This week we highlight the spirit of community with Ele Stevens, founder of the barefoot accountant, who provided a platform for struggling local traders.
Words Miranda Wilkinson
the barefoot accountant has always been about thinking differently, acting authentically and responding positively to change.
I qualified as an accountant back in 2006 whilst living in Edinburgh, but found I spent much of my working life trying to fit the mould of a traditional accountant – and I very clearly wasn’t that! My passion for creative arts is what drove me to set-up the barefoot accountant – professional accountancy services but delivered in a relaxed, understandable, person-centred way backed by a real passion for, and understanding of, the unique challenges of the creative industries.
Fast forward to 2020 and we have grown from a one-woman operation to a team of five kick-ass females and a fantastic shop on Redbourn High Street, in Hertfordshire; with exposed brick walls, fake grass under foot, art and beautiful bespoke meeting chairs made by a brilliant local designer.
At the beginning of this year, as the COVID-19 crisis was burgeoning across the world, we were busy in our little corner of Hertfordshire, securing and beginning to move into our new work home, just across the road from our old office. As the first Lockdown began, it was as a hugely challenging time for everyone in Britain, and also for our little team. Whilst adjusting to working from home and to home-schooling our kids, we continued to support clients in navigating their way through the new schemes available to them, understanding the maze of new government information, and helping some to find ways to survive where no governmental support was accessible. They were difficult and exhausting times, but also incredibly rewarding, as we found that our unique service and ways of working could create a little bit of calm, a little bit of hope, for our clients, despite the massive challenges COVID threw up, particularly for the creative arts and associated industries.
Notwithstanding the difficulties all around us, the business continued to grow — we managed to keep running throughout Lockdown, worked hard to remain connected as a team, and slowly but surely completed the move into our fabulous new premises. As soon as we could, the barefoot team came back together, reunited in a brand-new shared space and feeling closer than ever from battling adversity together. And piece by piece, our new home took shape; grass back on the floor, art up on the walls and our resident gnomes finally settling into their new surroundings. We, and our clients, breathed a sigh of relief.
And then the second Lockdown was announced.
This time we knew we could cope as a business but I’d seen how local non-essential shops had been hit so hard first time around and realised the devastating effect this new Lockdown could now have in the critical pre-Christmas period. The barefoot team love where we live and the range of great businesses that surround us, but I couldn’t think of how to help.
Cue Emma, one of our lovely clients who runs Cositas Gifts in St Albans who had developed an innovative method of window shopping with her brother at Fuse Innovation, which she was using at her shop whilst the business was closed. Each product displayed in her window has a corresponding QR code. Customers could scan the code and be taken directly to the product on Cositas’ online shop, where they could find out more, pay for the item and either click and collect or have it delivered locally for free.
We suddenly realised that every window could be a Cositas’ window. EVERY window could be ANY window. So I put new shelving in the inside of our windows, and created a usable window space for the display of other people’s products. This new initiative is proving very popular within the community and our local newspaper has even launched an “adopt a shop” initiative, inspired by our partnership with Emma, encouraging local accountants, solicitors and estate agents to offer up their shop windows as a promotional platform for local traders struggling through Lockdown. We’ve even had a mention on the Lauren Laverne show on Radio 6 Music (we love her!) and we’re so proud and happy to have kickstarted an initiative that we hope can spread across the country to bring businesses together and support those that are battling with the effects of COVID on their businesses and livelihoods.
In October, we also began a partnership with the Harpenden & St Albans Hygiene Bank, housing a collection point within the shop. We strongly believe in combatting hygiene poverty and knew that there wasn’t a local, convenient point for our kind community in Redbourn to make donations. The Hygiene Bank supports those in poverty in the local community through the collection and distribution of essential toiletries and personal hygiene products. People from all over the country can locate their nearest Hygiene Bank collection point, give generously if they can, and find out other ways to support this worthy cause by visiting https://linktr.ee/thehygienebank
For us, one of the most beautiful things to come out of 2020 is the reawakening of true community spirit. As a business we have always been community-focussed with an authentic desire to support, nurture and invest in people and initiatives that make a difference and this difficult year, that has been heart-breaking for so many people, has strangely provided us at the barefoot accountant to really give back, to really live what we believe in.