My new venture

I’m now conducting my marketing and copywriting business as Natter. You can find out more at www.nattercomms.com.

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I’ll hopefully have some new book news soon, which I’ll publish here.

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A quick catch up

So after promising myself I’d regularly find the time to write my blog, it has somehow been two and a half years since my last post. How has that happened? Where has the time gone? Did I go for a ride in the DeLorean without realising?

I have a tendency to feel guilty about these sorts of things, but I’m not going to beat myself up (too much!) about this. It’s not like I’ve just been sitting around, twiddling my thumbs. In fact it feels like I’ve not stopped since sitting down to write the last post.

My little family expanded at the end of 2015 with the addition of our second child, ensuring my heart and hands are both consistently full. He is now a toddler, who somehow learnt to scale any piece of furniture before he could walk, and my daughter, who inspired my self-employed journey, is due to start school this year.

To accommodate the additional person, the second half of last year was largely taken up with the search for, purchasing and then moving into, our forever home. We completed a week before Christmas and while I’m sad to see the back of the first house we bought and lived in as a family, it feels like we are at the start of something very exciting.

I can’t imagine 2017 being any calmer, or more sedate, than the whirlwind that has been the last few years, but that’s OK with me. I like the chaos, the tenderness, the challenges and the warmth, that my life is filled with at the moment. Getting the chance to sit and twiddle my thumbs would be welcomed too though, just for a minute!

 

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My top tips for the self-employed

Starting out as self-employed has been one of the best moves I have ever made, but it has been a steep learning curve at times.  I thought I’d share some of the key things I have learnt for anyone out there who may find it helpful.

Promote yourself as a business

Promoting myself was one of the things I initially struggled with the most.   I decided to use my own name for my company name to aid recognition, but didn’t realise the issues this would create for me.  I’m used to promoting things – events, projects, businesses – but at first it felt really uncomfortable and contrived to promote myself.  I have never enjoyed being centre of attention, and blush horribly if I feel the spotlight turning my way.  It actually took a friend questioning why I couldn’t take my own advice, after I’d been giving her some tips on how to promote the family business, to help me understand I had been approaching it with the wrong mind-set.  I came to realise that I was thinking how do I promote myself without sounding like I love myself, when what I should be saying is look at these fantastic services I can provide for you.  If, like me, you begin to struggle when it comes to promoting yourself remember it’s not you as a person that you are selling, it’s the business you have set up.

Have a retreat to work in

I’ve already written a blog post about how important I think it is to have a dedicated workspace if you are going to work from home, but in my opinion it is that crucial I’m reiterating it again!  It doesn’t need to be anywhere fancy.  Just somewhere you can go, get into the right frame of mind to focus on your work, and not have to worry about being interrupted, or about people moving your things.  Even if your chosen profession means you have to work all over the place (or you just enjoy doing so), having a personal space at home where you can do your admin and keep your paperwork together is still important.

Make your connections work for you

I could have used the term network here, but I don’t like the mental image it conjures up for me.  The term is too structured, too formal.  Instead think of it as talking to as many people about what you are doing as possible.  You never know where your next client will come from, and so far I have got the majority of my business this way.  In addition I’ve managed to get my clients some great opportunities too.  So dust off that address book, scroll through your social media friends, take note of who you see each day, and have a think about what opportunities may lie with each of them.

Be strict with your time

Changing from working to someone else’s timetable and attending work at specific times, to being your own boss and working when you like, is extremely liberating.  It is a massive benefit to working for yourself and one of the main reasons I decided to go it alone.  The thing is it is also quite a tough thing to do if you are not used to it.  I had a head start in many ways as I studied for my masters degree by distance learning, so got used to having to exercise my self-discipline.  I give myself set times to work, based on a weekly timetable, and stick to it as far as possible.  Of course I may move a session – that’s the sole traders prerogative – but I always endeavour to fit it in at a different time that week.  This is easier when you are doing work for clients, especially when there is a deadline, but don’t forget to include time to do your admin and to promote your business too.

I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more as I continue on this journey, and that’s one thing that makes it so exciting.  I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences too.  What have you learnt since setting up your own business?  Do you have useful tips to share?

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What to do in Nottingham over the Easter weekend

So a lovely, long bank holiday weekend looms ahead, but how best to spend that time? Here is my pick of what to do. It just so happens they mainly seem to involve food and drink, but I’m sure I’ll still find time to eat a ton of chocolate.

Friday

Homemade at the Forest Recreation Ground

Homemade has recently opened their third café in the pavilion on the Forest Recreation Ground, and from the pictures I’ve seen on their Facebook page it looks amazing.  I know it isn’t really a special Easter event, but I had to include it in my list as I can’t wait to go, and I figured the laziness of a bank holiday weekend is the perfect time to.  For those of you that don’t know Homemade, they are a set of lovely independent cafes that serve delicious food, and cakes that are to die for.  If you can’t make it to the Forest, there’s always the Pelham Street one, or the one in Sherwood.

Saturday

Taste in the Park

When the weather is nice I think you can’t beat wandering around a street market, eating food, having a drink and listening to some live music. This event, organised by Nottingham StrEAT, promises to be a family event with a focus on local businesses and talent.  It is going to be in the gorgeous Park Estate, tucked behind Nottingham Castle, and will be on from 12-6pm.  I’ve been following them on twitter for a while now, and the variety of stalls they have been tweeting about has got me really quite excited.  You can see the full list of who will be there here.  It’s going to be the first of a series of monthly events, so fingers crossed it’s good enough to keep us going back all through the summer.

Record Store Day

Record Store Day was originally started in the USA in 2007 to celebrate independent records shops and the music that they promote.  It was taken up by the UK’s independent record stores soon after, and Saturday will see the seventh celebration.  There isn’t a huge amount going on in Nottingham compared to some other cities, but anything that promotes Nottingham’s independent businesses is, in my mind, well worth supporting.  There will be live music and DJ’s all day at The Music Exchange, plus they will be stocking loads of exclusives especially for this event.  In the evening they are then partnering up with Leftlion to put on a Record Store Day party at Nottingham Contemporary with even more live music.  For more information you can visit the national Record Store Day website here, the Nottingham Record Store Day facebook page here, and Leftlion’s overview of what’s on here.

Sunday

Melting Pot: Hyson Green’s Food and Culture Festival

This event, held at the New Art Exchange, is actually going to be taking place on both the Saturday and the Sunday of the Easter weekend.  It’s a celebration of the diversity of Hyson Green, showcasing the different food, music, art and culture the area has to offer. You can find out more about it here.  For the first few years after moving to Nottingham I lived around Hyson Green and Forest Fields, and I have always loved the vibrant mix of cultures that can be seen in the area, so I’m looking forward to this.

‘All Hail The Ale’ Festival at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem

If bank holiday Sunday’s are good for anything it’s enjoying a cheeky tipple without having to worry about work the next day.  As if answering our calls Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem is holding a real ale and cider festival over the whole bank holiday (it actually runs until Wednesday).  The only information I can find on it is on the Experience Nottinghamshire website, but how much do you really need to know?

Monday

Papplewick Pumping Station in Steam

Despite having wanted to go since I moved to Nottingham, I’ve never been to Papplewick Pumping Station.  It’s not that I haven’t tried, it just wasn’t a very successful trip as it wasn’t open when I did.  I later found out that the Victorian water pumping station is manned entirely by volunteers, and so is only open on Sundays for a couple of hours, as well as when they set it in action on special steam days.  This Sunday and Monday are steam days so I’m determined, rain or shine, to finally go and have a look.  It only gets cranked into action eight times a year so I feel you need to make the most of it while you can.

If any of this isn’t for you, but you still feel like doing something, fear not as there is loads more on.  You could try looking at the what’s on guides of the Experience Nottinghamshire, Nottingham City Council, or It’s In Nottingham websites.  Whatever you decide to do I hope you have a great time, and the weather holds out for us all.

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Britain Does Vintage, Nottingham

I’m sorry to say that I blew my budget a bit last weekend.  I’m going to use the fact it was my birthday on Sunday as an excuse, but in reality I think it had more to do with how much I bought at the Britain Does Vintage event at the Nottingham Playhouse on Saturday.

When I go to retail events I always set myself a limit to spend, normally by making sure I only have that much cash on me.  It stops any out-of-control impulse buying.  Well that’s the idea anyway.

Shoppers at Britain Does Vintage, Nottingham

Shoppers at Britain Does Vintage, Nottingham

The thing is, on Saturday I had set myself a budget of zero.  I went to Britain Does Vintage with the single intention of going to have a look around, as I had missed it last time it was on.  I was going out the next day for my birthday, and knew I’d be spending a fair amount, so wanted to save my money for then.

Despite purposely going with a purse full of shrapnel, I still managed to buy three necklaces and a belt.  I just borrowed money off my friend instead.  So much for my good intentions.

More things I wanted to buy at Britain Does Vintage!

More things I wanted to buy at Britain Does Vintage!

The problem was that there were too many pretty things. Everywhere I turned there was something I wanted to buy.  It wasn’t that I was particularly in a shopping or frivolous mood either.  The quality of the stalls at the fair was exceptional and, for me, there was the perfect balance of clothes, jewellery, trinkets and other accessories.  At most vintage fairs I find that many of the stalls sell similar things, and once I’ve looked at a couple I get a bit bored so stop looking.  At Britain Does Vintage the stalls were all really varied, and complemented each other very well.

The ones that particularly stood out for me were;

Pretty Old Stuff

Pretty Old Stuff

Jewellery by Pretty Old Stuff

This was the first stall we visited when we got to the fair, and straight away I knew my good intention of not spending anything was going out of the window. Pretty Old Stuff sells a lovely selection of handmade jewellery, much of it using cogs and watch mechanisms, and has some pieces were really unusual.  I ended up buying two necklaces from this stall, including one that had a pendant featuring an old stamp (postmark and all) displayed in a tiny frame.

The Forgotten Library

The Forgotten Library

Amazing things to buy by The Forgotten Library

It may be down to the fact that I am an absolute bookworm, but this stall had some of the most striking handmade, gift-type items I have seen to buy in a while. All of the things on The Forgotten Library’s stall were made using old books, magazines, travel tickets and other paper items. There were hair pins with small sections of a book page as the decoration, bookmarks made out of old airplane recognition cards and, my favourite, clocks made out of books.

Walton Witts Asian Vintage

Clothes Stalls at Britain Does Vintage

According to their Facebook page Walton Witts source their clothing from around Asia.  I personally couldn’t have guessed that was where it came from, but regardless of that they had some lovely items.  My friend was on the lookout for a dress to wear to a wedding that night and ended up coming away with two from this stall. The dresses were really pretty and reasonably priced at £20.  If I wasn’t spending all the cash she had bought with her I think she would have come away with a couple more.

Two Penny Lane

Jewellery by Two Penny Lane

This was another stall selling beautiful handmade jewellery. Two Penny Lane’s website describes the jewellery as being inspired by dolls houses and fairy tales, which is a perfect description of what I saw. There were Alice in Wonderland themed necklaces, miniature knife and fork earrings, and brooches of miniature musical instruments. I came away with a pendant necklace with tiny silk flowers set in resin – one of the less quirky items for sale, but beautiful and delicate like the others.

Betsy’s Button Shop

Betsy's Button Shop

Betsy’s Button Shop

One stall that really stood out for me, more for being a great idea to have at a vintage fair rather than for wanting to buy lots from it, was Betsy’s Button Shop. This stall sold buttons, lace, ribbon, and other materials that you could use to create and customise vintage things yourself.  They even sold packs of material in bundles for people to make their own bunting.  It was fantastic to see something a bit different there, and judging from the small crowd around it, it proved very popular with everyone else too.

In addition to the stalls there was also a workshop offering free taster sessions to learn how to make a button posy.  This was run by The H0use That Buttons Built, and again looked very popular.  Every time I passed it was full, so unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to have a go myself.

Jayne Darling Vintage Singer

There was also live music performances  throughout the day.  I was lucky enough to hear Jayne Darling singing.  She had an amazing voice, looked fantastic, and provided the perfect atmosphere to sit and enjoy some cake in the customary vintage tea room.

The fair was spread across all three floors of the Playhouse, though apparently this is one of the smaller ones that Britain Does Vintage do. I was really surprised to find out how many fairs they run and how much of the country they cover. You can see the full listing on their website.  There isn’t another Nottingham one listed for this year, but I’m quite tempted to make a day trip out of it, and go to one of the ones in Lincoln or York.

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Sneak Preview of 48 Hours of Fashion, Nottingham

Last night I was lucky enough to attend a sneak preview of 48 Hours of Fashion 2014.

The event is one that is close to my heart as it is organised by the Nottingham Business Improvement District, and I was involved in last year’s event before I went on maternity leave.

It is on today and tomorrow (29th-30th March), so if you have any spare time this weekend head down to Old Market Square and take a look.  You can’t miss the massive marquee!  Inside there will be fashion shows taking place hourly throughout the weekend, which are free to watch.

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The shows aren’t your standard catwalk shows with models strutting up and down.  They incorporate dancers, music, and large screen projections of Nottingham to turn it into a real performance.  You almost forget you are sat in the middle of the Square.  There are also going to be various master classes held on the catwalk throughout the weekend, so it will be worth stopping in a couple of times to see what’s on.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a very fashionable person, and tend to buy clothes that I like over what is deemed stylish.  My favourite thing about this event is that it doesn’t tell you how to dress, it shows you what Nottingham retailers have to offer.  I think we’re really lucky to have such an eceletic mix of shops for such a small city centre, it’s one of the reasons I love living here.

2014-03-28 20.35.15As a new addition to the event this year they have launched a 48 Hours of Fashion charity t-shirt.  It was designed by a local young designer, Charlie Taylor, as part of a competition, and all proceeds go to the Maggie’s Centre at Nottingham City Hospital.  The t-shirt features a beautiful drawing of the profile of a woman, and can be bought from Wild Clothing on Broad Street in Hockley, or at the Marquee.

As well as what is taking place in Old Market Square some retailers have put on special events for the weekend, or will be giving customers a glass of bubbly while they shop.  A full list of everything that is taking place can be found on the It’s In Nottingham website.

Shops and hairdressers across the city centre have also got involved by putting on some great special offers for the weekend. If you’re going to buy anything this weekend make sure you have one of the voucher leaflets first.  Plus there are more offers, including food and drink ones, on their website.

2014-03-29 09.10.57All in all, it just seems like the perfect reason to shop!

 

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The art of juggling whilst holding a baby

Apologies for the delay in publishing my latest blog post – I know it is not an excuse but I’ve been really busy!

It’s been all go at the Stevens HQ since my last post.  My freelance work is really taking off now, and I’ve been busy squirreling away at a couple of projects.  We’ve also got some house renovations coming up that have required shopping to be done, suppliers to be found, and decisions to be made.  Plus that’s all on top of being the main carer for a baby that seems to have all of her teeth coming through at the same time.

All this has required me to really think about my time management skills, and to make sure I utilise every part of my day in the best possible way.

In all honesty I think the toughest part of it all has been the fact my baby wants to be held a lot and isn’t sleeping as much as normal.  Managing my time is so much easier when I know I will have a set amount of time, at a certain time of day, to get on with things uninterrupted.  Instead I have had to rely on friends and family keeping baby entertained, while I get my head down in my office.

For me my office is the key thing to working from home.  Having a space where you can retreat to, where the rest of the world ceases to exist, and it is just you and whatever you need to get on with your work (plus possibly something to nibble on!).

The office doesn’t need to be anything special.  Mine is our spare room/dumping ground, so I share it with a futon and the Christmas decorations.  It just needs to be a quiet space where you can have some time uninterrupted.

Don’t be afraid to set rules about your office.  Ask your family not to disturb you while you are in there if you need to.  Insist that no one else goes in there to “borrow” anything, as things will go missing and papers will be messed up.  You need to be able to go in there and get on, not clear a space and set everything up each time you use it.

I always try to tell my husband how long I expect to be working for each time I head to my office.  That way he knows how long it will be before he sees me so can judge whether he needs to disturb me if anything happens.

By saying how long I will be in the office for it also gives me a pre-determined length of time in my head of how long I need to concentrate for, which in turn stops me from procrastinating.  After all my little haven of an office provides me with a lot, but it’s useless if I’m not strict with myself!

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Lou Lou’s Vintage Fair, Nottingham

Lou Lou's Vintage Fair, Nottingham

On Sunday I went to bag myself some vintage goodies at Lou Lou’s Vintage Fair, which was being held at The Albert Hall, Nottingham.

According to their website Lou Lou’s Vintage Fair is the leading vintage fair for the UK and winner of ‘Best Vintage Fair in the UK’. They currently organise fairs at 39 different locations around the UK, plus vintage wedding fairs in addition to this. All this expertise really had me raring to go, and I was quite excited by the time the fair came around.

You don’t have to be a fashion expert (which I most definitely am not!) or a cool kid (even more not me!) to know that vintage has been becoming more and more popular over the last few years. News articles back in 2012, like this one from the BBC and this one from the Guardian, were already questioning when the popularity bubble of the vintage scene was going to pop, but it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere yet. In fact from what I have seen it is still going from strength to strength, with vintage style cafes and beauty-salons now popping up everywhere. Plus when it comes to clothes, more and more businesses are creating new pieces styled on classic vintage designs, often adding a new twist to make their items really unique.

Now it would seem that not all vintage is, well, vintage.

2014-02-09 14.51.51I was hoping to find some of these newly-made clothing retailers at the fair, as sometimes I find vintage fairs and shops a bit like a charity shop that has been a bit over-zealous with the pricing. You may criticise me in choosing style over substance – and this is one occasion you can actually say that about me – but I’m not one to buy any old piece of clothing in the name of buying something vintage. I want something a bit different, something that fits properly and most of all something that looks good. I am not too bothered about the age of it either way.

Unfortunately there weren’t any new clothing retailers, however, the second-hand retailers that were there did have some lovely bits so I didn’t stay disappointed for long. I had to put quite a few dresses back on the rack or my baby would have been without nappies for the month, but it was a close choice at times! There was a nice, wide selection of clothes, and it was good to see a big selection of things for men too.

2014-02-09 14.53.45As good as the dresses were, it was the jewellery that nearly undid me. There was a lot of jewellery and other trinkets, e.g. compacts. Some of it vintage in the traditional sense of the word and some vintage styled new pieces, but lots of really gorgeous bits. I could have spent a small fortune. One particularly good stall was Madame Cherry, which was full of beautiful, and some quite unusual, pieces of jewellery.

I was genuinely surprised by the high level of the majority of the stock, though that is not to say there were no questionable items there. I guess it is all a matter of taste.

In addition to the clothes and jewellery, there was also a lady doing fantastic things to people’s hair for a small fee. I wasn’t convinced you could have even got a brush through mine after getting caught in the wind earlier, so I steered clear, but from what I saw her do to other people she was a master of her art!

The location of the Albert Hall was perfect for the fair. It is in the city centre and close to all the transport links so was easy to get to. For those that had driven there was ample on-street parking around the venue, which on a Sunday (as long as you park in the right zone) is a £1 flat rate for the day.

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It is a beautiful building, and the architecture really lent itself to the atmosphere of the event. Plus with the high ceilings in the main room you didn’t feel boxed in at all by the rails of clothing as can sometimes be the case. They also had some stalls selling homewares and collectables set up in the foyer, along with a larger stall selling hot drinks and baked goods with a seating area, which meant you weren’t confined to one room.

By the time we got around to the refreshment stall though they had unfortunately sold out of all the baked goods except for a few cookies. With another hour left before the fair closed we thought we had better leave before the riot started due to the lack of cake.

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The importance of wedding fairs

At the weekend I met up with a lovely bride-to-be to discuss the initial ideas for her wedding.  She has only recently got engaged and is now in the process of formulating an idea of how she would like her big day to look and feel.

2014-01-26 13.19.38For me, this is one of the most exciting times when organising a wedding. I love the amount of variation available, and it allows me to get to know the couple quite rapidly by finding out about their tastes and preferences. For the happy couple though, this can be completely overwhelming.

I always advise couples to take their time with this stage of planning if they can. It is important to understand what options are available to you from the beginning. This will help you to avoid changing your mind at the last minute, or even worse, once it is too late.

Doing as much research as you can to find out what is out there will help feed into the natural development of a wedding that truly represents you and your partner. Sometimes couples like a lot of what they see, or favour different options, but it is also important to take note of what you both don’t like. Through this process of selection and elimination an overarching theme for the day will emerge. Subsequent decisions can then be made to fit the feel of the day, which can be really useful when you can’t agree or don’t have a preference on something.

There are many ways to look for ideas, suppliers and inspiration for your wedding and I would recommend using as many of them as you can. There are a multitude of websites, online directories, and magazines available, or you can use sites like pinterest to see what other people are doing. Plus of course venues and suppliers will often have their own website so a good old internet search will bring up plenty of collateral for you to look through.2014-01-26 13.53.06

The common drawback with all of the above ways however is that you can only see images, or video if you are lucky, of everything, and it involves you trawling through hundreds of options which can be rather time-consuming. It is because of this I hold wedding fairs in such high esteem. Many are free to attend, and they allow you to see and feel (and sometimes taste!) a whole host of ideas. Plus you get to talk to a variety of suppliers face to face, and get an instant answer to any questions you have.

Wedding fairs come in all shapes and sizes, and generally occur between January and March, and September and November. Most venues that hold weddings will also hold at least one wedding fair a year and will have local suppliers exhibiting. Plus larger fairs take place at exhibition centres (for example the NEC) throughout the year, that will have larger, national suppliers. You normally have to pay an entrance fee at these.

If you have a venue in mind for your wedding (or several you can’t choose between!) and they are holding a wedding fair I would highly recommend that you try to attend.  During wedding fairs, venues are often partially set up as they would be for a wedding allowing you a glimpse of what the venue could look like for your day. Visit at any other time and there is no guarantee how the venue will be set up, as it will depend on what event they happen to have on. They may have a gorgeous function room, but it can be hard to imagine it filled with people and laid out for a wedding reception when it is set up for a conference.

In addition, the suppliers you meet at a wedding fair are often ones that have worked at that venue before. This means they will know how to get the best out of the venue. For example, a photographer will know where the best locations are to get the most flattering shots. This is not a definitive reason for why you should go with a supplier, but is something useful to consider when making a decision.   2014-01-26 13.20.54

I rarely leave a wedding fair without feeling excited about something I haven’t seen before, whether it is a new cake design, a new idea for entertainment, or even a venue I haven’t visited or thought of previously. When I met the bride I mentioned earlier, the date of our meeting coincided with a wedding fair at the Poppy and Pint in Lady Bay, so we took the opportunity to go there before sitting down to talk details. I hadn’t been to the Poppy and Pint before, and was really surprised by how lovely the function room is. It is a medium-to-small sized room but it has windows along two opposing walls making it light and airy. There is a stage at one end and a bar at the other. The food being served in the pub downstairs looked delicious too.  All this, coupled with the pub’s proximity to the Rushcliffe Registry Office, make it an ideal place for a wedding reception.

The wedding fair was small as you would expect for a venue this size, but still gave us the opportunity to talk to someone who made wedding cakes, a photographer, two ladies who worked together to provide hair and make up services, a DJ and a pianist, a magician and someone who provided wedding cars. Plus we were given a goodie bag (and a glass of bubbly!) on arrival with more useful suppliers details in.

2014-01-26 13.19.15I was really glad I had met the bride-to-be here, it served as the perfect demonstration of how wedding fairs can be so useful. She’s now planning to go to all the wedding fairs she can, hopefully not just for the free champagne!

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Stonebridge City Farm, Nottingham

Last week my younger sister came to visit so we decided to go for a family outing to commemorate the occasion.  Without hesitation my husband suggested going to Stonebridge City Farm.  His workplace annually organise a day out of the office where the staff volunteer at a chosen local community project, and they had gone there a couple of years ago to build compost bins and fix rabbit hutches.  He had mentioned wanting to go back a few times now, but we hadn’t got around to going.

Nottingham is lucky as it has some really good farm visitor attractions within a short drive of the city.  Stonebridge, however, is within walking distance of the city centre.  Tucked away down a side street near Sneinton Market, Stonebridge City Farm really is a city farm.  I was amazed by how residential the area it is located in is.

On arriving we entered through the building where the café and offices are located as we had the urgent priority of finding a baby change unit.  We found one located by the toilets, which are next to the main office.  The facilities are basic, but clean.  There are also hand washing points around the site.

This is a good time to point out that the farm is funded through donations, any grants they can secure, and revenue from the shop, café and events that they hold.  According to their website it costs around £246,000 a year to keep the farm open, £150,000 of which they manage to raise through grants.  Despite this entrance to the farm is completely free.

The café is also basic, but light and roomy.  We had not long had lunch so didn’t purchase anything, but from what I saw other people eating the food looked nice.  The menu was surprisingly cheap too.

Venturing outside we passed the training room where they hold courses, including First Aid and Food Hygiene, available to anyone wanting to improve their C.V.  They also offer children’s parties which I’m presuming are held in this room.

My sister had cautiously worn her wellies, we were of course visiting a farm, but thankfully there are wooden walkways to follow which are firm and secure.  In fact the farm prides it’s self on being accessible to all, including those with wheelchairs.

The walkways lead between a number of small paddocks where the birds and larger animals are kept.  They included chickens, cows, goats, and ponies.  A full list of what they have can be found on the website.  We managed to miss the pigs, but it was a cold January day so they may have been sheltering somewhere.  The majority of the animals seemed friendly and came over to be stroked and fed (you can buy bags of suitable feed in the shop).  I think we were more excited by this than my 9 month old daughter, but once she realises what animals are it will be a great experience for her.

There is also a barn where rabbits, guinea pigs and a terrapin are kept.  You can pay 50p to handle the animals in here.  It was also in the barn that we got to meet some of the wonderful volunteers that work at the farm.

Much of the work done at the farm is by volunteers.  This includes supported placements for adults with disabilities.  On the website for the farm it says that through working at the farm it is hoped that the volunteers will ‘build up confidence in their abilities and increase their self-esteem.’  I can certainly say this seemed true for the volunteers we met in the barn.  They were doing daily checks on all of the animals when we entered, and they showed us what they were doing and introduced us to each animal they picked up.  It was lovely.

In additional to the animals there is also a garden you can walk around.  Here they grow all sorts of fruit and vegetables.  The wooden walkway extends around the garden, so again it is accessible to all.  Next to the garden there is a play area, with a climbing frame and see-saw.

I briefly mentioned the shop earlier.  Not only can you buy feed for the animals from the shop, you can also buy much of the produce of the farm, including honey from the farm’s bees.

Admittedly Stonebridge City Farm does not compare in size, or variety of animals, to the farms found slightly further afield, but I do not feel that is necessarily a bad thing.  The size is ideal for smaller children, enough variety to feel like they have done a lot, but without being too overwhelming or tiring to get around.  The staff and volunteers really set the place apart though.  I don’t think I have ever been anywhere else where the staff were so engaged with what they were doing and so excited to tell you about it.

I’d recommend this place for everyone to go and visit; whether as a family outing like ours, to one of the fine dining nights that they hold in the café, or just to visit the farm shop.  Regardless of why you go though, please make sure you put some money in one of the donation boxes found around the farm.  Stonebridge City Farm is too good to lose.

For more information on Stonebridge City Farm visit their website by clicking here.

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