Tuesday, 05 July 2022

proprietor of the Willow Basket, a whole food shop supporting zero waste, in Friday Street, Henley. She was born in York but brought up in Marlow after her family moved there when she was four. She went to Gordon County School in Maidenhead where her father was the headmaster and maths teacher. She then completed her education at Lady Verney School in High Wycombe. She lives on her houseboat in Medmenham with her dog Pippa. Keeping fit is important to her and she loves to run in the nearby meadows.

Describe your business

We stock a large range of non-packaged whole foods such as pasta, seeds, herbs, spices, rice, cereals, cupboard staples and many more cooking ingredients. We offer an old-fashioned way of shopping. Our customers bring their own jars and containers, enjoying the personalised face-to-face service and contact and the lovely sensory aromas. We also have 35 flavours of delicious ice cream made with organic milk.

How many people does it employ?

There’s only me. However, my partner Dan steps in occasionally when his work allows and offers me invaluable help.

What did you do before you started this business?

My first job was as a flight attendant for British Airways where I stayed for eight years. In 1986 I left in order to start a family and became a full-time mother of my two sons, Thomas and James. When my sons flew the nest I moved to Dorset to start an exciting new chapter in my life. Sadly, only a short time after moving there, my husband passed away so I came back to live in this part of the world. It was when I was out running that I spotted this shop and thought it could be perfect for me to set up my own business.

When did you start?

February 2017.

What was your objective?

My mission was to help reduce the amount of single-use plastic after thinking about the harm it is doing to our environment.

Who or what influenced you?

I don’t think there has been one specific person but I’m always gathering ideas and looking for motivation and inspiration. Litter is ridiculous and plastic is the worst. I feel it is my duty to do something.

What would you do differently if you could start again?

There isn’t anything but it would be a dream to have a more central location. By choosing Friday Street I have kept my rent lower and have given the shop a better chance of survival with lower overheads.

What impact is the coronavirus pandemic having?

Being a food shop I was able to stay open and it provided me with a brilliant form of free advertising. During the first lockdown there was a massive shortage of pasta and flour in the supermarkets but I had plenty. Somebody put on Facebook that the Willow Basket had flour and very soon I had a huge queue outside.

How is your business doing?

Every year we are gradually building in the right direction.

How do you market your business?

It is absolutely dependent on word of mouth. My loyal army of re-fillers have done a wonderful job in spreading the word about my shop and of course the ice cream has helped, too.

What’s the best thing about running your own business?

Definitely my customers. We all share a common goal to reduce our use of single-use plastic. I am humbled by their commitment. Serving children ice cream is the most joyful thing ever.

What's the most challenging aspect?

I love it so much I really don’t see anything as a challenge. The only difficulty is having to close if I want to go away for a short break. I try to let customers know if I plan to be away.

Where is your business headed?

I am brimming with ideas and possibilities but floor

space could be an issue.

Do you have a five-year plan?

I’ve done okay in the first four years and feel that there is more I can do to build a platform for greener living.

Do you set any goals at the start of a financial year?

Only to encourage people to do their bit in looking after our planet.

What's the most valuable thing you’ve learned?

Everybody needs a sense of purpose and I’ve found that again in my shop. People are genuinely kind and have a sense of community and decency.

What would you advise someone starting a business?

Once you’ve decided what you want to do, make a list and go for it. Ask yourself: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” It’s not life-threatening.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?

Simply that I should have started the shop earlier.

How organised are you?

I’m extremely organised. I’m a lady of lists.

What three qualities are needed for success?

Staying focused. Having passion, and never giving up.

How do you dress for work?

I have to wear practical clothes as I’m forever lifting and bending down.

What can’t you do without every day?

Knowing that I have the love and support of my family and friends. That foundation gives me inner strength.

Lunch at your desk or going out?

Lunch? What’s lunch?

Do you continue to study?

I am learning every day. I read a lot and love to write every day using my ink pen.

What do you read?

Motivational books and autobiographies. I also read the Henley Standard every week as I’m always interested to know what’s going on in the town.

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