“Although I feel that Covid took my business away from me, at the same time I feel it’s what we needed.”

Tracey and Holly – Piddlehinton artists

Simplifying

Tracey and Holly’s Story

T: We’ve lived in Piddlehinton for a year and a half. We were previously in Milborne St Andrew but I grew up on a farm in Druce, so am Dorset born and bred.  

H: So am I, and I’m glad we were here for lockdown as we love it. It’s all been fine, apart from the fact my GCSE’s were taken away from me. I’d been revising two hours a night, fourteen hours a week since before Christmas, and I was so looking forward to actually taking the exams. I really enjoy getting down with my revision cards, highlighters. I was so sad. 

In the end I passed everything, so the results aren’t bad, but 100% I feel I could have done better. For example, between Christmas and March I went up three grades in Physics, just from my revision. 

So I dunno if I’m pleased about lockdown. It’s been the end of my school life and the start of my photography at Weymouth and I guess I’ve grown up a bit through it. I’m not massively into socialising so I didn’t mind that aspect so much, but I wasn’t able to give my boyfriend a hug for three months, and we’ve been together for three years so that was strange.

T: For me, lockdown has been life-changing. I’ve loved having the kids at home – Holly is 16, Rosie’s 14 and Ted’s a year and a half. School holidays, I’ve always felt like I had to plan and do all these things, but in lockdown I felt like we’ve all really connected, so that side of things was lovely. 

However, I also owned a printers on PoundburyStudio Print, which I started nearly ten years ago. I’m a trained lithographic printer, although these days it’s all digital. Of course we all saw this virus coming, but I don’t think anybody quite knew how hard-hitting it was going to be. It seemed to happen that within a week I went from having a thriving business, with two members of staff, to shutting up shop.

My staff were furloughed for a while, but now I’ve had to completely change my business model; the biggest change being that I now work from home. At the beginning I was still going between Poundbury and Piddlehinton, and my partner, Simon, was also able to carry on working as he does garden maintenance. So at one point we were two of the only people still leaving the village. I wouldn’t count myself as a key worker, but I had to fulfil the funeral parlour’s orders, which has always been a key part of my work. I think we’ve been lucky in Dorset, not too many deaths from Covid. The florist was telling me that right at the beginning of lockdown he managed to buy one van of flowers, which he prioritised for funerals over anything else, then had to make it last for a month. 

I do miss the social aspect of being in Poundbury. I was a copy shop as well as a printer – busy, busy, busy; people popping in all day long. And all of a sudden, everything stopped: weddings, the big shows, all the things I would normally be busy with were cancelling. It was all very stressful. I had all the same outgoings, apart from wages, but hardly any income. Luckily, I did get the government grant, but actually, if you’ve got a business with rents and contracts, that money doesn’t last very long. I sat down and worked out that I had enough to keep me going for two months, and that was it. So then I had to decide whether things would be back to normal in eight weeks. Would people want to buy business cards and brochures again? I had to work out whether I just quit, or try to carry on. 

I love my business. It’s my baby. I’d built it up from nothing to being one of the main printers in Dorchester. And I’ve always worked it around my family; for many years as a single mum. I’ve always taken my children to work – we’re a true family business – and if people haven’t liked that fact, then tough. 

H: I remember sitting playing on my DS while Mum was meeting with some people right at the start, when it was still completely empty. And it’s been alright. We’d dress up for Christmas and Halloween – spook the customers and give them sweets. 

T: When lockdown happened, for a while I ran things from the lounge, but it wasn’t going to work long-term – especially with a baby crawling around. So that’s when I decided to strip everything back, pay off the machine contracts and convert to working full-time from home by putting a shepherd’s hut in the yard. And I love it. All of it. The hut’s in keeping with its surroundings, Studio Print is still going and business is starting to pick up.

Of course I feel very emotional about it all. When you’ve work so hard – every night, every day – it was everything. I was on my own for a long time and everything went into that business. It paid for me and my family. Now I’ve pulled it back, I don’t think it’s going to make me anything like the money it used to. But my quality of life has improved immensely. 

My commute is now 30 steps to the hut and I’m focusing as well on growing the illustration side of things – which is another part I’ve always loved. I think that in many ways I’d got on this huge work treadmill and was so stressed. I used to come home and say I thought I was going to have a heart attack. As the boss it was all on me – I could never say at five, ‘right that’s it’. I’d come home, be with the children and then as soon as Simon would come home I’d be back to work again. And Covid stopped all that.

H: She’s a lot more relaxed these days and I can see she’s enjoying it. I’m really happy for her because she’s worked so hard for us. Now she has this little area for herself and it’s so much nicer. And it’s definitely great that she’s growing her art.

T: So, although I feel that Covid took my business away from me, at the same time I feel it’s what I needed. If the virus hadn’t happened I would still be running backwards and forwards. I was constantly working ahead of schedule, just in case it turned out I was really busy the next week.

I think to be honest I have been very materialistic – very orientated towards earning money to provide, to give the kids as much as I could. The virus has made me think, actually there’s more important things than work. As long as you’ve got enough to pay your bills, you’ve got to think what makes you happy. Right at the beginning of lockdown I told my mother-in-law I’d been looking at the flowers. Previously I’d never had time for that. I was still working, but it was still like… pause.

H: I’ve always noticed things like that, and spent a lot of my lockdown taking photos of things in the village. I’ve been doing photography since 2018, just after my dad passed away. He used to do a lot of photography and when Mum found one of her old cameras and gave it to me, I thought it was my chance to make Dad proud. Soon I was taking tons of photos and then people started asking me to take them for them. So I’d charge £5 for 30, and got my first wedding last year. My original company, HAS Photography was more about rural photography, then in lockdown I changed to Hollyhock Photography. I’ve always had my social media and tried to advertise myself.

T: She’s actually really well known in our little farming community. Simon and I are really in to tractors, we’ve got ten of them. For the last three years I’ve been going to country fairs every summer, showing them off and educating people about the work the Land Girls did. And whenever I put in my applications for taking the tractors we’ll get a call, asking if Holly will be there taking photos.

H: Lockdown has really brought my photography on. I’ve done a lot of photo shoots with child models (called Time for Photos, where I’ll take some photos for free then parents will buy more for their kids’ portfolios). I did a lot of the shoots on Millenium Green. I get some really nice photos there, with the river. My business has come on a lot. 

T: She’s always been entrepreneurial. I call her Dell boy. When she was 12 she started another business called Holly’s Sweet World. She’d go to Macro to buy sweets, then package them in pretty cones. She was actually told to stop it as she was too successful, getting too many orders. 

H: I had my own logo. Aprons. It was well cool. I was making £100 a week. Then the teachers told me it was illegal.

T: Which was rubbish. We did try to think of a more healthy version of it – but of course that wouldn’t be so appealing to children, so it stopped. 

H: Now, I definitely want to be a professional photographer. I’ve had my photos in a farming magazine, and lots in The Echo. During lockdown I loved photographing VE day and one of my photos was used on the front cover of a Dorset charity magazine. I was also given a holiday project by Weymouth called ‘These Unprecedented Times’. We had to document our life during lockdown. Obviously in town you’d see people wearing masks and stuff, but here it didn’t look that different. So it made me have to think about other ways of finding a good picture. Making me stretch myself.’

T: Literally. If she saw an Amazon delivery man wearing a mask, she’d lean out the kitchen window to get the shot. She’s really enjoyed it. 

My highlight of lockdown was probably my hut – making that decision, planning it all. I’d wanted one for years; although, originally we wanted to buy one that we could take to country shows. My low has been losing the social side of my business. 

H: My highlight was seeing more of my baby brother. My low was my dog being attacked and my GCSE’s, which I really wanted to do, for me. But I completely understand why we needed lockdown. I think it’s important that we all protect each other and I’m doing it to protect everyone. It’s not only older people that are suffering – Covid effects all ages. And we’ve got a lot of older people in our family and I just wouldn’t ever want anything to happen to them. It has made me feel more uncertain about the future and I worry about that. But I’ve already learnt to deal with incredibly tough times, losing my dad. And doing photography for him has given me a good objective. 

T: For me, Covid has made me take the time to appreciate things. I don’t want to go back to my old life now. 

Simon’s mum lives on Poundbury and when we were moving here we suggested she should move too. ‘Oh no,’ she said, ‘I want to live on Poundbury because we’ve got the doctors, we’ve got this, we’ve got that. There’s lots of people around and I don’t want to live in a little village.’ 

The community table

But do you know, during lockdown we’ve proved that living in a ‘little village’ is actually the best thing. Because, here, if we’ve needed it, we’ve had everything: food, prescriptions, help, chats, the community table, everything. In Poundbury my mother-in-law has felt completely shut off, her only connection being that the post office delivered her milk and newspapers. She had to ask family to go and get prescriptions for her and, right in the middle of lockdown, she was worried because she didn’t have anything. Meanwhile we’ve had Friday ice lollies, the Thursday clapping… there was always something going on.  And if you need anything, there is always somebody to help you. Now, she wishes she had that.

I think it’s shown that it doesn’t matter how big a place you’re living in, that size doesn’t necessarily give you a safety net; it’s the people that are the important thing. As a village we’ve grown together. Everyone’s supported each other and it’s shown how lucky we are to live here. Out of a negative a positive has come: so much so that I’d give it a nine. 

H: I’d give it a 7.

T: And that’s probably the difference between adults and children. As an adult you have so many responsibilities and things going on all the time. And then you’re forced to stop, which creates time for a bit of self-love: to look at yourself and think about what you love, what you need. That’s what lockdown has given me. 

All photos not of Holly are, of course, by Holly 🙂

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