Hello Natalie I’m delighted to be featuring you as I love the illustrations and message of your books and we featured your books in the Christmas Gift Ideas special for West London Kids. I would love you to answer a few questions about your book(s)/ business and your background.
So to start with … Where about in West London do you live and how long have you been there? I live in Barnes – also known as the village on the river – I’ve lived here 8 years now.
How do you find being a parent in West London? What are the main advantages and disadvantages? Barnes particularly is full of families – the majority of which I’d say (if I’m not wrong) have young children. Its great to walk out and always know people and there always be children for the children to play with. We are lucky to have a lovely green around Barnes pond and the river along side so there is always a good opportunity to explore nature. We are also not far at all from central London with its host of things to do! Parenting in SW London is definitely helped by the number of other parents that there are, which means lots of groups, support and simply people in similar positions to share with.
What inspired you to start your first business/ write your first book? Why did you choose to write for children? I have always written since I was a child – and in fact my first book was not actually for children, more young adult/millennial. It was when my children went to school though and I saw how hard it can be for all these children taking such a big step and not necessarily knowing how to deal or manage all of it, that I began to write for young children. I wanted to do what I could to show young children the importance and benefits of being kind to each other and how easy it is to do.
Where do you prefer to work/ write? At home at them moment – though I am going to start going out to do it – I am a member at the Olympic members club in Barnes which is a vibrant inspiring place to be either socially or workwise and I plan to start spending a bit more time getting creative in there.
When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer? When I look through my many years of diaries, which I have written since I was just 13, it shows me intending to write a book of my life from my early twenties. So, I guess a general focus on writing as a career has been a long time coming.
How did you come up with the main characters in your books? I wanted to create simple but appealing characters that personified the message they were giving – so hearts seemed the natural answer – it all happened quite organically to be honest – they just came to me.
What activities do you enjoy doing as a family? We love eating out together and holidaying in different countries. The kids love swimming which is always fun too. We try to spend a lot of time with family that are dotted around London at weekends, whenever possible and at home we enjoy spending time playing in the garden, cooking, doing puzzles, playing family games and whatever else the children come up with. We try to let them lead the decision for free time usually. Our aim is to start involving more sports together and getting more active as a family.
What’s your favourite West London restaurant to eat out as a family?Gosh that’s a difficult one – it would have to be Benihana in Kings road for special occasions, OKA in Barnes for sushi (the kids love it) or Riva our local family Italian, which is also incredibly good.
What was your favourite book as a child? The Secret Garden. I’ve always loved a little (a lot) of escapism.
What are your main writing goals for the next few years? To publish the entire series of Henry & Henrietta Heartbeat and begin building the brand in a more encompassing way, branching out beyond books alone.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up? I actually wanted to be a TV Presenter – but my parents were a little hostile in my narrowing down my opportunities so precisely, plus I’m not actually sure how well I would have had handled all the behind the scenes issues there as I do believe it’s a bit cut throat…. Other than that I wanted to be a buyer, basically because I love shopping and travelling. I ended up doing neither!
Do you have any advice for would-be new authors? Follow your dream. If you can dream it – you can do it! Don’t give up at the tricky hurdles – today more than ever there are an infinite number of ways to get your story written and out there in the hands of the public.
Do you think living in West London hinders or helps your writing? Is there a particular London spot that inspires you to write?
Barnes itself can be a bit of a bubble, I have to say – a strength and weakness – but it works with kids and the vicinity of everything allows more time to work as most things are close. As I mentioned though, I do feel the need to get out now and take my work elsewhere for a while. I am not so familiar with the rest of south west London as I actually grew up in North London, however having lived in central London for a period I would say the diversity, multi-culture and inspiration of the bustling centre provides great stimulus for any creative!
Natalie’s books are wonderfully positive and help to teach young children about important things such as empathy and kindness. Highly recommended! You can find out more about Henry and Henrietta Heartbeat and buy the books on the website: www.henryandhenriettaheartbeat.com The books can also be purchased on Amazon in paperback, hardback and Kindle versions.
Ealing 135 is a fabulous membership club for families with children under 5 in the London borough of Ealing. I made lots of long-lasting friendships via the network and have lots to thank it for. I even saw the advert for the nanny agency franchise that I went on to buy in their newsletter and that was the beginning of my journey as a business owner. So I thought I’d share the details of their event coming up this Friday 21st of February. 1pm – 4pm at the Northfields Community Centre.
Ealing 135 has invited many wonderful partners to their new LOVE YOURSELF event, to ensure it will be a special occasion for children and their parents, where they can enjoy a variety of free children’s activities and creative workshops.
Activities on offer include origami, finger paint mandala, sand art and mobile making. For grown-ups there will be a chance to have a go at yoga or to enjoy a meditation snap session, talk with a personal trainer, a woman’s empowerment coach and a sleep coach. There will also be the opportunity to try some organic products and grab some free samples, try a facial or shoulder match whilst you are there too. The children can prepare their own healthy snacks whilst you relax. This event is about feeling good and looking after ourselves, finding the right balance between being a parent and everything else we want to be!
The event will be wrapped up with a wriggle and a giggle for our little ones by Ealing 135’s in house entertainment: Wriggle with Rae.
In the second of the West London Kids interviews with Founders of child-orientated businesses in West London, I speak to Cristin Bullock, Principal of Masquerade Theatre Arts. My daughter absolutely loves her Saturday classes with Masquerade and both my children usually attend the holiday workshops as well and have lots of fun whilst gaining confidence and lots other transferable skills. So I was keen to interview Cristin to find out more about her background and Masquerade’s background story.
Hi Cristin, I am really pleased to be featuring you on West London Kids as a West London business owner that I have long admired. So my first question is, Where about in London do you live and how long have you been there?
I currently live in Strawberry Hill, South West London and have done so for the past 3 years. I lived in Ealing West London for over 10 years previously.
How do you find being a parent in London? What are the main advantages and disadvantages in your opinion?
I love being a parent in London, living somewhere like Strawberry Hill which is nestled between Teddington and Twickenham means we have so much natural beauty on our door step. We have beautiful river walks into Richmond and Bushy park is just down the road, whilst only being 20 minutes on the fast train into Central London. It’s great knowing you can pop into town easily to the theatre (very important to me), museums and restaurants but escape the hustle and bustle at the end of the day. The main disadvantage of living in London is space. Having grown up in Ireland I’m still getting used to having less living space but it’s worth it when you have a city full of wonderful things to see and do as your home.
What inspired you to start your business?
I graduated from the London College of Music and went straight into performing in musicals. I taught singing lessons alongside this and over time became more and more passionate about teaching. I taught for many stage schools through out London and grew a dream of having one of my own one day. I wanted to create a school that saw each child as individual whilst offering top quality training in singing, drama and dance. A meeting with Oaklands Primary School, Ealing, West London and a lot of hard work later and Masquerade was born.
What is your favourite London park?
Bushy park is my favourite South West London park but I adore Hyde Park too.
Where do you prefer to work?
Most of my teaching is in schools and universities however if doing admin for my business then I love a local coffee shop.
When did you first realize you wanted to run your own business?
I worked for a wonderful theatre school in Primrose Hill where I was given the opportunity of overseeing the school alongside delivering singing tuition. This was a new challenge for me as I had only ever performed or taught. I relished the opportunity but it sparked a drive in me to have my own school one day.
What were the most difficult obstacles you faced starting up?
Initially the most difficult obstacle was competing with longer established schools. Once we became established ourselves it was and still is important to retain your standards and individuality.
What activities do you enjoy doing as a family?
We love river walks into Richmond with our 15 month old. She’s too young for the theatre just yet but we’re looking forward to being able to take her to see some shows once she is older.
What’s your favourite West London/ London restaurant to eat out as a family?
Our favourite restaurant is Treviso Italian restaurant in Richmond. It’s a very small family run restaurant and has the most delish Italian food. They are always so welcoming and friendly and have the best customer service I’ve seen.
Any family holiday plans made for the next year yet?
We haven’t made any plans just yet, but it’s on our to do list. We holidayed in the Algarve Portugal with our little one last year which was lovely.
What was your favourite book as a child?Have you included any of your childhood favourites in Masquerade course themes?
I adored The Twits by Roald Dahl. We often feature Roald Dahl in our courses. This February half-term we are doing a 2-day Roald Dahl celebration for children aged 7+. The children will explore scenes from The Twits (of course!) but also BFG, The Witches, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and more. Roald Dahl has a timeless popularity with children and we always get a full house when we feature Roald Dahl classics in our workshops.
What are your main business goals for the next few years?
We have started offering some extra performance classes at our schools. I’d love to develop these further in the coming years.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a performer and to teach singing.
Do you have any advice for a parent thinking of starting a business?
Do it! Although it can sometimes be tricky juggling home life and a business; the rewards you get for doing something you love and the flexibility it offers out weighs this.
How do you pick yourself up if you have a spell when things aren’t going perfectly?
My Dad always says “Keep doing the right things.” If something goes wrong I just do my very best to make things right and try to stay positive. If you have a passion for your business and it’s something you love, this will shine through and things eventually get solved one way or another.
Some great advice there Cristin, I really enjoyed learning more about your business story. Wishing you lots of future success with your wonderful drama school.
To find out more about Masquerade’s term-time drama classes and holiday theatre workshops in Kingston-upon-Thames and Ealing, visit their website: www.masqueradearts.com
Living in London we are spoilt for choice with children’s theatre and live entertainment shows to go to as a family. There are theatrical and live performance productions for every age, taste and sensibility. It’s one of the benefits of bringing up families in West London.
Every now and again though, something comes along which actually can genuinely claim to be unique on the London family entertainment scene. A children’s show which stands out from the rest. And for one such example I present to you Sky in the Pie, soon heading to the OSO Arts Centre, Barnes.
The Feathers of Daedalus Circus have teamed up with celebrated author and poet Roger McGough to create this new wonderfully wacky children’s production inspiring children to fall in love with poetry. With circus, physical theatre, puppetry and projection, the Feathers explore fun and fantastical ways to play with poetry. The show uses poetry from Roger’s 50-year career to follow a day in the life of a day-dreaming boy, exploring the extra-ordinary that can be found in the ordinary.
The poetry of Roger McGough positively explodes from the page to the stage in this fantastical circus and puppetry adventure where pigs fly and the sky is in the pie. Join a day-dreaming girl for one amazing day where she discovers the extra-ordinary in the ordinary wherever she goes. With circus, physical theatre, puppetry and projection, the Feathers explore fun and fantastical ways to play with poetry, dipping into works from Roger’s 50 year career topped up with new poems especially created for the show.
A day so ordinary. Or one quite extraordinary? For what day is ever ordinary in the eyes of a daydreamer? Setting off for her first day at school she discovers a plague around in the playground. She meets the girl who became a book, and the boy who was born to bugle. She finds a domesticated donkey, a sound collector and a blue macaw in a drawer. At home she eagerly awaits a well deserved dinner, but there is a sky in the pie. Mother’s done it again! She lies down to sleep, rests her head on his caterpillow, dreams of a school for ghouls, a rolling meatball, spelling bees and everything in between.
The Feathers of Daedalus Circus are known for ambitious multi-disciplinary circus productions having created shows with amazing circus mixed with spoken word, live music, collage, film and projections. They are always looking for new collaborators and are very excited to be using puppetry, alongside circus and poetry to lead you through our fantastical adventure. You will be intrigued, amused and amazed by the Sky in the Pie and through it you are very likely to learn or re-learn a love of poetry.
Date, Time and Place Sky in the Pie will be at the OSO Arts Centre, Barnes Green, Barnes, from Monday 17th to Saturday 22nd February 2020 at 2pm each day. You can book tickets for the show on TicketSource: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/osoarts/e-jmvjzq
My daughter recently participated in the 12 week creative writing programme run by Dani of Bright Light Education in Ealing (courses also take place in Chiswick). I knew straight away that this course would be perfect for her. At 10 years old she’s a bubbling pot of ideas and creativity but now in year 6, she has few opportunities to unleash that creative spirit, because so much of her school work is dominated by the strict curriculum and SATS test practise. In fact, I learnt from Dani that in 2016, KS2 SATs tests were overhauled to be in line with the new national curriculum. This meant that, in Dani’s words; “the test is now be entirely based on comprehension, spelling, grammar and maths, reducing opportunities for teachers to push creativity in the classroom.” I remember loving creative writing well into secondary school and this makes me extremely sad.
The Bright Light Education Creative Writing course is designed for children aged 9 to 11 who want to improve their creative writing skills. Each weekly session is 1 ½ hours long and the course includes a copy of the Creative Writing Skills book written by Bright Light Education Co-Founders Danielle Okumura and Charlotte Badenoch. With a maximum of six pupils per course, the children have the fun and company of learning in a group (often with children from different schools which is nice in the run up to starting high school) but the attention of a smaller group. Dani has a wonderful way with children, she’s warm and calm and children take to her straight away.
It was a pleasure to pick my daughter up after each session, absolutely brimming with excitement as she would always be. She would chat excitedly about the course for the whole 15 minute walk home and she loved reading her work, first of all to her brother and I and then to my husband, as soon as he got in through the front door.
What I also found very impressive was the detailed level of feedback we got from Dani each week. Both from chatting outside when we picked up and also in the weekly email in which she would also set some additional work (optional) that we could do at home. We did this when we could – not always possible with my daughter’s busy life of school/ playdates and a large variety of extra-curricular activities- but the homework set was interesting and supplemented what they had learnt in the course so it was never a question of my daughter minding having to do it, just time didn’t always allow every week.
All in all, I can wholeheartedly recommend this course – both as a creative outlet for children in an age where sadly the creativity has largely been taken out of Key Stage 2 English lessons but also because it has really improved my daughter’s performance in other areas. Her general English language skills have noticeably advanced, she’s more confident in her writing and I also think it’s helped her to read more critically. She is always in the middle of writing a new story and it’s so lovely to see.
This is a good place to mention the creative writing competition that Dani and her co-founder Charlotte have recently launched as part of their mission to get children writing creatively again with some fab prizes from local businesses including Masquerade Theatre Arts, Craft-it Parties and Questors Theatre, as well as vouchers for Pizza Express and Wagamamma. A great incentive for West London Kids to get writing!
Dani Okumura, primary school teacher
and co-founder of Bright Light Education Ltd, states: “Creative writing allows
children the opportunity to develop their imagination whilst learning important
literacy skills along the way. Whilst there is a value to learning grammar,
there is a fear that SATs preparation lessons swallow up the precious time
which should be given to developing a love of writing.” The competition is open
to all children living in West London* from the age of 7 to 13. *Boroughs
include Brent, Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham, Harrow, Richmond-upon-Thames,
Hillingdon, Hounslow, as well as Wandworth in South London.
If you are interested in enrolling your child in the Bright Light Education Creative Writing course in Ealing or Chiswick next term, you can find more information here. https://brightlighteducation.co.uk/creative-writing/ The cost is £450 per 12 week course, which includes the cost of the creative writing book that accompanies the course, as well as other materials provided.
Disclaimer: The course was gifted to me completely free of charge in return for a review on West London Kids and social media consultancy/ training, but every word of this review is my true opinion and experience. I genuinely and wholeheartedly recommend this course to anyone with a child between 9-11 years old.
As a parent business owner myself (I run www.amazingfutures.co.uk as well as this blog and also co-founded ealingbusinessbuddies.co.uk) I love to support other parent business owners in West London and I’m always interested in hearing the story behind the business and the people who run it. Hence the idea of running regular articles, featuring local parent run businesses was born! In the first of these articles, I speak to Laura Cross, Founder of the fabulous children’s holiday and after-school club in Ealing, Inventors & Makers.
1. Where about in West London do you live?
I live in Ealing, but only moved here in 2017 from Hackney and before that San Francisco. We decided to come West because my family live in Wales and being this side of London cut an hour off the journey. However, since moving we’ve found out that West London has so much more to offer than a reduced journey time! We’ve made lovely friends and really feel a part of the community in Ealing. I mean we’ll obviously all be happier here when Cross Rail opens… 😉
2. How do you find being a parent in London? What are the main advantages and disadvantages?
I remember moving to London and saying I’d never bring kids up here after I grew up in the countryside by the sea. But now as a parent I realise how much London has to offer parents. For example, I love that your identity is more localised than just London. Ealing feels like a small community within London and we’ve made lots of great friends and often bump into people in the park here. And at the same time, we can jump on the tube and watch Cirque du Soleil in the Royal Albert Hall like we did a couple of weeks ago.
Of course, I don’t love the traffic and the pollution, but I just see those as what you have to put up with to be a Londoner and hopefully with electric buses and cars, the city pollution will be a lot better in a few years. Or so my futurist husband keeps telling me!
3. What inspired you to start your business?
My husband and I lived in San Francisco for three years and I worked in
education technology. While I was there, I visited pioneering schools, spoke
with thought leaders in education and witnessed for myself the reality of the
21st-century digital workplace.
Then when we moved back to London, I started looking for the types of activities I’d seen in California, such as Maker clubs. I wanted to find things that I felt adequately prepared my children for the realities of working and living in the future. I’m not talking about learning to code, but about learning future proofing skills like problem solving, creativity and collaboration. These skills are widely recognised as being some of the ultimate transferrable skills: they can be applied to anything, and forever. After a brief foray back into teaching in a school, I decided that if I couldn’t see what I wanted out there, I should just set something up myself. So I did!
4. Where do you prefer to work?
I love working in coffee shops in Ealing, my favourites being Artisan and Cafe Zee. It’s often lonely to work by yourself and so being in a coffee shop with other people around feels a bit less like I’m on my own.
However a lot of my work now involves preparing equipment and resources so I have to be in my house with all my stuff. We have a nanny two days a week so I get to be in my house and hear my children playing happily downstairs. It also means that I get little visits for hugs every now and then, so that makes it a pretty special place to work.
5. When did you first realize you wanted to run your own business?
To be honest I would never have thought about starting my own business until living in San Francisco. Everyone has a startup or an idea for a startup there. You go in a bar and everyone is talking about their big startup idea. It’s kind of contagious as it makes anything seem possible, so when I came back to London and saw a gap in the market, it didn’t feel like too much of a big deal to have a go at filling it myself.
6. What’s your favourite West London restaurant to eat out as a family?
We’re a pub family, although we do eat at restaurants too. I love a big family pub where it’s really relaxed and ideally there’s an outdoor play area in the garden. I think it’s great how a lot of pubs have really embraced that family feel – it feels very British. My daughter who is 4 often asks to go to “the pub” (our local – the Drayton Court in West Ealing) on a Sunday (much to my mum’s horror!) because she associates it with having a yummy relaxed lunch and playing on the swings and slides.
7. Any family holiday plans made for the next year yet?
We are going skiing as a family for the first time this year. Our youngest is only 2 so it’s probably a bit premature, but we thought they’d at least enjoy playing in the snow. I haven’t skied for about 5 years so I’m a bit worried I’m going to have total mum-fear and be too scared to do anything that has more than a 25% chance of breaking my leg. I previously fractured my pelvis skiing so this is a legitimate fear. My parents are coming too as my daughters are lucky enough to have amazing grandparents who will definitely (I hope) do some babysitting while mummy and daddy go out skiing – yay!
8. What motivates you to run your business?
My children are my why, as cheesy as that sounds! I think about what I as a parent would want for my children and then what my children would want themselves. I want to offer workshops and classes that are genuinely educational and help prepare children in vital future-proofing skills. But I also want to make sure that the children have a brilliant time and maybe even discover a new passion.
9. What are your main self-development goals for the next few years?
On a personal level, this is probably something that all business owners need to do, but I want to be less sensitive about feedback. I think feedback and self-reflection are so important in improving what I do. However, I can be too sensitive to feedback and have found myself going to ridiculous lengths to incorporate things at considerable effort after one tiny piece of feedback from one parent. It’s actually made me way more aware of the feedback I give to others now. People keep telling me you can’t please everyone, but I’m a people pleaser so I can’t help wanting to make everyone happy. I’m working on it…!
From a business point of view, we’ve seen really big growth given we only ran our first class in February 2019. It’s a year on and we regularly sell out holiday workshops; we have two sell-out toddler-preschooler classes; our first after-school club sold out in one minute; and we are starting to go into schools to do workshops. The demand is there but managing to meet it on my own is becoming almost impossible. I’m therefore looking to take on teachers to run different classes for me, always with Inventors & Makers curriculum, resources and general ethos.
10. As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Well I knew what I didn’t want to be: a teacher. My entire family were
primary teachers, including both my parents and my aunts and uncles. My
husband’s family were actually all primary teachers too. I saw my parents
constantly working and how stressed their jobs made them. I vowed to never be a
teacher and instead went my own way and became a lawyer, practising in the city
for a few years.
It was in my late-20’s that I realised that teaching is in the DNA, and suddenly there I was as a teacher, working constantly and stressed! I think I’m still working constantly and stressed, but I love teaching and even more so now I teach things that I think are important and on my own terms.
11. Any advice for a parent thinking of starting their own business?
Don’t do it!…Kidding.
I’d genuinely say though not to go into it thinking it’s going to provide better work-life balance. There are so many franchises or work from home jobs out there that allow you to better switch off when you’re having family time. You have to be really passionate about what you’re doing to start your own business from scratch because it’s going to inevitably mean spending less quality time with your children than you imagine and it might not even work out in the end.
Something that I have changed recently is to move my day off from a Friday to a Wednesday. Having a day off in the middle of the week means you can ignore more emails and your to-do list and leave it until tomorrow. I used to find myself logging on more when I took Fridays off because I didn’t like the thought of something sitting there until the Monday.
I’m also able to do dinner and bedtime every night as well as drop offs and pick ups from school and nursery a couple of times a week because even if I have loads to do I can go back to work after bedtime. My Netflix viewing has taken a serious hit though.
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Thank you Laura for being the first guest in our new series of Meet the Parent Biz Founder interviews. Inventors & Makers is a West London Kids Tried & Tested class and holiday club and we highly recommend it. There are a series of holiday workshops running during the half-term and Easter holidays. For more information visit: https://www.inventorsandmakers.com/ You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.