Tag Archives: Creativity

Wildlife documentaries director Anne Sommerfield

Anne in Kerry

Anne Sommerfield is an award-winning freelance film director and producer behind Meerkat Manor (BBC and Animal Planet), Animals in Love (BBC) and other wildlife documentaries. Her latest series, The Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough, will be aired soon on BBC1.

I met Anne in 2014, when she produced the Ladies Who Impress film Maybe I’m Crazy But...This time I interviewed her about her own story and the latest series with David Attenborough.

How does one end up filming a wildlife documentary with David Attenborough?

It definitely helps to have an almost unhealthy obsession with wildlife!  Atlantic Productions, who developed the idea for the series along with David Attenborough and the BBC, approached me and asked if I’d be interested in taking on the project. It was not a difficult decision to make.  

Is it a dream job?

For me, it is the very definition of the dream job, because I’ve wanted to work with David [Attenborough] for well over a decade. His films inspired me to step into the world of storytelling in the first place. Of course, that’s not to say my job is a walk in the park – no creative endeavor ever is..!

How did you become interested in wildlife? 

I have always been fascinated by wildlife. In fact, my parents take great pleasure in whipping out old family photos of me as a child, always posing with animals. There is one particular favourite shot of me, dressed in hilarious 80’s attire, trying to creep closer to a goat…The goat whisperAt secondary school I loved biology, and once I began studying zoology in university I was totally hooked. In the current climate of the endless horrific news stories and reality TV overload there’s something about sharing humane stories. Natural history is truly worth appreciating. Wildlife TV is the equivalent of yoga: it’s good for the soul.

Is freelancing difficult or you would not imagine working any other way?

It was a challenge to begin with, not knowing if your luck will run out or if the calls for jobs will keep coming but now I love it. It gives me creative freedom. 

With the rising tuition fees, do you imagine you would still study biology or not? What would you advise ‘A’ level students in terms of choosing what to study at university?

Yes, I would definitely study biology again. It’s not an essential qualification for getting into wildlife TV, but it’s about passion. My advice would be to find whatever you are really passionate about and go with that. The people who succeed in this business are not necessarily the most talented filmmakers, but they are the most passionate ones and the most determined to tell the stories they love.

I think it’s worth knowing that “talent” can be cultivated.  You can learn on the job and hone certain skills, but you absolutely cannot fake real passion, and there is no substitute for it.

What is your greatest achievement?

Working for the BBC is always a privilege, and the current project with David Attenborough is truly an honor. I’m still pinching myself. But I am most proud of the first film I had ever directed, There’s a Rhino in my House. It sounds mad, but it is a beautiful story about a family in Zimbabwe, who fought to protect the endangered rhinos. The film helped to raise awareness of the conservation issues in Zimbabwe, and we even raised some money for the family’s conservation project. 

What are you good at?

It’s a terrible question to ask an Irish person! I’m good at sniffing out a story and realising the emotional potential of a film. I tend to put my heart and soul into every film I make and I think that helps. 

What is your weakness?

Perfectionism can be a problem for me… I tend to labour for far too long over scripts and sometimes I wish I moved on quicker and came back to the polishing part of the process later. 

What would you advise your 15-year-old self?

Be nobody else but yourself. Not everyone will get it. That’s ok. Mean people are really sad people in disguise. Read more. Read everything. But whatever your read, read Oscar Wilde.  Most importantly, if you really want to be a goat whisperer, be a frickin’ goat whisperer!

If you could do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would it be?

I’m guessing bank thief is not the sort of answer you’re looking for..? As clichéd as it sounds, I really am doing what I love. The risk of failure is an important part of life and of any creative project. When we fail, we learn a big lesson about ourselves, and that’s a lesson worth taking. 

The Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough will be aired soon on BBC1.

 

 

 

Interview with artist Kristjana Williams

KSW Portrait Sep 2013Welcome to Kristjana S Williams studio! True to the spirit of its owner, it is full of vibrant colours, delicate patterns, fabulous maps and magical creatures…

Kristjana Williams was brought up in Iceland. She first studied Electrical Engineering in Iceland but maths wasn’t her calling. Her passion was art, something she had felt was not viable enough to pursue seriously. But when Kristjana had come to London, she enrolled in a design course with City Lit (which offers evening and weekend adult learning courses). And then she got into Central St Martins to study graphic design and illustration at the age of 25. It’s fair to say, Kristjana never looked back.

Today she is a equally successful as a fine artist and a commercial designer collaborating with such brands as Fortnum & Mason, Heal’s, Liberty, Paul Smith and Cole & Son.  Kristjana exhibited her work at London’s V&A, Design Shanghai, created art work for the Connaught Hotel and is currently working on her biggest commission to date: a giant map of London for the Shard.

It’s a five-metre map of London with Kristjana’s signature colourful collages, exotic flowers, historic characters and pieces, juxtaposed against black-and-white Victorian engravings. “The work that goes into scanning, printing and cutting all the patterns is incredible”, explains Kristjana who has three more designers in her studio to help her. I am leafing through the Victorian engravings book of royal menagerie from the 18th century, while marvelling at the contrast between the sleek outside image of Shard and the delicate design, paying homage to London’s history, being created by Kristjana for one of its interior bars.

Studio

In addition to the Shard commission, Kristjana is also working on a ceramic range for Fortnum & Mason, which will be out for Christmas 2015.

“I love that I don’t have to pigeon-hole myself, say, as a fine artist. I can also making a living by doing commercial work that is also affordable to the general public: prints, wallpaper, cushions,” says Kristjana. “I also love collaboration. It’s a fantastic experience to work with craftsmen such as upholsterers, furniture makers, embroiderers.”

Kristjana’s love for colour goes back to her childhood in Iceland, where she craved light, colour and magic during long and dark Scandinavian winters. Quite unlike traditionally calm and understated Scandinavian design, her work is always vibrant, vivid but also delicate in its attention to detail.

Flamingo

What is your greatest achievement? Apart from my children, it must be The Connaught commission. It was a true labour of love. The brief was to capture the spirit, richness and magic of the unique Mayfair hotel. It’s a two by three meters collage artwork with traditional Victorian etchings, which took six months to create.

What are you good at? Coming up with ideas. My only problem is that I never seem to have enough time to realise them all…

What is your weakness? I want to do everything… I get a fine art commission which is an enormous project in itself but at the same time I also take on commercial projects I am excited about so it becomes overwhelming. I think this thirst has held me back as much as it has pushed me forward. Now that I am forty, I am finally better at pacing myself but it’s been a journey and a half…

What would you advise your 15-year-old self? Calm down! Be less anxious… I also wish that I saw the opportunities available to me as a creative, because I did not see them as a 15-year-old. My creative drive was strong, but I could not see it as a profession, only as a hobby.

If you can do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would you do? Go to the Moon! That’s the first thing that popped into my head. I don’t really want to go into space. I’d rather get a diving boat especially designed to travel deep down to the bottom of the ocean and explore the world at the core of our planet.

MaskTo find out more about Kristjana’s work, please visit http://www.kristjanaswilliams.com

 

Interview with composer Debbie Wiseman

Debbie Wiseman (c) Michael Leckie

Image credit: Michael Leckie for the Sunday Times

Have you ever listened to a music album obsessively on repeat? I am normally a fussy listener, taking advantage of the ability to pick and choose tracks in the digital age. Last weekend, however, I found myself captivated by the Debbie Wiseman’s soundtrack to the BBC series Wolf Hall. Its music is highly original: urgent and timeless at the same time, mixing traditional Tudor era instruments with the drama one would expect from a contemporary TV series. The soundtrack, released in March 2015,  went straight to #1 on Classic FM, staying in the top ten for weeks thereafter.

I have been dying to interview Debbie Wiseman MBE ever since I had listened to her interview with Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs. Debbie is one of Britain’s most successful classical musicians, composing, conducting, teaching and presenting music. Her music credentials in film and TV include Wolf Hall, Flood, Jekyll, Father Brown, Haunted, Land Girls, to name a few of her 200+ music scores, composed over the last 20 years. In 2004 Debbie was honoured with an MBE for services to the music and film industry. She has been awarded Honorary Fellowships at both colleges where she studied, Trinity College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

With such a diverse portfolio of works and roles, I asked Debbie: “What brings you most joy?”

“Writing, sitting at my piano, finding an idea and then exploring it until the magical moment when it feels just right – that’s priceless. Of course, it’s not always easy, but the sheer love of writing music means I enjoy every step of the process.”

While writing is typically a solitary process, the collaborative nature of composing music for TV attracted Debbie to film and TV projects. It’s a different experience working together with the director, the editor, executive producers and sound mixers. For a creative person, it helps a lot to be able to ask someone you trust: “What do you think?”

BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies was Debbie’s sixth collaboration project with BAFTA Award winning director Peter Kosminsky. Normally, TV deadlines are tight and you only get 3-4 weeks to get the score ready. With Wolf Hall, Debbie had a lot more time to experiment and try things out. In fact, she wrote a couple of pieces before Kosminsky started filming. The director had the music playing on his mind from the first day of shooting. Then Debbie wrote music for the specific scenes, feeding off first rushes. They spent a year working together to produce the series and the music to the public and critical acclaim.

What would you advise your 15-year-old self? Be brave, be positive, be tenacious. Look after yourself and everybody around you. Once you find that special something that you love doing, all other questions fade away, and everything else falls into place. [By the age of 15, Debbie already knew that she’d wanted to be a musician and was becoming interested in composition.]

What are you good at? Creating something from nothing: time and time again I come up with something that previously didn’t exist. On the other hand, I am not very good at practical things:  shopping, cooking, directions… Luckily, my husband is very good at the day-to-day stuff!

If you can do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would you do? I’d still not attempt to cook! The possibility of failure is actually a good thing: it drives you to do your best.

What is your greatest achievement? The ability to do the job that I love.

Who inspires you? Many people have been inspirational to me in life: my mother, my Dad, my composition teacher… I am always inspired by the films that I work on.

Currently, Debbie is working on the score for a new 10-part drama series called The Coroner for the BBC and also the series 4 of the BBC’s Father Brown drama series, starring Mark Williams.

Wolf Hall is available on iTunes or from Amazon. For Debbie Wiseman’s full discography, please visit her website.

Nancy Honey and her 100 Leading Ladies

Nancy HoneyLast year the Somerset House hosted a fabulous exhibition 100 Leading Ladies, a project which took Nancy Honey three years to accomplish. Nancy may have been working towards that project all her life. What she has been able to achieve is awe-inspiring. Over three cups of tea, Nancy told me her story.

Nancy Honey was born in the US and came to Britain in 1970s. She studied Fine Art, Graphic Design and Photography both in the US and in the UK. She has been photographing for more than 30 years and started exhibiting her work in 1984. Alongside art, corporate and advertising projects, Nancy has published four monographs: Woman to Woman, Entering the Masquerade, Poodle Parlour and, most recently, 100 Leading Ladies.

100 Leading Ladies… I have always been fascinated with what successful, high powered women had achieved throughout their careers. How did they manage to juggle professional and family responsibilities? I have deliberately chosen women over the age of 55 because of their accomplishments, but also because senior women are very much under-represented in the media. I wanted to change that by making portraits and hearing the views of older women. I wanted to include the voice of the younger generation as well, so I commissioned former The Times journalist Hattie Garlick to interview my subjects.

When I started my research for the project, I wanted to approach women I personally admired, for example, Barbara Hulanicki OBE, fashion designer and founder of the iconic clothes store Biba. As the project developed, it was incredible to discover so many women I have not even come across before in art and science, business and public service. I asked them where they went for inspiration, to think or just to relax. Such a setting reveals a lot more about a person than a photo studio. Some of my heroines chose the comforts of their own homes, others chose professional settings, providing fascinating backgrounds to my portraits.

Brave new world…  The research and the photography took me about two years. I funded it myself, selling my house and moving into a smaller flat in the process. The next step was to get funding for the exhibition: in addition to the portraits, I also wanted to put together a beautiful book, featuring the photographs and the interviews. I had no fundraising experience, no corporate network to access, so I had no idea where to start. I went to the Westminster Reference Library, where a helpful librarian gave me a UK Guide to Company Giving. Gradually I learned how the company funding worked; I researched then approached many, many companies that I thought were a good fit with the project. I hired an intern and an assistant to help me. I also did a huge amount of networking.  It took us a year to put together the required funding. Women push themselves, if they really want something.

Thirteen of Nancy’s portraits were purchased by the National Portrait Gallery in 2013 and displayed in a small group exhibition of recent acquisitions. The complete work was shown at Somerset House in 2014. Her accomplishment lives in a stunning, timeless book, featuring photos and interviews, which is available for purchase online.

What have you learned from the women you’ve met? They were all incredibly passionate about their work. It is also true that many women had to make sacrifices to achieve what they have.

What would you advise your 15-year-old self? I would advise her to try to look for a role model or a mentor. Although I had loving parents, there was no one in my life to look at who was the kind of woman I wanted to be.

What are you good at? I am good at organisation, managing complicated problems and taking on challenges. I love research.

What is your greatest achievement? My two children.

If you can do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would you do? At this point, I would build my own house.

Who inspires you? There are too many people to mention. I admire so many artists in so many fields, both young, old, alive or dead. There is so much to find out about and to be in awe of.

To find out more about Nancy’s work, please visit her website www.nancyhoney.com and www.100leadingladies.com

Kresse Wesling MBE, co-founder of Elvis & Kresse

Elvis & Kresse_024

Kresse Westling was born in Edmonton, Canada. She studied Politics and Chinese in Montreal, before travelling to Hong Kong where she worked in venture capital. Kresse has always been interested in environment, and her first own venture was a start-up, producing biodegradable supplies for the catering industry. Kresse met her now fiancé James Henrit (nicknamed Elvis) and moved to the UK.

In 2005 she attended a course on sustainability where she came across the London Fire Brigade. She learned that after 25 years of service, fire hoses were scrapped, rather than recycled. The couple came up with an idea to ‘upcycle’ discarded fire hoses into high-end lifestyle accessories. Elvis & Kresse was born.

On politics… Elvis & Kresse is based in Kent, and I thought that we lived in a constituency of Nigel Farage! I told Elvis I was going to stand as an independent MP! It turns out Farage’s constituency is further away, and realistically I do not have time to take politics seriously with all the projects we are taking on at the moment. Still, I get very passionate when someone mentions UKIP!

I needed a new challenge… My first business, producing biodegradable supplies for the catering industry, was successful and profitable. The trouble is, it became boring, I needed a new challenge. When I heard a story about fire hoses being simply dumped into a landfill after use from the London Fire Brigade, it bugged me. I got home and told Elvis we had to do something about it! Elvis is a product designer by background. We thought long and hard about possible ways to recycle the hoses: we brought a heap of them home, cleaned them up; we considered using them for roof tiles, but the cleaning process is too laborious to be cost-effective.

Our ultimately successful idea was to create a range of luxury accessories: belts, iPhone, iPad and laptop covers, washbags and wallets. Each product is really well made – I can guarantee a wallet won’t fall apart a year later. The business took off. Cameron Diaz was photographed wearing a white dress and our red belt in Vogue. Consumers are after unique accessories; they want quality and they want a story.

We also give 50% of our profits back to the Fire Fighters Charity which tells you something about operational margins of luxury products!

We are ‘designers backwards’… IKEA has recently approached us about helping them with creating a range of products from their customer returns. I’m immediately thinking: what’s the best possible way to re-use this or that element? Designers are not trained that way – sustainability is an optional module in most design schools. I am not a designer, of course, I read the New Scientist, not fashion mags.

I want to change the whole world into a circular economy… I want to change how people think about their clothes, furniture, houses, food, waste, etc. There is a story to every product: if you no longer need your garden table, what can you do to write the next chapter of its journey? I love rescuing discarded materials. Elvis & Kresse HQ is built using many upcycled products. I want to inspire the whole world to do just that and find the best possible way to recycle things.

On MBE… It came out of the blue really. I got a letter from Her Majesty, which got my future in-laws very excited. I was awarded MBE for the services to corporate social responsibility. I am pleased, of course, because it helps me to get my sustainability message across to schools and universities, business forums and professional networks. There is not enough being done for tackling waste problems in the UK, yet alone, globally. I want to change that.

Elvis & Kresse is a social enterprise, providing employment, looking after the environment and giving back 50% of their profits to charity. If you’d like to support Elvis & Kresse, please have a look at their range of sustainable, beautifully crafted products. I am a fan!

KresseWestling_landscape copy

Meet illustrator Alexandra Burda

Alexandra BurdaAlexandra Burda (28) is an illustrator. She lives in Romania.  

I have been drawing forever… Ever since I can remember, I have been drawing and sketching. I remember drawing rooftops as a child.

I studied Graphics at the Art Academy of Bucharest… I could not imagine earning money as an artist. I thought I had to find a job which would be deliberately boring, but pay for my canvasses and brushes. I ended up working in a call centre for a Swiss internet provider in Brasov, but only lasted a few months.

It really gets to you… The time you spend in a soulless office, the habits you acquire just to pass the time and cheer yourself up. That job was changing my personality. At the end of each day I did not have the energy or the inspiration to draw. I suppose I’m grateful for the experience, because it showed me that art is more than a hobby for me. I became determined to make it work and started taking on illustration projects.

Making money as an artist is not easy… but I think I’m truly lucky to be making money from something I love. Most of my clients come from the US, UK, Australia and Canada. I live in Romania, but my art travels far and wide!

In creative work, it helps to have a deadline… Deadlines help me focus, but at the same time I often find them a bit stressful. I usually try to take as much time to think as possible before putting pen to paper. Having enough time to think and research is so important: everything seems to fall into place afterwards.

KikuWhen I am not working on a brief, I like my mind to travel…

I came across a word “kiku” which is  a “chrysanthemum” in Japanese and also means “to listen”. It perked my interest and I wanted to explore a possibility of capturing both meanings at the same time. I wanted to show a transformation of the word “kiku” depending on a context, to tell a story…

Like any other means of creative expression, painting is therapeutic… Last year I lived in a tiny 5 sq. m room, which was very cold in winter. I was drinking tomato juice and watching a BBC documentary about great painters online. Sometimes the most ordinary objects can inspire you to produce some of your best works of art.

room3_alexandra_burda

Image credits: www.alexandraburda.com 

Romania… is not breathtaking… It is a small country. Grass and shrubs grow from every nook and crack in a city. When no one is looking, a new tree pops up. Have you ever noticed that?

I wish I had more… Time. And more space to work would be nice. And healthy snacks for when I feel peckish. Is this too much to ask?

Babushka and Me

I recently worked on a cover for Babushka and Me: Stories from a Soviet ChildhoodI read the stories and I thought about my grandmother and my own childhood. Romania too was affected by communism, shortages and a difficult transition to a market economy. My grandmother was a legendary cook and always made treats for us. I remember her holding my hand very tightly when we walked along the streets. I thought it would be a good way to portray a relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter. There is love and trust; an intangible magical bond and hope for the future, represented by a circus dome.

If you’d like to see more of Alexandra’s work and perhaps commission her to produce an illustration for you, please visit www.alexandraburda.com.

My own ‘Mission Impossible’

Two years ago the theme of the very first Ladies Who Impress celebration was Mission Impossible. I brought some post-it notes and encouraged everyone to write down a ‘mission impossible’, a mountain they aspire to climb. We are all different, so for someone running a 5,000m race is equivalent to climbing a 5,000m peak for another person. Of course, one’s mission doesn’t need to be a physical challenge at all. Keen to lead by example, I wrote down my own ‘mission impossible’. I’ve kept the post-it note.

Write and Publish a book

The emotional whirlwind of that first event was followed by a snowfall of ‘things to do’, ambitions, aspirations, daily routine, ideas and projects. There was Ladies Who Impress to grow and nurture; there was a job to do to pay the bills; there were thousands if not millions of tiny snowflakes slowly and steadily piling on top of that post-it note, until it disappeared from view.

At the very beginning of this year I read the childhood’s memoirs of Clare Balding, My Animals and Other Family. I loved the book, in fact, I cannot recommend it highly enough. In the Acknowledgements section, she wrote: “I have never written a book before, partly because I was scared and partly because I kept telling myself I didn’t have time.” This was my light bulb moment.

It is so very easy to get caught up in things, label yourself as “busy” and flick one day after another just like pages of a Kindle book. This summer I went on an annual pilgrimage to Russia to see my family, and I decided that I will carve out time to write a few stories I have been visualising in my head for the last two years. I also gave myself permission to write, in other words, I packed the bags for my ‘inner critic’ and sent it away.

Last Friday Babushka and Me: Memories from a Soviet Childhood has been published on Amazon. The stories took two months to write; they were edited by the brilliant Joy Tibbs and illustrated by an amazing artist – Alexandra Burda.

Babushka and Me is a collection of memories from my Soviet childhood. I grew up in a country in which bananas were like gold dust; circus was endorsed by the Communist Party as ‘the people’s art form’; sport was practised as a discipline, rather than as a recreational activity. Soviet children learned to read by absorbing stories about ‘Grandpa Lenin’ and joined the ranks of the young ‘pioneers’, who proudly wore their red neckerchiefs to school.

Babushka and Me is a journey back in time and a tribute to the unconditional love of my grandmother.

Babushka and Me

Babushka and Me is also very much a ‘Ladies Who Impress‘ story: I am convinced that with a dash of talent, a pinch of confidence, a dollop of courage, a spoonful of perseverance and a ladle of hard work, any ‘mission impossible’ is possible for women of the Ladies Who Impress community, i.e. YOU and ME!

The book is available on Amazon. If you are not based in the UK, simply go to your local version of Amazon and type in “Babushka and Me” or my name (Jana Bakunina) in the search box.

If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download a free Kindle app from the same page on Amazon and read the stories on your tablet, phone or on your laptop / desktop screen.

I sincerely hope that you enjoy the stories. Feel free to email me and let me know what you think!

Celeste Wong on coffee and acting

Celeste WongCeleste Wong grew up in Dunedin, New Zealand. Her Chinese parents wanted the best for their daughter, which translated into wanting Celeste to become an accountant, a doctor or a lawyer – safe, secure, respectable.

It’s not that Celeste was a rebel. But studying Accounting in Dunedin was really lacklustre, so she secretly enrolled to do design instead and got a part-time job in a café, learning the craft of a barista. Upon graduation Celeste started working in fashion, helping to put together fashion shows and getting more and more engaged in arts and design. At the same time, she began to think about acting.

“I always aspired to do something creative, but given my background, I didn’t realise it was actually a real possibility”. 

Once you dip into something that is your ultimate calling, it’s hard to pull in the reigns. Celeste took acting courses, signed up for student films to get experience, went to casting calls.

***

Celeste holding a coffee cupOne more CelesteWhen Celeste moved to London, she got a job as a barista at Flat White, a coffee mecca in Soho, renowned for its superb long blacks and flat whites. This is where she met Chris Turner, a film director and a fellow coffee connoisseur. They started chatting, became friends and co-created an art film, G(O)OD+(D)EVIL.

In the film Celeste plays both the bride and the widow, good and evil, strong and weak – her most expressive, physically and creatively challenging project to date.

“I think talent can be learned. No one has experience at the beginning of a journey. You just have to try things out and give it your best shot. Your support network is really important. If I did not have Chris equally invested in this project, if I did not have my friends encouraging and supporting me, I would not have made it.”

Perhaps it does take someone to believe in you before you acknowledge yourself. 

Sarit Packer, restaurateur at Honey & Co.

SaritSarit Packer was born in Israel to British parents. She has been cooking all her life, and it was during her military service in Israel that she decided she wanted to study to become a chef. Sarit studied in London and worked at a number of top-notch restaurants, including Orrery in Marylebone.

“I don’t know if you realise but a junior chef typically works sixteen hours a day and earns very little. I was working at that prestigious restaurant but could barely afford rent and beans on toast.”

Sarit decided to move to Israel, which is where she met her husband Itamar. Together they travelled to London and worked at J Sheekey, the Oxo Tower Restaurant and Ottolenghi. Sarit worked mostly with pastry. At Ottolenghi she developed a range of cakes, bakes and puddings before being offered a role to open Nopi, Yotam Ottolenghi’s first ‘proper’ restaurant. It gave her a first-hand experience of what it involved.

Sarit and Itamar were hoping to open their own place, cook food they are passionate about and work for themselves. Of course, it takes more than just an idea to make it happen.

“Nobody knew who we were. We put offers on restaurants, but got rejected.”

It took them two years to find a place. They walked into Fitzrovia and found a big deli with orange walls and a giant display fridge. Aesthetics aside, the deli had an almost functioning kitchen, large front windows, and the Warren Street neighbourhood had a nice feel about it.

London foodies can no doubt help me complete the story. Itamar and Sarit opened Honey & Co, a tiny restaurant serving scrumptious Middle Eastern food and offering a daily selection of irresistible cakes. Their food is adored by both punters and professional critics. Together Sarit and Itamar have written and published a book of Honey & Co recipesHoney & Co

Talking to Sarit, I am beginning to understand the secret of their success.

“Many restaurant kitchens are completely disconnected from the customers. We wanted to reverse that. Itamar often helps with the service, he chats to the customers and we take their feedback on board. We have plenty of regulars who keep coming back and spreading the word about us.”

Opening Honey & Co was a challenge Sarit always wanted. Often employers put their team members into a particular box, be it patisserie or ‘the numbers’ and neglect the fact that their employees are not challenged anymore and aren’t developing other talents they may have. Setting up on their own was a gamble, but it has been an exhilarating adventure and it paid off.

I also asked Sarit what it was like to be working with her husband.

“We have always been working together. As a chef, I would probably be seeing very little of my husband if we weren’t in the kitchen together. We have the same passion about food, our Middle Eastern roots and the community. We travel together, getting inspiration from different food cultures, we come up with new ideas together, and I would not have it any other way.”

If you live in London, you absolutely must pop into Honey & Co. If you mention Ladies Who Impress, they may even cut you a bigger cake slice (I’ve just made it up but do give it a go).

Meet social entrepreneur Elisicia Moore, founder of Petit Miracle Interiors

Elisicia Moore

I must confess, I love people with genuine smiles – people who ooze energy, positivity and goodness, whose enthusiasm is contagious, and I just want to stay in their aura forever. Elisicia Moore is just such a person, and it is my absolute pleasure to tell you her story.

Elisicia grew up on the West Coast of Canada. Her mother was an interior designer, and Elisicia recalls herself pretending to be sick just to “stay at home and help mum with her work”. At first she did not follow her mother’s footsteps and instead got involved in the social sector, looking after vulnerable people. In 2005 she came to London for a short stay. Feeling restless, she got in touch with Thames Reach, a charity, working to help homeless and jobless people in Britain.

The charity was looking for a decorating manager to teach vulnerable people valuable skills. Elisicia did not realise that in Britain “decorating” meant “painting”, rather than “interior design” and applied for the job… The interview did not go well, but she did not give up. Elisicia called up her would-be boss and said: “Hire me, you won’t regret it.”

Over the next few months, Elisicia was instrumental in helping Thames Reach educate and give practical life skills to many vulnerable people. The initiative was funded by the government, which meant there were targets to hit, and decorating classes did not help to engage women. It was at that point that Elisicia came up with an idea to host interior design workshops, appealing to both men and women.

In 2009 Elisicia launched her social enterprise Petit Miracle Interiors, which creates beautiful bespoke furniture, upcycled from hand-picked salvaged vintage pieces and sold at affordable prices. Elisicia teaches furniture restoration, interior design and basic DIY skills to those needing help to get back into work.

ChairsPetit Miracle Interiors is based in West12 Shopping Centre just outside Shepherd’s Bush station. Elisicia’s scouts tell her about furniture pieces, left on the streets of West London, the Job Centre sends unemployed people, who have been out of work for many months. In addition to selling beautiful furniture, they host upcycling workshops, taught by a brilliantly enthusiastic young man, Elisicia helped to start a new life.

At the workshop    My table

I am happy to say that Ladies Who Impress Club did a Saturday workshop with Petit Miracle Interiors – the yellow table I upcycled sold at once! Fear not, I am sticking to the day job, but would encourage everyone to have a go at furniture restoration, if only for therapeutic purposes of having a real sense of achievement, restoring unwanted junk into a beautiful piece.

workshop

Every year Petit Miracle Interiors gives valuable 4-week work experience to c.70 people out of work. Only over the period of last 12 months, they have restored 18 tons of furniture. Recently Elisicia launched a new initiative offering beautiful pop-up space for entrepreneurs, looking to retail their products, championing makers and crafters. The retail space is next door to Petit Miracle Interiors, so if you are interested to find out more, get in touch.

Elisicia at workIf you have been inspired by Elisicia’s story and want to help out, here is what you can do: 

1. Donate furniture if you live locally

2. Sign up for a workshop and/or buy bespoke pieces of furniture from Petit Miracle Interiors

3. Say hello on Facebook or Twitter

4. Spread the word about new pop-up retail space in Shepherd’s Bush for crafty entrepreneurs