This week we talk with Tracey Pitt of Ballara Boards about her innovative use of oak offcuts.
Words Miranda Wilkinson
My mum died at the beginning of March. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer on Valentine’s Day, but things spiralled quickly downhill and just over 3 weeks later, she passed away. Then Lockdown happened. We were suddenly flung into this strange no man’s land, trying to organise her funeral, while businesses were shut, rules were changing daily, and people were isolating. It was heart-breaking and devasting; everyday a new obstacle to deal with and not able to give her the send-off she truly deserved.
Then, like everyone we were stuck at home. I felt numb and grief-stricken, but strangely grateful to not have to face the world for the foreseeable, and I admit I became a hermit.
I work freelance in events: corporate hospitality, sporting events, trade shows etc. And my husband Darryl, is a domestic builder. So, almost all the work in my diary was cancelled, and Darryl wasn’t able to work in people’s houses.
We remembered that we had had an idea last year and then not had time to see it through to fruition. The idea was this: when Darryl refurbishes a kitchen with a beautiful solid oak worktop, they have to cut out a hole for the hob and the sink, and this wood could be recycled to make chopping boards, bread boards and platters etc. Little did we know this would become a perfect Lockdown project and pop-up business.
We had about 40 boards in various shapes and sizes stored away in his lock-up doing nothing, and now we were ready to see if we could do something with them. So, we coated them in tung oil which keeps the wood looking naturally fresh while having antibacterial qualities. We also researched getting a logo stamp to burn onto the underside of each board.
Then I set about advertising and postage options, but we decided to try and keep it local to London due to the boards being very heavy and the postage increasing the price quite considerably. I made an Instagram page, and immediately sold a one to a stranger and a few to friends and family.
A good friend, friend Mandy Liddell, who is a director and filmmaker (and also affected workwise due to the pandemic) asked me if she could do some footage for us. We had no plan, and we shot it in a couple of hours using what we had to hand as props. A couple of days later she sent me the results and I couldn’t believe it, it looked like an advert for Masterchef! I posted it on social media, a few friends shared the post and suddenly I had lots more orders.
It’s only been a couple of weeks since then and most of our customers have been people we know so far. It’s been great to reconnect with so many people who are your social media friends; you’ve known them at some point in your life but aren’t in contact in day-to-day life anymore. I can deliver them to their doorsteps and say hi, and I have started to come out of my hermit-shell again.
Darryl has since returned back to work and is busier than ever, so we won’t be repeating the exercise as he is too busy and it is too time-consuming for him. But it was perfect for Lockdown and it’s made me think about what else I could do to start a business from home. We will see.