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Penny Gilbert has no regrets about leaving her job in the City and her role as the main breadwinner of her family for running her own arts and crafts franchise.
Penny was recently named Franchisee of the Year at the Creation Station annual awards.
Penny had worked in investment banking for around 10 years and was head of the reconciliation team at BNY Mellon when she went on maternity leave and had her first daughter. She returned to work when her daughter was five months old and would be at her desk by 7.30am and wouldn’t leave till 7pm some evenings.
“It was really hard to manage. I did it for just over two years and I kept thinking what is the point of having a little one when I am not spending time with her,” she says. “My mother in law had taken early retirement to help out with the care and that made things a bit easier. My daughter was being cared for, just not by me. The enjoyment had gone out of my job. It was clear there was no real flexibility in my role.”
Things came to a crunch and she sat down with her husband to talk about what they could do. She started thinking about what she did enjoy. She had been a Brownie guider for years and loved working with kids. She looked around at possibilities for getting a better balance between work and home life and came across the arts and crafts franchise Creation Station on the Workingmums.co.uk website. She had a series of boxes to tick, including working with kids and flexible working. She didn’t want to be a teacher and she didn’t want to retrain. She wanted to be able to do something creative and build a business. And she wanted something she could do with her daughter.
Creation Station ticked all the boxes so Penny sent off for an information pack and headed to Devon for a discovery day to find out more, including watching a Creation Station session and asking lots of questions about the financial model. “The rest is history,” she says. “I came away thinking wow, I need this in my life. On the train home I was already making phone calls to the bank to get a loan and thinking about possible venues for classes.”
That was five years ago this month and she hasn’t looked back. Her husband’s and her roles have reversed and he is now the breadwinner. She earns more than she expected, enough to afford a holiday to Las Vegas and a camper van. She says the earning potential from Creation Station depends on what you put in and she has kept to reduced hours in the first years, focusing mainly on events and parties. Even so, she has become the go to creativity person in her area – Didcot and Abingdon and Wantage and works with the local shopping centres and has won lots of repeat business.
One of the reasons she has only built the business gradually is that just three months after starting the business she fell pregnant with her second daughter after trying for quite a while.
“It was a bit of a shock, but a very welcome surprise,” she says. That meant she had to manage her own maternity leave. As she was not in a position to employ anyone else by that point, she had to just lie low for a few months when her baby was born and officially relaunched when she was six months old. By then her eldest was starting school and Penny was able to take her youngest with her to sessions. Both come to family fun events in half term and her eldest daughter helps out.
Penny says she averages around 20 hours per week on the business, often doing emailing and administrative tasks in the evenings when the kids are in bed. The business model for Creation Station has evolved since she came on board and it is now more of a full-time role, though with lots of flexibility. “That is in recognition of the input needed to get classes up and running and do the marketing,” says Penny.
She has one lady who works for her and another who volunteers when she needs help. That frees Penny up to do some business development work with Head Office. That means giving other franchisees business support and listening to them when they are having problems. She loves this role and says it uses her skills as a Brownie guider and her financial skills. “I like to nurture, to see something growing from the beginning. I get a big kick out of seeing people achieve,” she says.
They obviously appreciate her because in addition to the Franchisee of the Year Award Penny was shortlisted for the People’s Choice Award.
Of the awards she says: “Working by yourself can be quite isolating even if you are part of an amazing network so it’s great that we come together once a year, share information and celebrate our achievements.”
Asked if she missed her financial job, she says not at all. “I am very firmly a sparkly Creation Station person now. It’s so much more fun and I get to watch kids grow and develop and create something they are proud of. I permanently have a smile on my face. You don’t have too many bad days when you are playing with paint and glitter. It’s a really cool job.”
*To find out more about becoming a Creation Station franchisee, click here. Workingmums.co.uk is holding its first Top Franchise Awards in May. The Awards are open for nominations until 4th March. For more information, click here.