Ep 3: Establishing a creative business by the beach

In this week’s episode we meet Angela Hicks, Chief Executive of The Hive, and Clair Haycraft of Haycraft Creative. Clair, along with her husband Phil, set up their creative business in Weston, with the help of Angela and her team.

Starting out on your own business path can be daunting, but the businesses of Weston and North Somerset have a huge support in the form of The Hive. The Hive offered Clair and Phil essential  business advice, office and meeting space, plus connections to other businesses, helping them set up Haycraft Creative, now a thriving design business. 

What brought you both to Weston? 

Angela:  I moved here in 1972 because my parents relocated here from Oxfordshire. My dad got a job with export packing in Nailsea, but quickly realised he wanted to become a hotelier. So we ended up buying two hotels in Weston – one in Severn Road, one in Clarence Road North.

One was called Glenside Hotel – we lived in the attic rooms there, which was fun, and then Parkside Hotel, which was opposite Clarence Road North. That was where I spent most of my childhood.

Clair: I’ve been living in Weston for seven years and working here for four or five years. I grew up in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire. 

My husband and I were living and working in Bristol, and we wanted to buy a house for a reasonable price – Bristol prices were crazy. We knew we wanted to start a family and settle down, and we still needed to be connected to Bristol, because at the time, both of us needed to get there for work. We have family in Weston, so it just felt like the right place. The houses were a reasonable price, we were getting more countryside, which is what we wanted, and we were a bit done with city life.

So you’re actually working here now, you’re not having to do that commute. You’re part of the Bristol mass exodus that is happening more and more.

Clair: Exactly. After coming back off maternity leave, it started with me working in Weston, bringing in our own clients. Phil was still commuting to Bristol and now we’ve set up the business together.

Angela : The quality of life, not just the housing – it’s great.

Clair: Absolutely. It is great. We’ve been so much happier here. 

So, tell me about The Hive. Describe it, what services does it offer? 

Angela : The Hive is a not-for-profit organisation with a social purpose and we provide business advice and training to people that want to start up in business – not only in Weston, but across North Somerset. 

We provide office space and meeting space. We’ve got some easy-in, easy-out office space that allows people not to have to take on big leases, people can just use this for meetings if they’re working from home but want to come to a more professional environment. 

We try to connect businesses with each other and people that can help them, for example The Growth Hub, the Weston-super-Mare Chamber of Commerce and North Somerset Council, anybody that’s going to help their business be successful.

I always think of The Hive as being a place for startups and innovation. What kind of interesting businesses have you had come through the doors?

Angela : One of the first businesses we helped back in the 80s is a guy who was living in a bedsit. He was a real scooter enthusiast and was writing a newsletter to distribute, and we helped him move that forward. He set up a scooter magazine, which he then sold. He was very successful. We have a ‘churn’ of people that start with us and then find their way and move on.

We’ve got another guy at The Hive and he’s a really interesting local character because he’s worked for the police, the Red Cross, the Deputy Prime Minister’s office. He helps with contingency if there’s a big emergency – he was working on Grenfell and similar situations abroad. 

Clair Haycraft

Clair, you are one of those success stories, tell us about your business, what do you offer and who are your clients? 

Clair: My husband Phil and I co-run Haycraft Creative – we share the workload, the parenting, the finances and the free time. 

We work with SMEs and nationwide organisations inside and outside the public sector, on a range of creative projects that span print, digital animation and illustration. One of our superpowers is that we’re able to break quite complex ideas down and make them engaging and simple to understand, so that’s why a lot of our clients like us – they like to give us lots of information and then we turn it into something that’s easy, clear and interesting.

One of our clients is Bidfood – we’ve done their employee brand identity and employee engagement. They’re very focused on health, wellness and diversity, so we’ve illustrated these people – characters that represent the workforce. 

We’ve worked with the National Trust, designing their first plastic-free membership card and letter. We’ve been doing the brand identity for As It Should Be, which is a relatively new Digital Accessibility business, run by Jon Gibbons, and he’s the first B Corp in North Somerset. We’d like to attract more clients like him.

And how long have you been doing all of this?

Clair: The business has changed a lot over the years. It started off supporting me as a freelancer, working in design agencies in Bristol. Then, after coming back off maternity leave, I started to work part time, just bringing in small projects here and there. 

Phil’s company closed during Lockdown 2020 and we’d always spoken about doing something together, and we just thought, if we don’t do it now, we’re never going to. Two and a half years in, we’ve been growing things and it’s been good.

Tell me about your relationship with The Hive. How have they supported you?

Clair: The Hive has helped us more than Angela realises. When I first came back off maternity leave, I sent a speculative email out, trying to do some design work for them. Angela called me and she was a really kind, reassuring voice. I felt a bit lost at the time, I knew I didn’t want to be trekking into Bristol all the time, working for agencies, I wanted to start bringing in our own clients and I didn’t know how to start. She just was really calm and said they were there to help if needed.

I then had a meeting with Liz, who’s one of their advisors, and she had some really useful advice and really hammered home the importance of a business plan. Then a few years later, after all the lockdown madness, we went and met Rob, the building’s manager, and he showed us around the building and he showed us an office space and we thought, we have to have this! That was over two years ago now.

We’re now working with Angela and The Hive on their quarterly networking events, the Hive Business Club. 

the hive weston super mare
The Hive

What is great about Weston as a place to work from? 

Angela: I’ve been working in what is now The Hive since 1987, and I think it’s such a great place for so many reasons. One reason that really stands out is the sense of community. People here love to support and help others, I’ve certainly experienced that over my 36 years of working here.

I’ve had nothing but support and people that want to try and make the place better, make the place a success. 

Clair: Our life is better since living and working in Weston – better than it was when we were in Bristol – it feels like there’s room to breathe here. We have a miniscule commute, our son’s school is really close by and it’s such a good school. There are some really great primary schools here. 

If we need to get away from our desk, we can just head to the beach for a coffee or a spot of lunch in Weston town centre. Also, because The Hive itself is very close to Junction 21, our clients are actually really happy to come and visit us there because they can go out for a little social afterwards and head to the beach. 

Angela : I think the fact we’ve got world class acts being brought in by Culture Weston and Theatre Orchard makes for a really lovely environment. I love the air, the light and the sea. I find the rise and fall of the sea just really fascinating – it’s the second highest tide in the world.

What other important aspects of the town can small businesses get involved in apart from networking, in Weston?  

Angela: Support the cultural activities – whether you want to become a volunteer or just go and support the events. There are things like the Business Club, Weston Business Women, there’s the Chambers of Commerce supporting the local independents – we have a lot of independents in the high street and surrounds.

Businesses can use local suppliers wherever possible, and get involved in all of the rich cultural stuff that’s going on, I think that can reap a lot of rewards for small businesses.

Clair: There are other workspaces like The Stable, and We Are Super and this is really great because it means there are plenty of like-minded business owners around, and because of the town size, it’s not too big, not too small, so there’s a lovely feeling of community and support, and people do just want to help each other. It’s not difficult to get involved with things, there are people open to it all over the place, it’s just about getting out there and meeting them.

Is there anything else that you have found useful and important working with the Hive/in Weston for you and your business that you haven’t already mentioned? 

Clair: It’s easier than Bristol because it’s a magical size. Weston is not too intimidating and also, in our industry, there are so many creative businesses, it’s easy to feel lost in the ocean of different amazing creative businesses. And here you can be unique, you can stand out and you can find like-minded people. 

Angela: The Hive set up about 100 businesses every year, there’s so many small businesses in Weston and North Somerset in particular. I think 97% of all businesses are below ten employees and smaller. That’s what builds that sense of community, because people are looking to their local community for work, leisure, all of their needs.

Clair: We used to live in the Bedminster/Southville area in Bristol, and I would work in Westbury-on-Trym or Clifton and to avoid driving, I’d be cycling, walking or getting the bus – you’ve got to allow 45 minutes at least to get to work when you’re living in the city. So the commutes here are brilliant, and the cycle paths are great as well.

What’s great about living in Weston? 

Angela: I love the fact that we’ve got two piers. I know Birnbeck needs some attention, but I just think it’s an amazing piece of architecture and history and I love that. I spent many happy times on that pier in my formative years, going to watch punk bands. The Grand Pier is fantastic – the fact that you can walk along those planks and see the sea underneath.

I’m going to correct you a little bit. We’ve got three piers. Revo Kitchen also got pier status!

Angela : Revo is a beautiful place to go sit and have a drink and watch the sunset. 

Also places like the Woods, Worlebury Woods. I love walking up there, and I used to live up on the hillside, and come home from work and walk up the steps into this ancient woodland. I love all the parks and Monks Steps on Worlebury Hill – that’s a really special little place, Anchor Head – used to be my go-to after work. All these great spaces where you can see the light and the sunsets – it’s that perfect blend.

Clair: It’s your leisure shopping, but then the open space in the countryside is all on our doorstep.

What’s an interesting fact that people outside of Weston may not know about?  

Angela : I love the (Guglielmo) Marconi fact. 126 years ago he sent the world’s first radio message across water from Weston. They were experimenting here, using Steep Holm and Brean Down and that experiment saved so many lives. It fits with our tech history as well.

Clair:  I think people outside of Weston probably don’t know about the Iron Age hillfort that overlooks Weston Bay and the Bristol Channel. It’s a nice easy route through Worlebury Woods and it’s a really special spot and worth the walk. 

That’s also a very good place to take dogs. So what do you do when you’re not working?

Angela :  I love walking – I’ve got a little Border Terrier and I love seeing him scampering around. I’ve just recently taken up painting, which I’m finding really therapeutic. I can’t multitask when I’m painting, so I’m finding it really meditative and lovely. 

Clair: The five and a half year old keeps me busy when I’m not working. Lots of board games and bike rides and trips to the playground. But I do try and fit in a bit of social. I regularly meet friends for dinner and drinks in Weston, try and get out for a run when I can. I did the Christmas Cracker the year before last and might attempt it this year.

What are your favourite places to eat in Weston?

Clair: We mix it up, I don’t get out that much, so there’s not a regular yet, but I would say Meze Mazi is one of my favourites. A Greek mezze restaurant with delicious small plates and lovely atmosphere. For a special occasion, Michelangelo’s without fail – such good service, all the family are happy, it’s a lovely atmosphere, lovely staff. Thai Lime Leaves is also another good one for a Thai meal.

Angela :  I love Michelangelo’s as well. I like The Old Thatched Cottage (one of the oldest buildings in Weston), I love the refurb that they’ve done, and what they’ve done to the outside. It’s made such a big difference. It was good before, but it’s fantastic now. Also Bistrot Pierre and the quirky roundness of that restaurant. 

Duets is also a lovely romantic place to go for date night. The food is amazing. The Thatched Cottage is just lovely – to sit outside when they’ve got the heaters on and you can watch the sunset while surrounded by little fires, that’s really cool.

What’s your favourite place for a coffee?

Angela: I love Dr Fox’s Tearoom on Knightstone and sitting in Grove Park and going to Sprout. I love that little place.

Clair: Sprout as well.

Becky: Sprout is one of two vegan places in Weston. We’ve got Sprout and we’ve got Loves – they have the same owner, the lovely Anna. Are you both vegan or do you just like Sprout because of its location? 

Angela: I love vegan food. I’m not vegan, but their food is amazing. I had a sort of ‘apple pie’ and it was exquisite, probably the most delicious thing I’ve ever had in my life. I love Anna’s ethos and what she does in the town. Sprout is in a gorgeous location.

That might be an unexpected thing with Weston, we’re very vegan-friendly. What about your favourite shop in Weston?

Angela: I love Walker & Ling for the nostalgia of it and the fact that it’s got a modern twist now. 

I hated sewing at school and we used to have to go and get our sewing patterns from there and they used to have this amazing range of sewing patterns and wools and threads. So even though I hated sewing, I always loved going there.

I love department stores and I think having a lovely family-run department store on the high street is amazing. The stuff they’ve done to their frontage and they’re just so positive as well. 

I love the chocolate shop, Christopher’s House, what’s not to love about that? 

I love Vintage Abs as well, because I get all my kids (they’re in their 20s) Christmas presents there – it’s got really cool vintage clothes.

You can find out more about Walker & Ling, in our interview with owner Sam Walker – catch up on that podcast here or read the blog.

Clair: We are in MT Games quite a lot, my son loves scouring the second hand toys in there, lots of Transformers and secondhand Lego. Good collectors items as well – it’s not just for children. Walker & Ling gets my vote – they’ve got a great selection of brands, Seasalt, White Stuff, Joules – it’s just a lovely shopping experience.

We also go to The Stables Games Room a lot, they’re really child-friendly.

Angela : If you’ve got somebody that’s really into gaming, that’s an amazing facility.

What’s the most underrated thing about Weston you wish people would ‘get’ because you love it?

Clair: The thriving cultural scene, it’s been really good to see it bubbling away. There wasn’t a huge amount and there’s been a real shift over the last three or four years. There have been so many amazing events thanks to Culture Weston, Weston Artspace, Loves, and probably even more that I haven’t mentioned. 

These events have done wonders for their town over the last few years. We went to Glow earlier in the year, the amazing art installation festival. We had SEE MONSTER – we went there several times. Live music at Grove Park and Weston-super-Mare’s Marine Lake thanks to Loves.

Angela: I think Theatre Orchard got the highest amount of money from the Arts Council this year of any NPO, which is amazing. And they do such fantastic work. I think they might be underrated to outsiders who are just coming to understand what Weston has got on culturally, but they’re certainly not underrated by anyone that knows them. 

I also think an underrated thing is that sense of community that we were talking about, how supportive people are of each other and how they’ll go the extra mile.

And the beach – I think the beach is really underrated. That expanse of sand is just fantastic. You’ve got to go to North Devon to get that kind of sand anywhere nearby. I think people knock the beach a bit because of the sea being a channel and the rise and fall of the tide, but I think it’s a fantastic asset.

Clair: That, paired with the fact that we’re so well connected, we’re not out on a limb somewhere. We’ve got the best of all the worlds, really.

Angela : We’ve got great train facilities, we’ve got the airport, we’ve got really good connections to the South West and London. It’s all happening in Weston.

Listen to the episode now

Find out more about The Hive 

Find out more about Haycraft Creative 

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