Storytelling is a skill as old as language itself, but Jo Mills has turned her talent and passion for storytelling into a business.
Each Thursday, at 8pm, she takes groups around the historic quarter of Carlisle on the Carlisle City Ghost Tour.
Then on Wednesday mornings in the school summer holidays she conducts the Horrid Tour featuring tales of plague, executions, public punishments, imprisonment, daring escapes, curses, raiders and grave robbers.
She also offers private tours for groups of 10 or more, and one-off tours at Christmas and Halloween.
Her business, Carvetii Storytelling – named after the Ancient British tribe that inhabited Cumbria in Roman times – began almost by accident.
She was working as a senior tourist information officer in Carlisle when the penny dropped.
She said: “People would come into the tourist information centre and ask if there were ghost doors. I thought nobody is doing a ghost tour, I’ve got experience, why don’t I do one?”
I thought nobody is doing a ghost tour, I’ve got experience, why don’t I do one?
Her experience came from a stint in Australia working as a guide at Port Arthur, a notorious 19th century penal settlement in Tasmania which is now an open-air museum and part of the Australian Convicts Site World Heritage Site.
Prior to travelling to Australia, Jo graduated in film production at Bradford University and then completed an MA in post-production editing at Bournemouth University.
She said: “I’ve always had a passion for storytelling, and the way I thought I could do that was to make films.
“Then I discovered working in Australia that I like the face-to-face interaction when you’re actually telling a story to someone.
“I enjoyed tour guiding and I wanted to continue with it when I came back to the UK. But I found it difficult to get paid work as a guide at a museum or historical site because organisations like the National Trust use volunteers.”
Although originally from Milton Keynes, Jo’s parents had moved to Carlisle and that brought her to the city when she returned from Australia in 2010.
She launched Carvetii Storytelling in 2016.
At that point she enrolled on the Business Start-Up Support (BSUS) programme run by the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub.
This offers free advice and support to new businesses including one-to-mentoring from a professional business adviser, and a place on a three-day course on starting a business.
Jo completed the start-up course and began working with Growth Hub adviser Justine Douglas, who specialises in assisting start-ups.
Jo said: “The best thing about BSUS is having an expert on hand to answer all your questions. Justine told me things I probably wouldn’t have thought of.
“She was very good at focusing me. I’m full of ideas but she helped me concentrate on what was important. She kept me on track. Knowing that I had another meeting with Justine coming up was the impetus to get stuff done.
“We worked through a business plan, and she created a template going through all the things I wanted to offer, breaking it down to the nitty gritty – how much to charge, how much do I need to charge to make it viable, how much which will I earn per hour if I charge this much.”
Jo stopped working at the tourist information centre at the end of last year.
She has taken a part-time job with English Heritage at Lanercost Priory, on an 18-month contract, which “pays the bills” while she develops Carvetii.
She said: “Now I have the time, I’m looking at how storytelling can help children struggling with literacy or creative writing.
“I plan to launch a service to schools in the autumn term.
“The tours I’ve been doing are very specific to Carlisle but the workshops I’m devising for schools could be delivered anywhere.
“The other thing I’m looking at is the festival market, particularly family-orientated folk festivals.
“The plan is to get a bell tent to create a story-telling environment. Within the tent would be a tree, with items hanging from it relating to stories. A child would pick an item from the tree and I would tell them a story about it.”
If you are thinking of starting your own business or social enterprise, then Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and our partners are here to help with a free business start-up programme to point you in the right direction.
Our comprehensive package of support includes:
- Free meetings with a business adviser to review and develop your business idea;
- Free training covering business planning and self employment, an introduction to marketing/market research and sales forecasts, promotion and sales, an introduction to planning and managing finance, taxation and bookkeeping, using the internet and social media;
- Free help to develop your business plan and get your business up and running;
- Free membership of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.
The £1.1m Business Start-up Support (BSUS) project is supporting 300 new businesses and 750 individuals to start businesses, creating 300 jobs.
For more information, call us today on 0844 257 84 50 or click here to visit the Cumbria Business Growth Hub web site.
The funding that supports the Growth Hub comes from a range of sources including Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the European Regional Development Fund, Allerdale Borough Council (Sellafield Ltd’s Allerdale SIIF, distributed by Allerdale Borough Council), Barrow Borough Council (FEDF Coastal Communities Fund Supply Chain Initiative, the Coastal Communities Fund is funded by the Government with income from the Crown Estates marine assets; it is delivered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of UK Government), Carlisle City Council, Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria LEP.
The BSUS project is receiving up to £1,112,686 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information, click here.