Sunday, 15 July 2018

What Next for Explore & Learn Pangbourne

Explore & Learn Pangbourne was set up as part of my training to become a Social Media Manager. Now that I have completed my training, after a lot of thought I have decided to keep Explore & Learn Pangbourne going.  

So moving forward we will be continuing to focus on showcasing local businesses and family events, as it is always great to learn about new things available locally.  A new element will be a bigger focus on Maths and Science education for Primary and Secondary students.  We will be sharing hints and tips, resources we have discovered for parents and students to use.  We will also be launching our own bespoke Science and Maths workshops and revision schools, which will be run locally. 

The workshops and revision schools that will be on offer are designed by subject specialists to support further learning and develop exam technique. We will also be offering a limited number of 1:1 sessions in the school holidays to maximise learning or cover a particularly tricky topic. Watch this space for regular updates so that you don’t miss out, as spaces will be limited.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Love Scarlet

Love Scarlet is a local business which makes unique jewellery inspired by the natural form, and her influences are taken from her surroundings.  My attention was caught by my friend, Angela's necklace, a stunning Acorn design, which I discovered was designed & created locally by “Love Scarlet”. I was immediately keen to own one myself after learning it is inspired by an acorn found on one of our many walks! Their unique jewellery is influenced & inspired by natural forms found right here in Pangbourne. Get to know the lovely Scarlet Page, the person behind this beautiful brand:
Bottom of Form

Tell me a little bit about your background. 
I went to Berkshire College of Art and Design to do a foundation course after school.  Then I did a Photo Arts Degree in London, which has seen me undertake an exciting 20 year career travelling the world and taking portraits of some of the greatest musicians of our time. When my daughter was born 10 years ago I started playing with silver, making charms to begin with as presents for friends, and then took a few courses to learn the art of silversmithing.

What is the inspiration behind Love Scarlet?
My friends usually inspire a new piece and the world and beauty which surrounds us forms a great inspiration. Nature features strongly in my designs.  Everything is handmade by me at this stage, when I make a bespoke piece I really think about who it is I am making the piece for. 

What is your proudest moment since starting Love Scarlet
I often get messages about how emotional people get when they receive one of my pieces. Today I gave a good friend a gold acorn for her birthday, she really cried, I knew she had been coveting it for a while. Being selected for Notonthehighstreet  was exciting and I have a big meeting with one of my favourite London stores soon so my fingers are firmly crossed for that one.

Describe a typical day 
Emails take up a large part  of my day, I fulfil any orders that have come in over night. On Tuesdays I go to Oxford to a workshop to work with fellow silversmiths which is great for learning new skills. Sometimes my pieces are literally finished off on my kitchen table, it drives my husband nuts living with a creative sometimes!

What is your favourite thing to do in your spare time?
Something creative! I recently did a candle making course and that got the juices flowing!

Wednesday, 25 April 2018


It is really nice, when as part of writing this blog, local people ask you to promote their business, event or in this case an acoustic folk band.  We love an opportunity to celebrate all things local.

WolfNote are an acoustic folk and roots quintet from Berkshire comprising  multi-instrumentalist Mike,  violinist and vocalist Ceri, Gill on guitar, vocals and dulcimer, and cellist and vocalist Bex. Sacha Mayhew percussionist has recently joined the band.  

They play a lively blend of originals and covers using string and vocal harmonies. Their sound is unique and hard to place in a genre, a bit like American folk with strings similar to the Beatles, maybe a bit of Fleetwood Mac thrown in.  

Despite  looking inexplicably cross on stage people seem to like their warm, enveloping, sound.  They have won The Graham Steel showcase artist award and a slot at Henley Festival through BBC Introducing. WolfNote would just like to say that they are not sisters and Mike is not their dad.

For information and booking contact  EmailFacebook and Spotify

Saturday, 21 April 2018

My Favourite Online Brands

There are many independent businesses out there and I am a big believer in supporting small businesses.  There are many quotes that people share about where the money goes, the bottom line is when you support  a small business you are supporting someone’s livelihood, putting food on the table, paying bills, and those ever expensive after school clubs!   In the case of the 5 brands I have featured here you are also supporting their dreams and the future for them and their family. 

These 5 brands are a few of my absolute favourites that I have either bought or tried personally.  I  happily recommend them all, hopefully after reading this you will see why, as well as learning a little about the story behind the businesses.

Jack & Freda

Jack & Freda is an online shop, mainly featuring jewellery Kylie designs and makes herself.  I discovered Jack & Freda through my lovely friend Lou and haven’t looked back.  I buy for myself, gifts for friends and am never disappointed with the service or quality of products.  I have met Kylie and she is lovely just like her products.  Last year it was all about the bead necklaces and this year it’s all about the tassels! Kylie has worked hard to build her brand and has a huge following now, and her jewellery is often featured by many different well know Instagrammers and fashion bloggers.  This week she was featured on the relatively new Selfish Mother Instazine in the 5 things we love section.  Many of you will know how exciting this is!  Read on to find out more.

I started Jack & Freda when I was on maternity leave with my second son. We'd moved to Wokingham, after living in Twickenham for 12 years and I knew I wasn't going to commute back to my old advertising job in Soho. I'm someone who always likes having a project on the go and to be honest, when I couldn't find a shop I liked in Wokingham I decided to set up my own! Jack & Freda (my grandparents names) started as a market stall in Wokingham, although just for 2 weekends (it was December!). I sourced all of my products from individual makers and designers, I knew I didn't want to be a business who bought products from large manufacturers, I wanted there to be a story behind where my products came from. I built my website and orders started coming through, so luckily I didn't need to continue on the market stall in the middle of winter!

About a year ago I started making my own jewellery and it started to sell better than any of my other products. So today Jack & Freda sells mainly my own jewellery, plus some accessories and gifts from independent brands.  My 'workshop' is a little corner of my lounge. I have 2 boys (6yrs and 3yrs) and work around school/preschool hours. I feel incredibly lucky to have built a business that I absolutely love and can fit in around family life.  

It's hard to say where my inspiration comes from - I set out to be Wokingham's version of Oliver Bonas (!), but now my jewellery just comes out of colours and styles I like and it seems to be working (for now!).

Find Jack & Freda here WebsiteInstagram and Facebook

Fred & Noah

I discovered Fred & Noah nearly 2 years ago a now, when my youngest was born.  We now have quite a collection of these fabulous leggings and a couple of jumpers too.  They are made from softest material and always have such great designs.  Natalie designs the leggings herself and regularly introduces new designs.  They are so popular the bigger sizes regularly sell out immediately!  Natalie very kindly took time out from their busy schedule to share the story behind the brand.  They are regularly on social media and their Instagram stories are fab! Also their Instagram is the best place to get the codes and new release dates!

We are Natalie & Daniel Reynolds, husband and wife, mummy and daddy to Freddie (4) and Noah (8).  We are based in Essex and work from home full time. Before our business, I was a fashion lecturer for over 10 years and Dan was a builder.

I started the business towards the end of my maternity leave with Freddie, I missed being creative and also was uninspired by the choice of baby boys clothes in the shops so created my own.  The idea behind our business is that we produce stylish yet comfortable clothing for babies and toddlers. It’s all very well dressing a baby in skinny jeans but is it really comfortable for them, are they able to fully use and move their bodies wearing this type of clothing.  Our baby leggings are made from certified cotton jersey and cut in such a way that allows a baby to move freely with comfort and looking extra cute.  All of our clothing is made here in England. 

There is no big team behind Fred & Noah, it’s us. Often working late into the evening wrapping orders, juggling the kids on school half terms and answering emails on my phone during the kids swimming lessons.  We are a family business at heart, we started this to be able to spend more time with our children and they are the reason we do all of this.  All of our clothing is designed and made here in the UK, and we are proud to support British manufacture.

Find Fred & Noah here WebsiteInstagram and Facebook

Sweet ‘n’ Flour
This amazing cake shop is owned and run by Anna Clinch, in Wokingham.  We met through our lovely mutual friend Emma.  Anna has set her cake business up, like many others from her home, and has worked really hard to make it a success.  The courses and parties she runs are hugely popular.  Read on to find out why.

I am based from my home registered kitchen and also work from Aroma Coffee Shop in Wokingham to run children’s and adults cupcake decorating parties and classes.   Having a business run from my own kitchen is a handful as it is also the family kitchen and I have to feed us a family of five daily. There is generally always something cooking or being made, and is definitely the hub of our home. 

When I was pregnant with my oldest, who is coming up 8, I realised I wanted to be able to bake her birthday cakes. Growing up my mum made mine and my brother’s birthday cakes and it was something that was important for me to achieve. Once I started I realised it was something I enjoyed doing, and then I just wanted to improve, improve and improve. I am completely self taught. The business then was discussed when friends were asking me to make their children’s cakes so Sweet ‘n’ Flour was born. 

hen I started I was concerned about the amount of local competition. However, after a while I realised that no one could replicate me. If you cut into the heart of my business I would ooze out, and no one else can be me. My cakes are filled with my love, hard work, late nights and occasionally my tears! No two are the same, even if they look it. My parties are currently very successful because people are recommending me to their friends. 

We have been lucky enough to taste many of Anna’s cakes and they taste as amazing as they look.

 Find Sweet 'n' Flour here WebsiteInstagram and Facebook

Cotton Twist

Through Jack & Freda I discovered Cotton Twist.  Kylie had stocked a few of their products and I snapped them up and the kids loved them.   I bought the  make your own unicorn bracelet and skeleton keyring. There is a range of great gifts, including the personalised themed gift boxes, make a superhero mask and the personalised keepsake tins.  They also design personalised party invitations.  Your little one can then finish making them before delivering them.

Cotton Twist is owned and run by Anne-Clare Ribbons, her office is based in Acton since Feb 2018.  The inspiration behind it is her love for Scandinavian brands alongside having children. The products are unique and simple.  The idea is sustainable gifting.

The aim of Cotton Twist and what makes them unique is the simplicity of their products and the fact that they aim for sustainable gifting. Alongside this the gifts and party bags look fun and like I want them too.  The party bags can be themed with the  invitations and thank yous.  Our favourite themes are Unicorn and Space.  
Find Cotton Twist here Website and Instagram 

Cotton & Bloom

Cotton & Bloom founded and run by Katherine who lives in Berkshire and has a workshop in Oxfordshire.  Cotton & Bloom creates celebratory tops for kids milestones.  They create a range of birthday tops and have some great slogan ones as well.  There is also a women's section along with much more.  We have ordered a birthday top for our sons second birthday and we are really pleased with it and the excellent customer service.

My name is Katherine, and I am based in my workshop in a small village in Rotherfield Greys. It is on a farm, with lots of other small businesses, and I'm in one of the old calf sheds! (all renovated!!).  The farm is literally round the corner from where my boys are at school and pre-school, so I drop them off in the mornings, then head to the workshop. If I'm on top of orders, then I tend to like to go home and take the dog out, before heading back for the school run!

I've always been into sewing, and actually for my GCSE textiles project I made a baby's snowsuit, complete with a appliqué! When I became a mum, I quit my job, so we went down to 1 salary, which made luxuries like all the lovely kids clothes just weren't affordable. So I started making tops for Xavi, and it just snowballed from there!  

Variety makes my business unique! Something I quickly picked up on is everyone wants something different, whilst pink and gold as always going to be the best sellers, there is always someone who wants orange, or purple! So, by offering made to order, my customers can have just what they want!

Find out more  WebsiteInstagram,  Twitter and Facebook

A huge thank you to all these brands for taking the time to answer my questions and share their stories and pictures with us.  We hope you've enjoyed learning about them as much as we did.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Blue Collar Food

Those of you that are in Reading regularly may well have already discovered Blue Collar food and the Wednesday street food market that they hold.  For us it is one of the best discoveries we have made in the last 6 months, thanks to social media.  So great that we wanted to find out more about the force behind it all and the upcoming festivals planned at Forbury Gardens this year.

Glenn Dinning, owner of Blue Collar Food, was more than happy to talk to us over coffee about all things street food, festivals and the future.

What was the inspiration behind Blue Collar Food?
Blue Collar food was born out of frustration that many of the great options that we have when we travel into London were not available here in Reading.  I have a love of food and that is at the heart of everything that I organise.  So street food seemed like the perfect choice to work with, it felt like the right and current trend to follow.  The first event took place in September 2016 in Forbury Gardens, last year this continued to be a success.  I ran six 3 day festivals in Forbury Gardens, aiming for the first weekend of the month. The name Blue Collar Food comes from the history behind Reading and the blue collar workers of Huntley and Palmers, also including the colour of Reading Football Club, as a local this was important to me to have a story behind it.

Why the change in the set up this year for the festivals?
The festivals in 2017 worked well and had been a success, so I wanted to build on this and take it to the next level.  There was then the opportunity to enhance the event, so the aim was for bigger and longer events.  This is where the 3 festivals have evolved from, so this week there will be Cheese Feast 19-22 April 2018, a 4 day festival involving all things cheese based, not forgetting great bars as well.  In the summer will be the biggest one yet, a 3 week long Feastival and then in October there will be Meat Feast. 

What are you most looking forward to about Cheese Feast?
Cheese, what isn’t there to look forward too!  It’s quirky and I wanted a theme to follow on from all the hard work and success of last year.  I absolutely love cheese, so I am excited to have a festival that has cheese in all varieties.  Here are just a few of the traders who will be at there this weekend:

Gourmet Cheese Toasties, Hottmess Halloumi Fries, The Mac Shack the ultimate Mac n Cheese, Polentista, (Authentic Italian polenta chips),  Village Maid farm (From Reading will be there with a variety of cheeses available for a cheeseboard), John the Greek, Hot Pot Nachos, Rad Burger (Favourites from last year’s Feastival events - dry aged, pasture fed burgers with halloumi and rosemary fries), The Cheesecake Club, to name a just a few.

Not forgetting there will also be The Blue Collar bar, Seeing the launch 'Blue Collar Beer', an easy drinking lager on draught brewed by Tap Social (a brewery that specialises in employing reformed criminals). Other Tap Social beers will be available on draught, while Brewdog cans will also be available alongside cocktails, pimms, prosecco, wines, soft drinks and more.  All the beers are vegan friendly, and alongside the Vegan Burrito stand, many of the traders will be providing vegan friendly options.

What will be special about this year’s events?
Each festival has a different twist on it.  Cheese feast speaks for itself, involving all things cheese related, new bars and the new Blue Collar Beer.  The whole point of Blue Collar is to bring something new and quirky to my hometown that will be enjoyed by all.  Feastival will be held in Forbury again, 25 May until 17 June.  It will be open Wednesday –Sunday along with bank holiday Monday.  It will be bigger and better than the events from last year, including a new two tier seating area along with the usual hay bales and seating.  There will be live music, as well as the usual mix of traders with a fantastic array of street food.  The final event of the year will be Meat Feast,  11-14 October and this will be held in the Abbey Ruins, which are due to be reopened in June.  There are many meat street food traders, so Meat feast will have a variety of meats and BBQs all being cooked in the Abbey Ruins, a place steeped in history.

What does the future hold for Blue Collar?
As the whole point of Blue Collar food, is to put on events that are quirky and different, focusing on great food.  My aim is to have a permanent set up here in Reading that offers a variety of street food alongside a great selection of drinks including cocktails.  I would love for it to have an area where the food can be seen being prepared and cooked whilst enjoying a drink and relaxing atmosphere.  This would not be in place of the Wednesday market but in addition too.  SO watch this space!

It is clear that Glen works hard and his passion is a mixture of events and food, he is someone who enjoys the challenge and clearly gets a buzz from the events.  You will always find him at the market on a Wednesday, he will be at all the festivals, working hard, and making sure everything runs just as he has envisioned it.  The festivals are sure to be a success and we can’t wait for them!  Remember the entry to all Blue Collar events is free.  So no need to buy a ticket just turn up and enjoy the food!

For more details and updates follow Blue collar food on InstagramTwitter and Facebook

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Kiki & Bow

This gorgeous shop is located on the main road in Pangbourne.  Kiki & Bow specialises in 'Beautiful Finds for Beautiful Homes' and are passionate about all things pretty (oh how pretty everything is in this little shop).  They believe in affordable products that are current and desired.  The shop has a variety of products on offer, including many beautiful things for the home.  There is also gorgeous selection of clothes, bags and accessories.  These follow the seasons and trends and you won't be disappointed with the choice.

You will always be greeted with a warm smile and as much chatter as you need.  They also hold a gift list so when you spot all the beautiful things you want but can't get at once, family and friends can go back and will be able to select just what you were looking for.  Originally Kiki & Bow was a pop up shop but it is now permanent in the village and has been open just over a year.

What was your inspiration when starting your business?
I personally found it a struggle to find affordable accessories for myself and my home.  So seized a gap in the market and thought I may as well start sourcing them myself.

What do you believe makes your business unique?
Kiki & Bow is unique because it is unusual and affordable.  I have 37 different suppliers so the range is varied which means my customers have a huge selection to pick from when buying for themselves or purchasing a gift.  I strive to have high quality at an affordable and competitive price.  The products I stock are following the latest trends.

Describe a typical day
A typical day starts with me always being late!  Our opening hours are Tuesday – Friday 10am-5pm and Saturday 10am-4pm.  On a Saturday my partner joins me in the shop for the day.  I try to staff the shop myself, giving it that personal touch as much as possible.  I think this is important as I am passionate about what I do and about all the products I stock.  I am also lucky enough to have a group of ladies who cover for me when needed so I can go and source new products and look for inspiration.  I spend the morning replenishing the stock before the shop opens and afternoons are generally my busier time with customers.  I like to keep my window display updated so I try and change it once a week to promote new stock.  I leave all my paperwork and admin to my partner.

What do you enjoy most about running your own business?
I love it all, from the trade shows, choosing new stock, creating my collections, designing my displays, meeting new customers, being part of the community.  The list is endless.

What do you love about our local area?
It is breath taking and I enjoy walks and the countryside. 

Recently Kiki & Bow have also designed their own range of fragrances for infusers and candles.  They smell gorgeous and can be bought in a variety of sizes and sets.  Be warned though many have already sold out and are waiting the next delivery.  We recommend you visit Kiki & Bow for yourself and you will see all the pretty things and I challenge you leave empty handed.

Visit their website here Kiki & Bow  and follow them on Instagram and Facebook.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Indigo Flamingo Bell Tent Company

This week we feature a very new Small Business, Indigo Flamingo Bell Tent Company.  As part of a small village I know Ally and David from the school run, so I was over the moon when they agreed to be featured in our spotlight series.  IF Bell Tent Company is in its first year so they are working hard to make it the success they dream of, to get that ideal work life balance, which is essential to all of us but hard to achieve.  So read on to find out how this idea was born.  

What was your inspiration when starting your business?
The seed was planted nearly ten years ago when we got married and had teepees at our wedding.  Skip forward a few years and David had the opportunity to take a sabbatical whilst I was on maternity leave having had our second daughter.  Towards the end of our time off together, we made the joint decision to change things up for our family and wanted a better work life balance.  We wanted to start a business that would allow us to balance things better with a young family and had seen a few ideas around bell tents on line via social media and websites that looked great.  We liked the relaxed vibe of the camping/glamping/party the bell tents could offer as a hire business, having enjoyed camping and festivals together since we first got together.   Our daughters are called Imogen and Francesca and we wanted to incorporate them into the theme of the business as ultimately they're the reason we're doing this!  As a result, Indigo Flamingo Bell Tents was born.

What do you believe makes your business unique?
We're small but we're very adaptable and so can offer anything from one bell tent for a glamping sleepover or party in your back garden to a whole bell tent camping village to accommodate guests at a wedding or corporate event.  We aim to meet a customer's needs, however crazy their idea may be.  Plus we saw a niche for this type of business in Pangbourne and the surrounding areas of Berkshire and Oxfordshire (and beyond!)

Describe a typical day?
IF Bell Tents Co Ltd is still in it's infancy so at the moment we're concentrating mostly on promoting the business and getting word out there.  David will contact local magazines and publications about advertising, check social media and respond to queries.  You may see him pounding the streets local villages with a handful of flyers in his hand, and a pushchair in the other!  I'm also obsessed with pinterest and Instagram for ideas on glamping, bell tents and anything party related, so in the evenings once the girls are in bed I'll be scrolling through social media for inspiration! 

What do you enjoy most about running your own business?
There's so much to love!  The flexibility and the way it fits into family life, getting to meet new people, being able to get creative and definitely getting to be outside (although not so much of that at the moment, roll on Spring!)

What do you love about our local area?
The fact that we can look out of our windows and see fields and trees but still having brilliant local amenities and access to great transport.  It really is a place where you have the best of both worlds.  Where we live is fabulous for kids and families, we only have to step off the doorstep to find somewhere new to explore or revisit great walks or places like Basildon Park and Beale Park.  There's a lovely village atmosphere and I love that I can walk down the road and everyone says hello.

What is your background and where are you from?
We've lived together in the area now for 12 years but David is Pangbourne born and bred.  He has worked in FMCG operations and logistics for most of his career before taking a sabbatical which led to us setting up IFBTC.  I am a farmer's daughter from South Lincolnshire and have and continued to work in product development in the food industry. I'd love to be able to add a food offering to our business one day, watch this space!

Check out their website here IF Bell Tents

Follow them on FacebookInstagram and Twitter 

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Pangbourne Cheese Company

So another of our fabulous  independent shops we have here on our high street in Pangbourne is our Chesse shop.  Jen and Ali took over Pangbourne Cheese Shop two and a half years ago.  They were inspired after having a cheese wedding cake which was bought from Pangbourne Cheese Shop. They visited the shop and the staff let them know that the owners were looking to sell. It was the perfect opportunity and everything came together at the right time.  They welcome new and old customers and are always happy to discuss customers needs and ideas.

What do you believe makes your business unique?
There are very few truly independent shops around, let alone cheese mongers. We pride ourselves on having an unrivaled selection of cheeses, all in top notch condition coupled with fantastic customer service.

Describe a typical day?
No day is the same, that's the interesting side of retail. Generally we will open up and prepare the cheese counter for the day. Cheese is our thing so the counter always comes first. Then everything else in the shop gets checked, restocked and reordered if necessary. With customers coming in and out, there's always things to do. Our day doesn't stop when the shop shuts, we go out making deliveries or head home to make a start on the endless paperwork. As well as having two dogs and two teenagers to provide for.

What do you enjoy most about running your own business?
The freedom to be able to sell whatever we like. I spend hours each day reading about new cheeses, contacting new suppliers and making sure that the cheese we offer is the best we can get for the right price for our customers. I love the buzz of it all.

What do you love about our local area?
Pangbourne is a special place. Everyone looks out for everyone else. We know our customers by name and we chat to them about all sorts of things. The village is so friendly and we love being part of the community.

What is your background and where are you from?
I was a physiotherapist before we bought the shop, Ali still works part time as a netball coach. We both like to be active and we spend as much time outside as we can when we're not in the shop. 

Jen and Ali stock much more than just cheese, so pop in and have a browse as they and their staff team are happy to chat and answer any questions you may have.

Also follow them on FacebookInstagram and Twitter