LOCKDOWN Lessons #006

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.

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