in November 2019 when he realised that his 20-year-strong passion for martial arts had benefitted him not only physically but mentally. He also noticed the confidence it was giving his young son, James, who had recently started training himself. A teacher by day, Michael wanted to help the community after seeing how young people tend to prefer staying inside and playing video games, and the negative impact this can have on their wellbeing.

Solent Taekwon-Do offers classes to both adults and children in the Titchfield and Warsash areas. "Not only is it an Olympic sport, but a very effective Korean martial art that teaches balance, self-defence, coordination and explosive movement which is great for fitness. We also blend our core values of courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and to have an indomitable spirit. We firmly believe this helps develop positive role models who go on to make a positive contribution to society," Michael says.

Michael's biggest inspiration is seeing the joy when his son, James, learns a new technique, seeing his confidence improve and observing how he is becoming more resilient and carries this into his school work. "If I can help other children to experience this, then I believe I am winning," he says proudly.

As a small club, Michael is the sole instructor within Solent Taekwon-Do Academy, with a goal set to have a 4-6 class, a 7-11 and an adult class all FULL in several locations around the Solent. "We started slowly, but we have been steadily growing. I am known for my determination, so I'll give it a really good go! Who knows, our own full-time center one day?" he said, when asked about his ultimate goals for the academy.

During the initial lockdown, to help families out and to try and keep the children involved, Michael dropped his fees right down and moved the training online. He then highlighted their online training superstars on social media and on their website with awards and certificates. With more new members since they re-opened, Michael plans to speak with the families to see what will work best during this four-week period. He has several students who are on the cusp of grading for their next belts and he intends to consider their needs and hard work at the forefront of his approach.

Peter and Anne Fisher (Craft Crazy Fareham)

Peter and Anne of Craft Crazy Craft Crazy opened 27 years ago in the midst of a recession, yet are still standing strong as ever, known locally as ‘The Home of the Unusual.' Peter and Anne describe the shop as, "a reflection of our beliefs and love of diverse items." A friend of the couple once called it, "Woolworths for the Weirdos" and I couldn't agree more upon entering the shop myself.

Walking in, I got that same excitement I got as a child from a visit to Woolies and I didn't want to leave without buying everything in there. Not only was the shop like a cave of wonders, but Peter and Anne themselves were incredibly friendly and welcoming, talking to me about their business with a clear passion for what they do and sell.

Many of their products are wholesale, including an impressively large collection of ornaments that will have any Disney and Harry Potter fan reaching for their wallets. However, they also make a good selection of the products themselves, including Shamanic wands and rattles, runes and jewellery. Alongside this they stock a wide range of items from crystals and tarot, bath bombs, incense and oils, to dream catchers, silver jewellery and some stunning pyrography items. It truly is a shop that, while small in size, is large in life.

When I asked Peter and Anne about their ultimate goals for their business, they said that it is simply, "to sustain what we have and continue to be part of the community that we have enjoyed over the past 27 years". They described the shop as not only being a business, but a large part of their social lives too, telling me how much they love talking to their customers and getting to know them.

Peter and Anne remain hopeful that they can come through this unpredictable period and say that the government assistance for small businesses has been helpful, but they still need the support of their loyal customers.

 Dan Churchley (Solent Comedy)

Dan churchley of solent comedy, wearing a suit Dan has been a full-time entertainer for almost fourteen years; starting out as a holiday park coat style entertainer. For him, it was the perfect training and rekindled his childhood love of magic tricks.

"I've got a real passion for what I do. My work has taken me around the world from ships to abroad resorts and in more recent years as a freelance comedy magician and entertainer based back in the UK," Dan says. His work varies from festivals, weddings and private children's parties to the club and pub scene.

Solent Comedy started up in 2014 as a side project, and has quickly grown to provide comedy shows for around a dozen venues from open mics to pro lineups. It has a large network of comedians, from people trying standup for the first time to those who do comedy as a full time job. Dan's favourite venue is the Kings Loft show on Albert Road, Southsea, which is already fully booked for the December show. It will return on the first Saturday of every month for 2021.

Comedy is something Dan has always been passionate about and he wanted to create something special. "It's been a fun journey so far with big ambitions for the future and the best is yet to come, I'm sure," he says, ever positive. He started the nights initially because he wanted somewhere close to home, as Portsmouth didn't have much of a comedy scene back then, until a few years ago when it exploded in popularity.

Dan's ultimate goal for Solent Comedy is to have regular ticketed nights up and running next year after the pandemic has seen venues having to close intermittently over this year. "I want to be able to offer a great value show where local upcoming acts get to support bigger TV comedy names."

Dan feels blessed that his hobby is also his job. He loves watching other live entertainment too and supporting the local performing arts and venues. He says, "It's been tough times for the industry, but the general community is very supportive of each other and a little positivity can go a long way".

Anthony 'Tony' Duke (Head Case Curios Ltd)

Anthony of Head case curios Head Case Curios opened in 2014 and is situated in Albert Road, Southsea. Tony is a creative at heart and carried a fascination for the unusual into adulthood. After 16 years delivering training in the care sector, Tony wanted to start a business that would allow him to put his creativity to use and enable him to connect with people again. It started with a few items made from animal skulls and grew from there, evolving into the space it now fills.

Walking in is like entering a real-life wonderland, with all shapes and sizes of curios everywhere you look. Not only are there shelves, rails and display cabinets, but the entire ceiling is filled to the brim with stock, too. Tony's wife, Zoe Duke, says, "Tony tirelessly looks for unusual items, interesting suppliers and includes some antiques. Hats are very popular, and Tony has a reputation for his uniquely decorated top hats".

Originally, handmade items were all made by Tony, but he now features some made by local artists and creatives which helps bring the community into the shop. Personal service is very important to Tony and he takes great pride in ensuring every visitor leaves with a great impression, hopefully to return and recommend to their friends and family.

Lockdown means Tony isn't able to open Head Case Curios to the public, however, he will be driving there twice a day to raise and drop the shutters, giving passers-by a chance to ‘window shop'. Customers can then contact the shop, arrange payment and a time for collection, with local delivery also an option. He will also be adding more stock to the website and using his social media accounts to advertise the contents available for purchase. "We have a lovely relationship with a local professional photographer, Paul Messer Photography, and our shop has some stunning, current images for everyone to browse," Tony says.

Dominique Katewu (The Rabbit Hole & Cheeky Grinders Events in SouthScene)

Dominique of The Rabbit Hole holding up a donut behind the coffee bar counter The evening coffee bar opened four weeks ago, when Dominique was given the opportunity by Kate of SouthScene Antiques to manage and run a coffee lounge within the shop.

"We also offer venue hire in quirky and chilled surroundings, with the addition of a manned coffee bar," Dominique says. "We hope to grow the events side, working with local traders and artists. We want to offer affordable venue hire for businesses to showcase their products, talents or arts."

In the recently refurbished coffee bar, that both Dominique and Kate are very proud of, they like to work with local companies when they source their coffee beans and would like to make their own blend in the future. I have to say, sitting in the cosy, sociable atmosphere with a drink, fairy lights, antiques and flowers surrounding, is a pleasure and the staff are both attentive and approachable, making the visit that much more relaxed.

The very busy Dominique also runs an established cleaning company, going now for 9 years, and produces successful Burlesque shows in Portsmouth for her company Burlesque by the Sea, which has been running for 4 years. She also performs regularly in Burlesque Troupe, The Scarlet Vixens, and is a single mum. Her love of performance was one of the reasons she wanted to start her own venue hire service, which she has now accomplished along with the coffee lounge and events handling.

During the lockdown, Dominique and Kate will be offering a takeaway service of their hot and cold drinks, cakes and savouries throughout the day.

Rai Broadway

Rai Broadway, a busy research scientist during the day, started her sewing business during the first lockdown when she had the opportunity to dedicate more time to her already established hobby. She quickly realised she has the skills to make pretty much anything she wanted, and she was full of ideas. "I started making things for my nieces, nephews and god-babies and it went from there," she says, cheerfully.

Rai offers one-off, handmade items of clothing and soft furnishings for children. "I've always preferred to make things for children. Children's items are more fun, and I get to be more creative. When one of my god-babies said she wanted to be a doctor I made her a lab coat, when a niece said she liked mermaids, I made her a mermaid princess dress, so I guess the kids are my inspiration."

Rai loves her day job, but when she's not thinking about that, her mind is on sewing, planning the projects in her head. Once she has an inkling of an idea, it's all she can think about. She says, "It needs to be like this, the length should be a bit longer, the sleeves should be like this etc. I get quite obsessed!"

Her main goal for the business is to keep enjoying what she's doing. She doesn't want to get into a situation where she has to make the same garment over and over again because she fears she will lose the love.

As soon as the lockdown was rumoured, Rai headed straight for the fabric shop and got herself some bits to see her through. "I don't really like buying fabric online because there's so much you can't tell about it unless you see it in person".

Rai isn't currently online but hopes to be launching an online store at some point in the near future. For now, she's just enjoying turning her hobby into something she can share with many others.

Paul Messer Photography

Paul Messer posing surrounded by lights in the middle of a streetPaul Messer Photography launched in August 2018, with Paul taking pictures of a sunset at Meon Shore and posting them online to receive great feedback. Paul has always had a keen interest in photography and enjoyed the creative side of things, particularly editing the photos afterwards.

After the comments he received, Paul offered his talents out to independent businesses and went along to local performances, camera in hand, taking shots that have now earned him regular business arrangements in various areas, including Head Case Curios and Burlesque by the Sea, both previously mentioned.

Paul is a creative photographer, a creator of visual art, and always works hard to ensure the personalities of the people he is working with shine through, whether it be portraiture, performance or products they sell in their shops. He is happy to work to what his clients want, with their satisfaction being a top priority.

Whilst working his normal day job, photography is a hobby that he hopes one day will become his full-time work. "I would love to have my own studio one day" he says. "I want to use my creativity to stand out with my unique ideas, build up a good reputation and provide the best photos possible at an affordable price so that everyone, no matter their income, can have quality memories to look back on."

During lockdown, Paul will be taking photos when he's out on his exercise, being creative with photography indoors with the help of his family, taking part in online lockdown competitions and keeping his social media channels updated regularly with his latest creations. He also receives a lot of requests from people to edit photos they already have that weren't taken by him but need some TLC to make them stand out, so he will still be offering this service too.

Meeting all of these hard-working, determined and inspirational people has given me faith that we will bounce back from this pandemic that has threatened so many of our livelihoods. It's more important than ever not to lose hope and to keep those dreams alive, and to do that everybody needs to come together, supporting each other and supporting these local businesses who are working hard to bring joy into all of our lives. We won't let this beat us; instead we will be united and grow stronger than ever before.



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