Real Life: "Covid made me rethink my career"
While Covid-19 continues to be a challenge for many, some have taken time to reflect and redirect their lives. Lisa Millard shares their stories
Chiropractor to eco refill shop
Seona Gunn-Kelly, St Ives Wellness and Refill Centre
"I’m a chiropractor, pilates teacher, wellness coach and now eco shop owner. I’m married and we have an amazing 8-year old son. I have two science-based degrees and I love to learn about human beings – body, mind and soul. As cheesy as it sounds, I love my job as a chiropractor and kinesiologist. Every person who comes through the door has their own complexity and simplicity to their injuries and I help people find out how to heal themselves with eating well, moderate exercise and self-care.
“During the first lockdown I couldn’t work at all. I home schooled, hung out with my two favourite humans and four-legged furry friend, Digby. It gave me lots of time to think about more than just helping people get back on track and out of pain. I wanted to have a business that was Covid-proof and I have always wanted a little eco shop, selling natural and planet conscious products that help reduce the use of virgin plastic. To keep my business afloat during lockdown I had to use the bounce back loan and at the end I still had a little left over which I used to set up a small refill shop called St Ives Refill Centre in what was my waiting room. I love meeting all the different people and supporting my local community to reduce their personal plastic consumption and make my and their journey to living more sustainably as frictionless as possible.
“I’m now working six days a week, four as a chiropractor and two as a shopkeeper. At the end of the day I am loving it, I’m tired but I’m happy, we’re happy.”
Swing vocalist to author
Michael Ford, Somersham
“I am a Swing vocalist, you know Sinatra, Bublé type thing. I also work as a freelance artist and an art tutor too. My wife and I like to rehome rescue dogs, we have four at the moment – so life is always busy. Back in March 2020, like a lot of people, my singing work disappeared overnight and my art tutor job soon after. During lockdown I saw this time laid out in front of me and knew immediately what to do with it.
“Some time ago I had a rough idea for a book based on my two daughters, but my children were young and I had very little spare time to devote to bringing the book together. So now I had this time, I decided to set to work ... and here we are. My book has been launched and I couldn't be more pleased about the early feedback.
“The book is called ‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaargh! My Sister’s a Lizard!’ and is an illustrated story in rhyming verse from the perspective of a little girl on a mission to help her older sister. She meets strange creatures in a magical land who help her to collect the unusual ingredients she needs to reverse an accidental spell. The story itself feels like an ‘old school’ fantasy adventure. I guess unavoidably influenced by stories from my childhood – where adventure and imagination meant that anything was possible in a world where parents were just bystanders and unaware of the magical world going on under their noses. I feel very positive about how I've faced the uncertainty of losing both my jobs and really proud to have written and illustrated my own book – a positive result coming from a very uncertain time for me. I would definitely like to write another book. I feel the story lends itself to becoming an animation or even adapted for film – that would be a dream come true.”
Public relations to jewellery design
Suzanne Pattinson, Soul Purpose Jewellery, Bury St Edmunds
“I am a military spouse and mum of two. I have a previous career in PR and comms, working predominantly in Cambridge but lost my freelance contract due to COVID. I had always wanted my own business and after taking a silversmithing course back in August 2019 at Cambridge Art Makers, I launched Soul Purpose Jewellery – the pandemic just gave me the push to do it.
“I have always loved fashion and design so the passion to create jewellery was already there. I wanted to come out of the COVID situation with something positive, so I decided that focusing on Soul Purpose was the best way forward. And it’s been amazing – I have had close to 140 orders and the business is going from strength to strength. I have created a brand and a business from scratch. Twelve months ago, Soul Purpose wasn't even a concept and now it has a life of its own and people know what it is and are walking around wearing jewellery I have made. I am planning new collections for this year and will launch a series of classes to allow people to make their own unique pieces. I have some longer-term goals for teaching and creating a space for others to teach different skills too.
“The biggest challenge in making this change has been self-belief – having to push through any doubt or wobbles, which I am sure most start-up business owners have to face. I am learning so quickly that self-belief plays a big part in success.”
Theatre design to gardening accessories and furniture business
Becca Gibbs and Andy Stubbs, Larch and Loam, Suffolk
“I originally trained as a theatre stage manager, working mainly in London’s West End. Ten years ago, I moved to Suffolk and set up Spinning Wheel Theatre, producing professional touring theatre and community projects with my business partner, Amy. I also met Andy, who is a scenic carpenter and builds incredible theatre sets for theatres all over world, as well as for the Theatre Royal, BSE’s pantomime each year.
“Like for many other industries, COVID-19 has been devastating for the theatre industry. Most theatres have not been able to open since March last year, meaning that not only have their staff faced furlough and redundancy, but thousands of freelance artists, like Andy and I, had all of our work disappear. At the start of March, we had a year’s worth of work in our diaries; the day after the lockdown announcement every single job, and all of our income, disappeared. So, like most people, we spent hours and hours in the garden. Our two-year old, Betty, is never happier than when she’s covered in mud. We started building things and curating the space to make it a really special area that we could all enjoy together, and created planters to grow masses of our own veg. Once we’d got the bug, and with the theatre industry recovering looking a long way off, we decided to make a business out of what we were doing – so we launched Larch and Loam selling vintage garden accessories and handmade and bespoke garden furniture and planters, which we build in our workshop in Mendlesham.
“And it’s going great! The autumn has allowed us to build up our stock and finesse our website, ready to really go for it in the spring. Looking at the news, it looks like we’re all going to have more time in the garden again this year. We love having a business that both Betty, and Frieda our dachshund, can be involved with. They come with us on buying trips and “help” with photographing stock. It’s a proper family business and has meant we’ve all been able to spend so much more time together.”
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