Blooming lovely: We step inside the whimsical world of Katie’s Garden

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Step into every vintage craft lover’s dream! Rachel Meadows set up Katie’s Garden alongside her mother about a year ago.

Owner, Rachel Meadows, said: “The business is mine and my mum’s; my sister and my youngest sister come in. Mum was a florist for about 15 years but left to bring us all up.”

Rachel was looking for a way out of teaching and heard about a business competition on the radio: “It was on Metro radio when I was driving home after a bad day and it said ‘submit your business idea in no more than 500 words’ but I didn’t have a business idea. I knew I wanted it to be a little café or something like that but didn’t know what it was.”

Rachel and her mum Kathryn submitted their idea and were hand-picked as one of 18 to pitch to virgin money which they found terrifying: “You’d think it was dragons den but it wasn’t. We went up with the tearoom idea with mismatched china, things like that, but looking back now it was all the things everybody else does and although I had so much fun, I’m glad that was the start of it and not the end. The top three went in to the public round and we were fourth which even though it was a pie in the sky idea it had really planted the seed for us.

“I don’t know where the crafts came from really, I think it’s bred into us with what I’ve done in my career and what mam’s done. I think we made a craft pack up, I can’t remember what it was but I thought this could be a really good idea, people could do this. We put in a lot of different ideas and it kind of snowballed from there. Then we did one vintage fair and people loved it!”

Katie’s Garden was later short-listed for the local business competition: “They came out to visit us. Me and my mam are very similar, we always want people to have a nice time so we will do everything to please. We gave them a nice serving of food in suitcases and we felt it was really positive when they’d been. At the event night, we knew we were up against large businesses, so for us it was terrifying, neither of us like being the centre of attention but it was really nice networking with so many people.”

The quirky, vintage tearoom won the award which was a pleasant surprise to Rachel and her family: “[The award] was lovely to come away with, and it was more important for mum as she viewed it as a hobby and did it for enjoyment. Whereas I’m thinking we could really make something of this, so I think for her it was a big boost to see that people had recognised us for whatever reasons.”

Sunderland councillor, Iain Kay, said: “As a councillor for the city centre, it is imperative to realise that having the right mix of big brand and local speciality shops is critical to a healthy retail mix.

“Small shops are the lifeblood of a strong community so I am delighted to welcome the Small Business Saturday campaign and the real benefits it will bring.”

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Katie’s Garden has a lot in store for it’s customers this winter and it has been a very positive start for the store so far.

Rachel said: “Our events are really taking off which is fab! We are fully booked now up until the first week of January when we have our turn over into Spring. We started off with a few workshops, the shabby chic side of it, with wreaths which we found at the start were brilliant but over the summer the workshops weren’t taking off and people wanted to come in and craft.

“For Christmas, we have the wreaths, centre pieces and giant gingies (giant gingerbread men) for instance that have been working really well.

“A lot of people say, ‘I’ve seen this workshop it looks really good but I’m busy that day.’ However, we want to be a business where we will give you the idea for the workshop then we want you [to decide when] to do it, as some people don’t like the idea of being on a workshop with people they don’t know.”

Rachel tries to recycle much as she can when crafting in workshops: “We use a lot of things people throw out, so we try to use just normal household items which also makes the crafting cheaper. I hate how you can see some shabby chic things and it’s about £100 for a chair and I look at that and think ‘you can get one of those and repaint it’. We want to teach people how to do it once, and then they can do it another ten times over themselves.

“I love a good charity shop hunt, we will go find boxes of things and then think what can we make out of these things and then we will just come up with an idea from whatever it is that we’ve got, which is brilliant in some ways but a massive downfall in another.

“We only have whatever the amount of things that we found to reproduce, so we only tend to make ten of every craft pack a season, so when they’re sold out they give a bespoke feel to what you’re making.

“Then, at the same time, you’ve got things that are your best sellers. Of course you want to reproduce them for more people to buy, but then for instance you found ten photo frames that were a pound in a charity shop you can’t just go and find that same thing again so what kind of makes us amazing is the thing that pulls us back in another.

“I do believe that our craft packs are starting to go in two directions; there are ones that we reproduce in mass if needed and then we have the more unique, bespoke ranges. I think the big key to having the shop is always making it achievable for people, and if things do go wrong then having every answer for correcting it.

There is much in store for Katie’s Garden’s first Christmas: “Christmas is very exciting for us with the tree changing and all of the crafts. We will keep winter in store until half term when we’re going to turn over for a Valentines theme. We’re going to bring vintage Hollywood in which will be our theme for that week and then we will change for spring. But yes we’re really looking forward to it, with it being our first winter and we’re fully booked for the majority of events so it’s lovely.

“It’s working really well! It’s about being proactive and always being ahead of yourself. At this moment in time my living room has bunny rabbit ears all over and my kitchen has autumn things that we just brought in, but it’s nice because you never get a chance to get bored. Hopefully winter will be really successful for us, we’ll see!”

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