Tell us about yourself as the founder of CraftCourses.
Hi there and thank you for having me.
I set up the site in 2011 and have worked full time on it since 2014, now with the help of a dedicated team as well as my sister Lynn, who saved my bacon when work and child-bearing became too much to juggle simultaneously! I’m a mother to three young kids and married to Harm and we all live in Pembrokeshire, along with Granny, my Mum.
Was there a light bulb moment for you with the idea for CraftCourses? How did the idea come to you?
My parents were rocking horse makers and so we grew up in and out of the paint, leather and wood workshops; to us it was only natural that you made and created things… it was really only when I moved to London in “the real world” that I realised that this was not everyone’s ‘normality’. The idea for CraftCourses actually came from my Mum – she’s always been full of good ideas – and allowed me to bring together my love of craft with my marketing skills. I strongly believe that creativity should be part of all of our lives, it’s part of being human and is extremely good for us.
Where did you start? Tell us your next steps from the concept to conception.
I started up just as I was leaving London to move to the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire. We moved in the middle of the night and I hadn’t even seen the cottage that my now husband had rented for us, I just woke up surrounded by moors and wild ponies and knew I was in heaven. Anyway, I digress! I didn’t imagine there would be much call for Press Officers in Pembrokeshire and assumed I needed to set up my own thing to make life in rural Wales work.
Nothing existed to help you find or compare creative courses – so I decide to put that right and follow my dream of being self-employed.
It was pretty hard initially as it took a good few years before the business became what it is today. We even spent some time living in a ramshackle old caravan on a friend’s land, where we stayed happily for 2 years, paying a small rent plus lots of bacon sandwiches for our friend!
Harm supported me 100% and said the most important thing was to do something I loved and nothing else mattered; he gave me the confidence to keep plugging away at it and in the end, we broke through to the right side of profit – phewf!
If you had to give a small business any piece of advice what would you say?
If you believe in your idea, then be determined and stick with it. Follow your sense of what is right and build something solid. Add hard work to that mix and everything will flow from there…!
How many courses did you support in year one to how many courses do you host now?
By the end of year one we had about 300 courses listed, most of which I had painstakingly added myself whilst talking to the craftspeople and artist tutors along the way (which was invaluable, I learnt so much from these guys). Now, we have over 4000 with new providers and courses being added every day.
What are your highest moments working in your business?
I enjoy building bonds and friendships with the providers and I also love talking to course goers about their experiences, as well as building our own team here at CraftCourses, so I think it’s the connection with people and creativity that does it for me. Seeing how much it means to people to have made something with their own hands is very satisfying, they positively glow with happiness and achievement.
The courses are often very sociable, as you are in a group of like-minded people all absorbed in a creative task. I think the experience of just being with people can be very therapeutic too.
Of course, one of the major perks is being able to attend lots of courses as this is just hugely good fun. I have now made a pair of shoes, loads of silver jewellery, several handbags, a basket, a forged garden ornament, a hand bound book, a bronze cast stone age horse…. So many things and so many great memories.
What are, or were, your moments of success for CraftCourses in your eyes? Have you achieved what you wanted to already?
Definitely not…I am not sure I ever will! Though it was a very good (and relieved!) feeling when I realised that there was a big appetite for what we are doing, and that people were talking about us to their friends and colleagues and spreading the word. There are also small moments of success every time we read an email thanking us for existing, that’s always nice!
I know in my heart that this is a worthwhile project that makes a positive difference to people and for that I am very grateful.
I am definitely contented to have found a career that I love and that gives my life a sense of purpose. This for me is success; having a happy work and life environment. CraftCourses has personally given me a way to help support our young family (3 children in the past 5 years!) and to be around for them as much as possible whilst they are young.
What are your future plans for CraftCourses?
We have some exciting plans just around the corner… But essentially, we will continue doing what we are doing; trying our utmost to create a useful resource that connects people who want to learn with those who have skills to share.
Any advice to workshop facilitators to help in the promotion of their courses with you?
Listen to your course participants, seek out their feedback as that way you will become the best you can be. Collecting reviews is so helpful for the next potential student who comes along; we all want to know what the course is like for others.
Also, please make sure you have good quality imagery – a picture tells a thousand words.
What seems to be the most popular courses?
Blacksmithing is hugely popular as an experience day, but crafts like upholstery and glass blowing are also huge. Of course, we notice a massive leap in traffic in the baking section when GBBO is on and ditto in the sewing section during a season of Sewing Bee.
Any courses or course providers you would like to highlight as being a great example to others?
There are loads! It is very hard to pick just a few out as there are literally hundreds of tutors who I know offer a superb experience for a learner, both as craftspeople and artists and as just lovely people. You just have to glance through our list of Platinum Students’ Choice award winning course providers to see this.
But if you would like some specific inspiration, I would recommend having a look at James Ort who runs The Phoenix Studio in Oxfordshire, Rowena Williams who runs Paddock studio in Dorset and John Loveluck of Anvil Forge in Reading. Local to me here in Wales I would also have to shout out for 3 amazing and inspiring women; Nia Denman of ND Leather Studio, Rose Wood Jewellery and Angharad Stobbs candlemaker. Oh and The New British Art studio in Carmarthenshire and Stiwdio 3 in Cardigan shouldn’t be missed either!
So many courses, so little time…!
Any other ideas to help put your workshop out there to a wider audience to support their promotion?
Many of our members run workshops too we are actively encouraging to get on such a great website as this CraftCourses.com.