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10 Feb 2021
Expression


Plant One On Me

With 250 houseplants, accessories, home decor and gifts, Plant One On Me in Bradford is an oasis in the city centre. Owner Ursula Sutcliffe talks about her 2020, the rise of independent businesses in the city and the power of plants.


“I don't think we have ever worked so hard, mentally and physically. 2020 has just been unbelievable. In the north, it feels like we have had it bad going from lockdown into Tier 3 and then into lockdown again. It feels like there is no end to it. Things change at short notice and it’s hard to predict what will happen next.

“I opened Plant One On Me in May 2019. I was tired of only seeing the shops I wanted in other cities and not Bradford. I’d been a teacher for 20 years. On a whim I started selling plants in a hut and saving the takings. Eventually I moved in to a small unit with nothing in it. My husband made the tables and we created a space with 150 plants and a tea room. We bought in other independents to supply cake and tea. It was going nicely, every week we were making enough to put back in.

“Then the virus happened. Local councillors warned me that we were about to go into lockdown. It felt like the end of the world. I rang my family to tell them they needed to prepare. No one knew what was going on. I just cried every time someone came in. Because I was new, I hadn't done any forecasting for a complete shutdown.

Adapting to Lockdown

“I had 100 plants and had to bring them all home. The shop was in an underground tunnel, so there was no way in once it was all locked up. I was just at home feeling sorry for myself. About a week later I woke up at 5am, living in a jungle and thought I had to do something! I went downstairs and photographed everything. I put it on Facebook and Instagram and within an hour everything was sold! My phone was constantly pinging! I’d never sold online before.

“I contacted my grower to see if I could get new stock. They said they would do what they could to keep me going. I held an auction every week on Facebook. We spent all our time packing it up and delivering round Bradford, giving people thumbs up through their windows.

“I also did an Insta Live session each week sharing tips about looking after certain plants and stuff about Bradford. It was a good way to keep connecting with people. I started off with six viewers and built to about 200. I also built a website, using a template site.

“It’s been a real rollercoaster. We were awarded a 10k small business grant and the council offered us a bigger building. It didn't feel right but we said yes and reinvested it back into Bradford. This used to be a really run-down area but we’re doing what we can to encourage people to come here. We built a new counter and wooden fencing outside. We reopened in August and doubled our takings.

“But under Tier 3 restrictions since November it has been a struggle. My whole family had Covid in September and it has taken a long time to feel better. When I finally got back into the shop, many of the plants had died. We’ve had to close a few times because of Track and Trace notifications. It has been a constant battle, only open 7 weeks out of 14 this quarter. People are dubious about coming into the city centre. We can't open the café, previously 60% of our income. So, it is back to the drawing board. The Christmas stock has been slow to sell. There are no public toilets in our hilly city centre and nowhere to get a cup of tea. We are all just so sick of the restrictions, we just want to get back to normal.

A New Independent Quarter

“In Bradford, independents probably account for 80% of the units. People are going out their way to support us. A lovely man came in yesterday and put £40 on the counter and said to customers – “Merry Christmas, buy what you like”!

“My next-door shop, Mean Old Scene, is a vintage store which opened in May. We have been cooking up all sorts of ideas. I have a spare room upstairs and have invited artists and other businesses to use the space. We’ve run a curry club from there too and are planning other pop-up food events. Together we set up the online Bradford Street Market which opens every Thursday on Facebook. It showcases 200 stall holders and is visited by 4000 members. We want to develop this into a visible presence and turn this area into an independent quarter. There are a great set of young people who are creating their clothing lines. We’d love to help them to set up a business. We’re dreaming of a green line on the pavement inspiring people to follow the ‘green brick road’ to our vibrant and supportive area.

“A group of business leaders, Bradford BID have been looking out for us. The local council could do so much more to improve this area. My husband could build fences and benches and paint the pathway. It is hard to find the right person at the council who could approve it all. We don't have time to put in a business plan in. We care for this space, just need some help to make it even better.

The Power of Plants

“I’ve had my moments but decided to stop stressing about the things I can't control. That £40 guy that came in gave me a boost, another man found me some vintage pots. The community is so supportive, it blows my mind! Bradford gets a lot of stick but I get every age group from every background in my shop. We all agree nature is beautiful. Our city centre is quite hard looking, there’s not much green space. People used to come in and have a coffee amongst 400 plants. Some came in and cried. People just need tranquillity. Many live in apartments with no access to green space. Buying plants helps. I’m constantly thinking of ways to create the feel-good factor for people.

“I have been working 24/7 in the shop, then doing social media and online orders. I am ‘on’ all the time. One thing lockdown has taught me is that time is precious. Over Christmas we’ll be closing for a week. We just need to take a break. I will be getting on my settee and eating lots of food.

What’s next? I really hope we can have a bit of normality back next year. But all my plants come from Holland so I don’t know how it is going to work post-Brexit. I am back to working hand-to-mouth, there’s no safety net so I need to get creative. I know that if I lose it all, there's nothing more I could have done.

February 2021


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