I have been shopping small for several years now whenever possible. So when invited to Weekend:IN's slow living retreat, with the opportunity to meet several small businesses, it seemed like the perfect fit for me. A chance to think about the notion of slow living some more at the very least and to meet some brands who embrace the principle of thoughtfulness. I want to share with you a little more about the small businesses involved and hope at least some of this may resonate with you too.
I don't often attend press events. But what Olivia does with Weekend:IN is to connect small brands with people like me who have a voice to share the wonderful work they do. Looking not just at, but beyond the name and the aesthetic, into the brands stories and ethos. In simple terms why they are doing what they do. And how is that relevant?
Olivia carefully matches brands who may be of interest to the attendees of each event she runs - and therefore hopefully matches with the people like you to whom we pass the introductions on. It is not so much about a brands latest season collection. More how what each business does can add value to the everyday through thoughtful product choices. It all makes sense to me and for that reason, I wanted to share a little more about the brands we met and what they do.
I am making a note here also of a small but wonderful thing that happened as we gathered. Besides the birds who were chirping in the barns rafters above us, the butterflies awoke. And not just a few. There were several sleepy beauties, some wearing cobwebby garlands, set free by Sara who carefully untangled them and carried them to an open door.
Perhaps only something small, but a magical moment, for me at least, as butterflies have always enchanted me. It was a lovely start to a wonderful two days.
The slow living retreat was hosted by Canopy and Starsat Elmley Nature Reserve. Canopy and Stars champion small and sustainable accommodation with a catalogue of over 600 places in the UK and parts of Europe on their books today. Small and independent sites are very much their focus. Having browsed their website for myself, I am pretty sure they have something to suit anyone looking for a glamping experience themselves.
Our day began with an introduction to Aerende and a shoe making workshop courtesy of Juta Shoes.
Aerendeis an online shop selling beautiful products made in the UK by people facing social challenges. The ceramics on the table here are part of the collection owner Emily has put together. The company is run from Emily's home and their tag line of 'life improving homewares' is a value evident throughout the collection. When buying from Aerende you will also be supporting makers and providing them with an income they may otherwise struggle to find.
Juta Shoesare available from Aerende, and we were treated to our very own shoe making workshop. Juta shoes believe in sustainable, fair fashion and also offer workshops for you to make your own pair of shoes through their website. The felt fabric we used was from re-upholstery offcuts, repurposing what would otherwise be thrown away. So we pinned and stitched our slippers together. I find it immensely satisfying to create a usable item from simple parts. And they're so comfortable to wear!
Now I think I can tick shoe making off my crafting bucket list. The pair on the right above are mine. Yes the sole was pre-made, as was the felt upper, but I think I can still claim to have made them into shoes...
In the afternoon, after a look around the reserve, we met Syreeta, owner of Moments of Sense and Style. She talked us through her journey and the creation of MOSS's capsule collection (pictured above).
Through tragedy, when her husband Rob suffered a brain haemorrhage while on holiday in Sydney and they found their life utterly transformed, Syreeta found an outlet for the overwhelm by sharing their story on Tumblr.
After returning to the UK to live with family, the idea for MOSS was born from a conscious decision to choose light over darkness. To create something positive from their life changing situation. Each piece in the online shop is integral to their story, for example the scents of the three cities most significant to them have been recreated as candles for the home. A literal story of light.
There are also journals with connections to the same cities, filled with paper milled in the Lake District, and a set of beautiful prints drawn by Rob. The story of their creation even more remarkable when considering that Rob was paralysed on his right side following the brain haemorrhage. Thankfully Rob is left handed and illustration has been a part of his recovery as speech escaped him also. I really encourage you to read their full story because their positivity through adversity is nothing short of amazing. And wholly inspiring.
Syreeta has plans for new products to be added to the collection with room sprays in the same scents as the candles newly available online now.
Hannah had the foresight to bring magnolia. I'm pretty sure magnolia would make anything look lovely but Hannah's style is wonderful in it's own right. Understated and somehow homely. Not to mention photogenic. It was a pleasure to spend time in spaces styled by her.
The second day started with a yoga session led by Melanie of Geoffrey & Grace. Although usually when I exercise I tend to choose high energy cardiovascular workouts, I have to admit the yoga was a lovely, calm, quiet session. And I really enjoyed it despite my not getting on with yoga when I have tried it in the past. I am putting that down to Melanies calm voice and clear explanations. It was such a positive way to start the day.
Our afternoon was led by Katy of The Owl & The Apothecary . Katy shared her knowledge of natural wellbeing and positive action with us, including a little about the cleansing rituals of smudge sticks,. We were then able create our own. Each element of the bundles has a meaning, for example the yellow is for confidence and optimism, the pink represents inner peace and harmony - one of my favourite phrases is 'in the pink' which simply means in good health. The clear quartz is for clarity and energy. Being an insomniac, I really need this one... The herbs too represent different elements.
My creation is currently hanging in my studio to dry, perhaps at some point I will use it as Katy described to cleanse my workspace, but for now it just looks lovely!
Abel & Cole deliver organic food boxes to your door. And I can thoroughly recommend the gluten free chocolate torte...
Advocate of wild baking and 'lets just throw this steak on the charcoal', an experience to remember and a fire pit added to the garden wishlist. Thank you to Tom Herbert for a delicious dinner!
Perfect for wrapping around our shoulders on what happened to be a really cold few days! These blankets were gifted by The British Blanket Co.
Although most of our retreat was hosted in the barn above - a space which is used for gatherings and events - we were treated to a tour of the reserve and stayed overnight in the various huts. I shared the Damson with Catherine Frawley, although tricky to capture in a photograph the hut is fully equipped with a double bed, a second fold out bed, a kitchen with oven/hob/sink and all the accessories you may need. Behind the kitchen is a shower room too. There is a bath outside if bathing al fresco appeals to you and the hut has its own boiler which supplies hot water and even heats the hut.
The view from the glazed wall is over the reserve. We watched countless birds and hares move from one side of the track to the other. Actually it was something of a wildlife highway outside our window!
The Damson - pictured above - and a few of the other huts pictured below. The weather wasn't great while we were there so I haven't any photos of the nature reserve to share. But it is full of birds. The Marsh Harriers made a big impression on me - even from a distance they are huge!
Currently undergoing a major renovation, the old farmhouse will ultimately be added to the portfolio of accommodation at Elmley Nature Reserve. But actually I kind of loved it in its current state! I'll just share these few photos for now though. Proving, in my mind at least, that everything does indeed look better with magnolia. Me included.
And, for the record, I find 'serious face' really hard to wear for photos...
The whole experience was wonderful, a retreat from the everyday with an amazing group of women and inspiring brands - every one of them.
If you take one thing from this post, let it be this.
Small steps can make a big difference, not only to the brands you buy from, but to the people they in turn support. Think a little about the brands you choose and read into what they represent. I myself have owned and run small businesses for over a decade, so can honestly say from experience that each client really does make a difference. And as a customer you will be dealing with people who care rather than a sometimes faceless corporation who simply seem to chase the money.
Please shop/stay/support small whenever you can!
My place at the retreat was a gift and I am not being paid to share this with you. In an age of influencers and social media marketing, as always, I want to be transparent about the content I share with you.