By Kate Marsden
What sounds like a dream working environment for creatives this week, as we head up to Newcastle Upon Tyne to discover Mushroom Works. Long term supporters of Just A Card will probably have seen Mushroom Works popping up during #justacard hour and sharing our tweets on a regular basis, but may not be aware of the extent of the creativity in these studios – and you can visit their shop too! Read on to find out more (and then plan that trip!)…
Tell us a little about you. What do you do?
We are The Mushroom Works, an Artist Studios/ Gallery and Shop based in the vibrant Ouseburn Valley in Newcastle Upon Tyne.
There are nine artist/ designers and makers based at Mushroom Works, each with their very own individual craft. We have Nick James ~ Furniture Maker, Pier 74 ~ Textile Product Designers, Majid Lavansi ~ Furniture Designer, Amanda Rabey ~ Artist/ Painter, Ben Holland (Low Moon Over High Town) ~ Illustrator, Joanne Wishart ~ Artist/ Painter, Bethan Laker ~ Illustrator/ Painter, Lucinda Kelly ~ Artist, Bronwen Deane ~ Jewellery Designer/ Artist and Julie Coxon (A.Musing Jools) ~ Designer.
The Mushroom Collective is an eclectic mix of North East Creatives.
What does a typical day involve?
A typical day is different for each and every one of us. Some can work from home and don't need to be in the studios 'making' every day. Nick James, the owner of the Mushroom Works and Furniture Designer, is here every morning at 8.30am. His day can involve quite a lot of admin (he also runs three other studio spaces), alongside being very busy in his workshop. Nick describes his day as a mix of 'Being on the bench and being at the desk!'
For the rest of us… We all busily work away in our studios but come together for tea breaks and we have a little bell that we ring at 10:30 and 12:30, which means the kettle’s on! We have cakes on Fridays and celebrate birthdays etc and we find that the support that goes on over the kitchen table is incredible! Often ideas are sparked and collaborations begin over a cup of tea.
When we really all pull together and the studios come alive with productivity, is when we have an event coming up, such as the Ouseburn Open Studios, which happens twice yearly. Every year we create a 20x20 exhibition - artwork/ products that are 20x20cm in size for just £20! These have proven to be really popular locally and we have people queueing up at the door before we've even opened. They literally run in and rip the work off the wall, it's quite crazy. We have a huge backup of stock to replenish but we just can't get it back up on the wall quick enough! This year we had the most successful event ever! Not only did we almost sell out of the 20x20's on the first night, but we made loads of extra sales, took lots of orders and proved that people do want to support independent and shop handmade. We finished the weekend happily exhausted!
The Open Studios are a great way of being part of a collective and the other studios in the Ouseburn are also open for the weekend and there's a great creative buzz about the place.
Where do you work? What is your gallery like? What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
Our studios are based in the Ouseburn Valley, which was renamed by The Guardian Newspaper, 'The beating art of Newcastle'.
Over the last twenty years the Ouseburn Valley has undergone a dramatic transformation from post-industrial wasteland to Newcastle’s foremost cultural and creative quarter, helped in large part by a raft of investment and community-led regeneration.
Now thriving social and cultural venues exist alongside reminders of the area’s industrial heritage and it's a great creative, buzzy place to be based. Along with our studio-based artists we collaborate with other brilliant North East Creatives through our exhibition space, we run workshops and art classes, events and open our doors once a month and sell our handmade products, as well as other local makers and designers, in our SHOP.
Which stands for Super Handmade Original Products of course!
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing shop/gallery owners at the moment?
Getting people through the door! You've got to shout loud and proud to convince people to shop locally and independently. We know that our products are brilliant but we have to convince our potential customer that they are! Undoubtedly, we're always going to be a little more expensive than high street prices as we're ‘handmade’, but the tide is most definitely turning and people are being much more supportive. Thanks to campaigns such as Just A Card, people are beginning to consciously buy from independent makers and designers. Getting the word out there is also key. Social Media has undoubtedly had a fantastic effect on our sales and brand awareness.
What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?
To keep the doors open and the rent low!
A few of our tenants sell on ‘Not on the High Street’ and already do really well nationally as well as locally but more sales nationally would be very encouraging. It would be great to see some serious international sales taking place and the opportunity to exhibit within Europe.
We're also taking part in a couple of pop up events as a collective this year, which are a great opportunity to shout locally about The Mushroom Works.
Do you have any tips for fellow small business owners and designer/makers who are reading this and may be just starting out?
Just keep going! Create a strong brand, get social and be ambitious. Get yourself out there and be heard. But invest in great photos. You might have the best product in the world but if your product shots let you down then your brand/ products won’t stand out from the crowd.
Had you realised the Just A Card campaign message suggests cards as an example of a small purchase - we're about encouraging all sales as they keep businesses afloat?
Yes! We have been a strong supporter of the Just A Card campaign from the beginning. The message behind it is very simple, if you DO buy just a card, then that card sale ultimately goes into the big pot of keeping a small business alive. It's a strong message, and people don’t really think about how black and white it is.
How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?
It's totally what we're about. We are a collective of independent artists and makers who make our living by selling our handmade products. If we can't sell our products, we can't live. We rely solely on people supporting us by buying what we make.
Where did you hear about the campaign and which Social Media platforms do you use most frequently?
We heard about you via Instagram and Twitter and we also use Facebook. We've actually invested in the last year in a creative Freelance Social Media Manager to run our social platforms for us as it is such a big and important task! We all have our independent platforms to manage so we needed somebody to keep our collective voice alive. This has worked brilliantly... In fact, she is called 'Brilliantly Social' and she is!
She joins in with the Just A Card twitter chat and supports your campaign wholeheartedly on our behalf.
What do you think people can do to support Just A Card, and how will you be doing so?
The twitter chat is a fun and easy way to show your support and to spread the word of other makers and designers. Just a simple retweet can mean so much! You also get to discover some really beautiful products and the whole Just A Card community are very supportive and lovely. This blog is also great as it highlights some of the wonderful independent creatives out there in far flung corners of the world, making beautiful things and trying to make a living!
We shall continue to wave the Just A Card flag and we must get our hands on some of your super stickers too so that we can display them in our monthly shop and shout even louder!