A woman who launched a café just before Covid-19 struck says she has had to reinvent herself “more times than Madonna” to survive the pandemic.
Mother-of-four and gran-of-five Julie Vaughan-Roberts, 65, ploughed every penny of her life-savings – including her funeral fund – to establish Cwtch Ceramics in Rossett, near Wrexham
Just 10 days after she opened, the UK went into lockdown and the doors shut with Julie not knowing when they would re-open.
Despite the nightmare start, things are looking up again, with Julie paying tribute to her accountants, Wrexham and Chester based Coxeys, for helping her to navigate her way through the financial minefield of the past 18 months.
She was particularly grateful to managing director Anthony Lewis who has steered Julie and the business safely through the Covid crisis.
Julie said: “Starting a business can be tricky at the best of times but the pandemic threw up unprecedented and totally unexpected challenges.
“Having access to the expert guidance and advice from Coxeys has been invaluable and has given me peace of mind when the world around us was going mad.
“I have been able to contact Anthony any time and he has always responded quickly with the right answers. That’s just priceless.”
Running the business is a far cry from her first job as a time and motion clerk after she left school.
A series of office jobs ensued before she became a full-time mum while her children grew up.
But she found an outlet for her life-long artistic streak when she founded Cwtch Ceramics at Tŷ Pawb in Wrexham, with parties for children making and painting pottery.
The business soon outgrew the premises and Julie took over the old Premier store in Rossett which provided the perfect location for her expansion plans, combining a café with the ceramics for adults and children alike.
She said: “I’ve always done a lot of arts and crafts and pottery as a hobby - I’ve got an artistic streak, but this is the first time I have been able to follow my dream.
“I have had a lot of encouragement from my family, from my children and my sister, Tracey Pearce, an interior designer who masterminded the refurbishment, putting in shelves, new lighting, toilets, a food counter, disabled access and a children’s play area.
“The name Cwtch Ceramics came from my granddaughter, Paige, who drew a heart and wrote Cwtch inside it.
“Moving here was a massive step. I invested every penny I had, including the money set aside for my funeral costs. I really wanted to get it off the ground because I could see the potential.
“But Covid happened and shut us down after 10 days. It was very scary, really scary because we’d got staff and obviously they’d committed and I’d committed and the family committed to helping out and all of a sudden, it stops. You just didn’t know what was going to happen.
“We did close completely in the very beginning; everyone did and then we just had to rethink things. I reinvented myself. I’m more reinvented than Madonna.
“We started doing takeaway meals including afternoon teas and ploughman’s lunches. We also did ceramic packs that people could pick up.
“Anything we made was put back into the business and we just kept on going, working 12 to 14 hours a day.
“We have had incredible support from our customers who have been brilliant.
“Then we were allowed to open outside so we had the benches made and now we’re allowed to have people inside as well.
“But it’s been very stop-start. We’ve stocked up several times only for the plug to be pulled.
“We were all set for Christmas and had people booked to see Mrs. Claus and then it all went wrong, so we refunded everybody and lost all the money with the food and drink we’d got in.
“It was too important to let go and hopefully things are returning to normal.
“Cwtch is a nice happy place for people to sit and enjoy family time. They can paint ceramics or they can colour and draw.
“Or they can just sit had have food if they want. We’re licensed, so customers can have a glass of prosecco and a ham sandwich as well.
“We’ve now also started selling old fashioned sweets – dolly mixtures, fruit salads, midget gems and the like – and that’s going really well.
“The summer holidays have been great because Cwtch is a destination for people. Things are looking up.”
Coxeys managing director Anthony Lewis said Julie had shown admirable grit and determination to stay the course.
He said: “Although she could not have known it at the time, she couldn’t have picked a trickier time to set up.
“But she persevered when many others would have thrown in the towel and walked away.
“Julie is a very positive and upbeat person who just gets on with it when the going gets tough. She’s truly inspirational.
“It’s great that her artistic flair is finally getting a proper outlet. Julie has created something really special here and she deserves to succeed.”