The Found & Seek story
FOUND & SEEK - MORE THAN JUST A BUSINESS
We are a family business, consisting of husband and wife, Aaron and Trudi Petersen and daughter, Pearl (and not forgetting eldest daughter Saskia who is away at university but is still considered as part of the team).
Aaron and Trudi
Aaron - Having undergone early training with his father (artist blacksmith David Petersen) Aaron studied fine art before going on to work as a prop maker for film and TV. He has been blacksmithing part and full time for over thirty years. He qualified as a teacher (PGCE) when our eldest daughter was born. After a stint as the blacksmith in residence at the Museum of Welsh Life in Cardiff he went on to work in further education as an art lecturer. He continued to smith and on moving to West Wales from Cardiff he started running weekend blacksmithing courses at his father's forge whilst teaching part time at college.
Trudi - Trudi trained as a psychiatric nurse (RMN) nearly 30 years ago. Starting her career in acute inpatient care, she went on to specialise in drugs and alcohol. She published a number of papers in the field and co wrote and edited a popular textbook on the subject of substance misuse before leaving the NHS to run her own training and consultancy business. She now manages 'Found & Seek' a bricks and mortar and online shop selling handmade and vintage interior and gift ware. She is also a candle maker, illustrator and writer.
Pearl and Saskia (at Barry Island - very windy).
IN 2012 THINGS WERE DIFFERENT......
Aaron was working part time as an art lecturer. We had moved to West Wales in 2005 but his job remained just outside Cardiff, a round trip of more than 120 miles. He commuted, staying with relatives from Monday to Wednesday. Weekends were taken up with part time blacksmithing . We had started running a few blacksmithing training weekends. These were well attended and Aaron was considering running them more often.
Trudi had left her NHS post in 2007 to set up her own training and consultancy business, specialising in drug and alcohol training for statutory and non statutory agencies in health and social care. Five years on and the business was successful with a number of repeat clients. She taught groups that ranged from care assistants through to qualified doctors. She was also teaching from time to time at the University of Glamorgan and was half way through a PhD which she had won a scholarship to study.
Saskia and Pearl were 18 and 16 , both studying , one sitting exams at college and one about to take GCSE's.
Life was ridiculously busy and not only in relation to our work. We'd had to deal with a lot as a family. Pearl had been living with a brain tumour for several years. It was picked up out of the blue by our optician when she was 11. It was benign but inoperable. The tumour had caused her some problems. She had gone through a bleed and a traumatic late adverse reaction to radiotherapy which left her with peripheral visual loss and there was one dreadful moment where the doctors thought the tumour had become cancerous. She hadn't had any easy time of things with all the operations, scans and treatments but we are pretty resilient as a family. We were all coping and things seemed to be settling down. Pearl was managing to go to school and she was catching up. Somehow we managed to juggle appointments, work, commuting and studying. Being self employed meant that Trudi was usually able to timetable her work around the family's needs. Aaron was working away but it was only for three days a week, other work was fitted in as and when. If that all sounds somewhat smooth and organised , don't be fooled. It was incredibly stressful. We were constantly running to keep up and we had no time for anything other than work. We each had itineraries that were overflowing and we simply didn't stop to catch our breath. However we battled on as we believed that things were getting easier and that eventually everything would pan out OK. Then suddenly overnight everything changed.
THEN EVERYTHING CHANGED............
Pearl went into hospital for a relatively routine operation. The operation itself went well but a couple of hours later we had a call to say something had gone wrong. It transpired that the shunt that had been inserted when she was first diagnosed (its a thin tube under the skin that carries excess fluid away from the brain) had eroded through her bowel. It was lucky we were in hospital at the time. Pearl was rushed into intensive care and placed in a coma where she stayed for over two weeks. Bacteria from her bowel had gone up the shunt to her brain. She had ventriculitis (like meningitis but deep inside the brain) and septic shock. She was so incredibly ill, they had put her on a ventilator, she was having high strength antibiotic injections twice a day straight into her brain, her temperature was out of control, she was burning up as the infection took hold. The nurses covered her in surgical gloves filled with ice and she was cared for on a special cooling mattress. Everyone feared she would not survive and no one knew how much damage there would be to her a brain as a result of the infection.
Pearl though is a real fighter - she pulled though against the odds. A year in a neurorehab unit taught her to walk again, she learnt to talk again but she remained very poorly. She was still in a wheelchair on her return from hospital and needed full time care at home.
With Pearl in hospital it was really tough emotionally but we still continued with our respective careers, taking it in turns to be with her every day and working when we could. We were also acutely aware that Saskia had been sidelined, she needed our support too and even though she was good at putting a brave face on things events had been devastating for her too.
It seems naive now but we really had no idea how much more difficult it would be when Pearl came home. In hospital, even though we spent hours at her side the basics were all done, the nursing staff managed her physical needs, the meals arrived, there were specialists who devoted their time to getting her up and about, there was equipment to help her get about, wide corridors and wheelchair friendly facilities and at the end of the day we went back to our own house. We were desperate to have her back with us but nothing could prepare us for the time when she actually came home.
It soon became clear that we could not provide Pearl with the care she needed at that time and continue to live the kind of life were leading. It simply wasn't possible. Professional help was hampered by a lack of available services and limited to appointments in clinics that we had to travel miles to reach (typically between 25 and 65 miles one way). We live in a fairly rural area - there were no specialist brain tumour services, no specialist brain injury services and only one transition social worker. (We didn't even have a downstairs shower room - we waited over 6 months for that, driving Pearl to the local leisure centre as that was the nearest available disabled facility). We had no PA's to help us ( we did get some PA hours eventually but it was a battle). There were no support groups or networks that were suited to our needs. Friends and family did what they could but ultimately everyone has busy lives and there was no one that could be relied on for regular help. We did pretty much everything ourselves, day and night, without a break. Work became something that got in the way. We were stressed and irritable, life was miserable and whilst, as parents, we would do anything for our children, we were fast reaching the point where we were finding it too much. Something had to give or we would implode and Pearl, the most important person in all of this, was so down that it broke our hearts.
SOMETHING HAD TO GIVE....
We made a calculated decision to completely change our lives. Trudi gave up her training and consultancy work and her PhD to care for Pearl and Aaron gave up his lecturing post to share the care, focusing instead on building his blacksmithing business. This had a major impact on our finances - our income reduced by more than half (we had no savings and our insurance didn't cover us for a child's illness) but somehow we managed. You would be forgiven for thinking at this point, what a crazy thing to do! Surely there was help out there, you just didn't look hard enough? Wasn't there a way of scaling back a little without such a major change? To which the answers are yes, it was crazy....no, Trudi spent hours on the internet and phone exhausting all avenues and no. We had no real idea of what the future held, we only knew that we couldn't carry on as we were, we needed to be there for Pearl and this was the right thing to do.
Over the next few months Pearl made fantastic progress, even surprising the doctors but she couldn't go back to school or college, her brain injury had resulted in significant short term memory problems. Her balance problems made standing tricky and sometimes she was simply so exhausted she went back to bed. She had always been a 'glass half full' sort of person and she was trying but we knew she was fed up and frustrated. We had a developed a full on rota of activities aimed at improving her abilities and there wasn't a week went by without an appointment of some kind that had to be attended but nothing was fun - it was all about reaching targets, working towards improvement and it was lonely. By now most of Pearl's friends had moved on to university or college, something that Pearl would no doubt have done herself if things had been different, she had wanted to be a teacher or a chef but she was so she was stuck at home with us....nagging her to do yet another step or read yet another paragraph.We all mourned what might have been.
We racked our brains to think of what she could do that would be challenging and yet manageable, that was enjoyable but wasn't childish, was meaningful and which might give her the chance to get out and about amongst people. Aaron was making some lovely hand forged candlesticks at the time, they were selling well in the local craft cooperative. "How about candles?" It was Pearl's idea. It never really started off as a business idea - more of a hobby really. We could make some candles to display on the candlesticks in the cooperative. Maybe we could even eventually sell them and even if we didn't, we liked candles anyway. It sounded like a plan. We found a candle making course within driving distance (run by David Constable whose company specialises in candles for film and TV). We were offered a grant to pay for the training by a wonderful charity called Dreams and Wishes and off we went.
Candle making training with David Constable
CREATIVITY AS REHAB.
We discovered that candle making was great as rehab - it involved weighing and measuring, preparing the moulds, wicking up, pouring, timing - testing Pearls memory, balance and fine motor control at every step and it was creative and, most importantly, we enjoyed it. The idea of selling the candles didn't seem so far fetched. We liaised with our local Trading Standards and did the research to find out what we needed to be compliant and legal (there is much more to making candles than just heating up some wax, sloshing in a bit of fragrance oil and bunging a wick in it). We were lucky enough to obtain a small grant from the Eaton Foundation which helped us buy some of our start up equipment. We were able to rent a cheap (and very nice) council run workshop a few miles away, purchased some impractical but pretty pink frilly aprons (well you have to have a bit of sartorial elegance - see below) and set up.
We knew we couldn't compete with the mass produced imported candles that were readily available in the shops. Our candles needed to reflect the fact that they were handcrafted and unique. We also wanted them to be scented as we loved the smell of fragranced candles. We discovered that we could decorate the candles with liquid wax designed for candle decoration (they needed to be safe to burn). These come in pen form and are usually used for writing a name on a candle but we found, with a bit of experimentation, that we could produce some detailed designs. Trudi had been quite artistic when she was younger but hadn't picked up a paintbrush in years (despite being married to an art lecturer whose family all had art backgrounds). She was surprised that it came back so quickly when she did. We spent hours coming up with ideas. After much experimenting we developed a series of designs. The designs were developed so that both Trudi and Pearl did some of the decoration. Everything we do is based around strengths - Pearl cannot see things on her right hand side so everything is set up to be on the left, the worktable is at a low height so she can rest a hand on it for balance when pouring, Trudi is incredibly untidy and disorganised, Pearl is the neat freak who keeps everything tidy and accessible (without her we would never find anything)
Our hand decorated candles
In the meantime Aaron's blacksmithing part of the business ('ferric fusion' ironwork) was beginning to earn a regular income. He was supplying several venues and getting an increasing number of clients who wanted bespoke pieces.
Trudi seemed to have uncovered some sort of latent creative gene , she started painting and drawing again . She photographed her pictures and turned them into cards. These soon became very popular with customers. She also started glass painting and we developed a range of hand painted fragranced container candles and hand painted tea light holders. Our self directed rehab was not only focused on Pearl. Reconnecting with creative activity after so many years of science and academia was immensely therapeutic for all of us.
Cards and candle jars
A few months after our training we did our first craft fair. It was fantastic and most importantly Pearl loved it, she was able to get out and meet new people. We discovered she was really good at selling, connecting easily with people and charming everyone with her sunny disposition. A year of craft fairs and we had become established locally, becoming part of the network of craft makers in the area. The candles were popular, especially over the Christmas period and we began stocking a couple of small craft shops but getting around new venues and transporting heavy ironwork and candles was exhausting. We needed a more permanent base.
At a craft fair
Our first home was a stall in the local indoor market. It was a good start but within a few months it became clear that it was not the ideal venue for our products and we needed a lot more space than one small stall.
Our market stall
WE HAVE A SHOP!
When the old fancy dress shop just round the corner from the market became available we went for a look. A shop? Could we really take on a shop? It was a big commitment and we were wavering about what to do. By now Aaron's blacksmithing had become well established. We'd also started doing one or two large trade fairs, selling the ironwork direct to galleries and shops.The blacksmithing courses that we had been running for several years were becoming more and more popular with people coming from all over the UK (and in some cases from abroad) to attend the one and two day courses fueled by a positive shift in the public awareness of craft and traditional skills. We increased them to once a month and then twice a month. The courses often attracted the attention of journalists as it was an unusual topic and we'd had some great coverage in magazines and newspapers right from the start. In addition we were shortlisted for several awards including the prestigious UK wide inaugural Craft Skills Awards and the local business awards (best small tourism business).
The fact that the blacksmithing side of the business was buoyant made taking on the shop less of a gamble. Before we knew it we had agreed a lease and we were moving in. Weeks of painting, plastering, stripping walls and papering followed (helped by Catrin and Rula, two old school friends of Pearl's). By the end of it we never wanted to see another pot of paint but it looked fantastic.
We needed a name. We already had two trading names for the different parts of the business - Pearls Dream candles and Ferric Fusion Ironwork. Our overall business name was registered as A & T Petersen Ltd but we felt that the shop should have a separate identity. Trudi had gone to an auction and returned with an old metal military trunk. Inside were a whole load of old newspapers from the 1950's, 60's and 70's, we went through them laughing at the language used in the adverts. The final newspaper was stuck to the bottom, we peered in. On it was an advert which had as its heading the word 'Found'. What a great shop name we thought. We ordered some metal signage in the same font and then discovered that there was another shop called 'Found'. We did a hasty rethink - it was Pearl who came up with 'Found & Seek'. It sounded just right, slightly quirky and memorable, so we became 'Found & Seek'.
We know a lot of craftspeople and artists.Offers of sale or return stock followed and we ended up with a carefully selected group, all known to us and all of high quality as well as our own ironwork, candles and cards. We were delighted, we had a potter a sculpter, artists, textile artists, knitwear, upholstery, a photographer, woodwork, jewellery..........
A few items from our small group of makers and artists
We have always had an interest in vintage and antiques. This was an opportunity to expand on that too, so one corner of the shop was designated the 'vintage and collectibles' corner. We also decided to stock some books by local writers that Trudi knew through the regular Poems and Pints night held monthly at one of the local pubs.
Some of the vintage items we sold in the first few weeks
We opened just a few weeks before Christmas 2017. It has to be one of the best things we have ever done. Pearl manages the shop a couple of days a week (with Rula and Catrin who have been the most fantastic support), Trudi and Aaron manage it on the days that Pearl is not in, we make things in between. New people find us every day and we have a growing number of 'regulars' . The street we are in is lovely, we have got to know all the other business owners. Pearl is doing fantastically well. If you met her you would never guess that this composed, confident, young woman had been through so much. You would probably notice her walking stick but she has learnt to adapt in so many ways.Her short term memory still catches her out but she laughs about it now. She has a social life again (apparently cocktail nights are essential to her personal development, or at least that what she says!) and she has learnt skills she never thought possible. Most importantly she has regained her sense of self. Her future is bright..
One final thing - a year after Pearl came out of hospital, just after we had started the candle making she had to go back into hospital. The tumour was blocking her ventricles again. It looked like she would have to have another shunt. We were desperate, how could this happen after everything? Her surgeon (the truly wonderful Mr Leach) said the other option was that he could try and remove the tumour altogether. Now we were terrified. All along it had been inoperable, sited in the most dangerous part of the brain to interfere with. All anyone had previously managed to get were small slivers, enough for a biopsy. It was a very risky choice but he felt confident that this time it might be possible. It was Pearl's decision - "go for it". Eight hours later we met up with a smiling surgeon. He'd scanned her and announced that he had removed somewhere between 95 and 97% of the tumour and without causing her any further damage. We couldn't believe it. She was effectively tumour free. Further scans over the next couple of years indicated that there was no growth and she has been dropped to one MRI a year now. It is not expected that the tumour will regrow.
DANGER, OPPORTUNITY AND THE FUTURE.
What we went through was a crisis. The ancient Chinese sign for crisis also means opportunity.
What happened to Pearl has given all of us new opportunities. it has helped us pull closer together and support each other. We have realised just how strong we are as a family, what reserves we have. We have learnt not to take things for granted. For Aaron it has been a chance to focus full time on the blacksmithing skills that he is so passionate about . He loves being in the forge and enjoys passing on his skills. He doesn't miss the commute. Trudi has uncovered creative skills she had forgotten she had and learnt business skills she never thought possible. She misses her qualification, her training work and her PhD but not enough to want to do them again.
For Pearl the route we have taken has been a lifeline, it has given her confidence and experiences she might otherwise never have had. We are immensely proud of her - she is a bright, resilient, adaptable woman now who will, we are sure, go far.
Aaron and Trudi are not a teacher and a nurse anymore but craftspeople and shopkeepers, small business owners and now, e-commerce entrepreneurs - wow what a change. Pearl is transformed.
The heading at the start of this section says that Find & Seek is more than just a business. It is our life, our passion, our future. It is our story and this is only the beginning. What's next? We have plans.....watch this space.
A BLAST FROM THE PAST.
Just as a side note, it's funny, we realised after we took on the shop that retail was in the blood on both sides of our families. Trudi's great grandfather had a general stores as did her grandmother and her aunt though she only barely remembers her aunt's shop, the others were before her time. There were also shopkeepers on Aarons side - perhaps its in the genes? By coincidence a picture of 'Herrera Stores' (Trudi's great grandfathers shop) flashed up as a memory on Facebook recently, she had posted it years ago after finding it in an old album. Here it is. We are not given to magical thinking (far too sensible and scientific for that) but we like to think that Great Grandad, John William, would approve and that the omens are good.
Herrera Stores late 1800's
If you have enjoyed reading the story of Found & Seek please consider giving to the charity that supported us to undertake our initial candle making training - Dreams and Wishes. http://www.dreamsandwishescharity.org/