Faced with challenges and tragedy in the past, local artist and businesswoman Gail Curry explains how her business went from small steps to award-winning in a few short years.
Tell us more about your business
My name is Gail Curry and I own and manage Happy Planet Studio & Gallery on Ilfracombe Gardens in Whitley Bay.
The business is an award-winning social enterprise gift shop and gallery, which supports a range of local and, at times, national artists, to offer a unique range of handmade goods. As well as managing the business I am an artist in my own right so wear both hats most days.
Originally the business was going to happen in New Zealand as I was due to emigrate. However, that plan fell apart, as did I, when my wife was killed in an accident. I knew from my previous career in social work that I needed structure and purpose, so I took the blue print for the business and started small.
I became an artist and taught myself to make felt on my kitchen table. I traded at fairs and markets but soon moved into our current premises in September 2016. We don’t have employees, as we are all self-employed. I do have a board of directors who are all volunteers, and they help me to keep the business moving in the right direction.
How did you come to be nominated for the Heart of Business award?
I was nominated for the Heart of the Business award by one of the directors, Chris Lisle. I think basically coming from a high-level corporate background, she was impressed at my work output in the past year. I dealt with Covid, continued to maintain our self-funding autonomy, organised, funded and managed a large community art exhibition, as well as studying with the school of social entrepreneurs and creating a body of work of my own.
People tell me they find me ‘inspirational’ or ‘remarkable’, as I don’t have speech following a violent mugging in 2019. I don’t feel either of those things, most of the time I just feel exhausted, but I love what I do, so I continue.
What does winning the award mean to you?
Winning the award encourages me to keep going and will undoubtedly help with the plans for future business development. It’s a pat on the back, not just for me but for everyone who supports my business. I think we have an especially big heart at Happy Planet. I hope it also demonstrates that working with a disability is not only possible but that I believe we set our own limits, we don’t have to be limited by those imposed on us by society.
What are you plans for the business?
Business development is never far from my mind. Covid made many things difficult but it also gave time to assess and think about the future. I have always been passionate about the use of the arts to support people’s mental health and wellbeing, so that has been central to my thinking. Last year’s community exhibition was a test, in effect, to see how well supported that sector would be, and the results were really encouraging. I am now in the process of setting up a new charitable organisation with the aim of creating a Community Arts Centre in North Tyneside.
What do you love about working in North Tyneside?
I love the people I am lucky enough to meet, work with and serve through my business. I think we are very fortunate to have both the Business Factory and the Business Forum to support small businesses and talk to people about what we need. Finally, I love the very varied landscape which offers artists a great deal of inspiration.
I’m very grateful for the steady stream of online information that the Forum has maintained over the past few years. It’s often been edited down to just give the information I would need as a business owner and saves a lot of time. I also know if I had questions or issues, I could raise them or consult my fellow business owners via social media.
Find Gail’s business on social media or visit her website at https://happyplanetstudio.co.uk/