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Made in Cumbria: Profiting from design

Hand Knitting Machine

The best businesses adapt to survive and prosper, and Hesta Scene is a good example of an enterprise that evolved in the face of change.

Julie Coghlan moved to Cumbria from Cheshire in 1994 when her husband, Pearse, landed a job with what was then UCB Films at Wigton.

Julie CoghlanThe couple bought a cottage in Caldbeck and Julie started what was, literally, a cottage industry making dough dollies – painted figures of sculpted animals made from salt dough.

She said: “They were really fashionable. I made them in the utility room and we sold them at shows at places like Holker and Lowther.”

The business traded as the Julie Asquith Collection – Julie’s maiden name was Asquith – and it grew and diversified, making figures from plaster as well as from salt dough, and buying another business, Debbie Oram, which specialised in miniature animals.

She joined Made in Cumbria at the outset, the business support initiative now run by Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, which helps artisan Cumbrian producers grow their businesses and find new routes to market.

Julie said: “Made in Cumbria were very supportive. If I hadn’t had membership we wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of the things we did. They helped with things like liability insurance, they did promotions for us, and they got us into the Christmas fair at Brockhole and other events and trade fairs.”

It was going so well that Pearse joined her in the business.

“He did the shows while I did the making,” Julie said. “It was great. Then dough dollies went out of fashion and demand died a death.”

Design samplesHer husband retrained as a driving instructor while Julie kept the business ticking over but decided it was time to strike out in a new direction, enrolling on a contemporary applied arts degree course at Cumbria Institute of the Arts in Carlisle, soon to become part of the new University of Cumbria.

She said: “I just wanted to learn something different. It was an amazing degree course, which I never dreamed in a million years that I’d get on.”

She graduated in 2008 with a first-class honours degree.

Then chance played a part again.

“My friend Karen Kennedy had just sold a family business,” Julie explained.

“We were heading to Lowther Show and stopped off at the Raspberry Rooms in Caldbeck to buy a bottle of water. The owner said she was selling up.”

The pair seized the opportunity to launch Hesta Scene – Hesta being the Cumbrian word meaning ‘have you’ – a shop showcasing the work of new British graduates, local craftspeople, and imported Fairtrade items.

Anything from candles and diffusers to picture frames, clocks, cushions, wall art, ceramics and pottery, and Christmas decorations.

Design samplesJulie said: “I had a workshop and studio and started to design machine-knitted lambswool scarves and fashion accessories, which we make here, and running courses teaching felt making.”

The business is going from strength to strength. A new collection of scarves, inspired by 12 garden birds, is due for launch this autumn.

The scarves are sold through the shop, trade fairs and shows, online and through other retail outlets including Rheged at Penrith and the Made in Cumbria shop in Branthwaite Brow, Kendal.

As well as Julie and Karen, Hesta Scene employs Amanda Mercer and Catriona Archibald, both products of the same degree course.

And for a while it had another University of Cumbria graduate, Amanda Jane Law, on placement under the University’s Unite with Business scheme.

© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce


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