The Hills Meets: MOSTYN Gallery

An article in The Independent once declared that ‘art galleries ought to be amusing’. Not, as we discovered they meant, in a comedic fashion, but instead using the historic sense of the word - entertaining, interesting and enthralling. Unfortunately, research has also found that for many people, the concept of attending art galleries was considered “not for the likes of me”. Whilst art galleries were originally invented as places of leisure for a new urban populace, they are intended to be educative, but just like the theatre or the cinema, the newspaper article claimed that they should also ‘give you the promise of excitement and thrilling engagement’.

The Hills Meets: MOSTYN Gallery - Countryside Blog Wales

Here at The Hills, we wholeheartedly agree, and so does our fabulous local art gallery MOSTYN in Llandudno. I had the pleasure of catching up with Audience Relations Manager, Lin Cummins, and Barry Morris, Retail Manager, to find out more about the nature of the modern art gallery and how the public can engage with artists to create this ‘amusement’ of exciting contemporary art!

To introduce MOSTYN, it is the largest contemporary art gallery in Wales and shows work from all over the world alongside fabulous art and craft from artists and makers based in Wales. As Llandudno is a tourist town, the population grows massively during the holiday seasons and the gallery welcomes many people from all walks of life. However, there's more to MOSTYN than its reputation as the foremost contemporary gallery and visual arts centre in Wales. Behind an impressive Edwardian terracotta facade, topped with a landmark gold spire, the original turn of the century galleries have been merged with stunning modern spaces in an award-winning architectural design. The six gallery spaces exhibit the best in international contemporary art and craft, showing artists and makers from Wales and far beyond. With friendly staff, activities for all ages, a lovely shop and a bright and airy café, there is most certainly something for everyone.


The Hills Meets: MOSTYN Gallery - Countryside Blog Wales

Lin is clear that at MOSTYN, they operate a very ‘open door’ policy and of course culture vultures flock there, but she is keen also to ensure the door is wide open to everyone and anyone. With such a varied visitor demographic, from local families and holidaymakers to international artists and journalists, their new season exhibitions include artists from New York and Zurich but also from artists based just up the street. Thanks to their beautiful shop and café, for some local residents, MOSTYN is now very much a part of their regular social route around the town.

Whilst some people may still think of galleries as places where you have to be intellectual and knowledgeable to enjoy a visit, MOSTYN is working extremely hard to dispel the myth that galleries are only for the knowledgeable elite, and the staff are only too happy to chat with you about the exhibitions. Additionally, events are held alongside their exhibition programme and these are so successful in opening up the conversation in all kinds of ways to include both the community and artists. MOSTYN presents art that is relevant and accessible to all without compromising on a curatorial approach, which is to bring the best in international contemporary art to North Wales.

To further aid accessibility and approachability, the visitor experience team and retail staff are practicing artists or creatives, and so they too are passionate about contemporary art, craft and design. Additionally, MOSTYN holds talks for new exhibitions with the Director, Curator and visiting artists, which are always a brilliant opportunity to gain an insight into works on show, and what goes on behind the scenes.

In an age of digital and social media and online streaming, we would argue that while essential to sharing art to a far wider community, nothing beats viewing art up close and personal. By heading to a local art gallery, you experience not just the exhibition, but the atmosphere, architecture and conversation that you can’t witness online. That said, MOSTYN is excited to soon be launching a digital strand that will be hosted online, as well as shown in the gallery. Whilst the digital world holds a wealth of opportunities in some respects, the shop at MOSTYN allows personal browsing and advice from knowledgeable staff so that choosing that special gift becomes a more personal experience than e-commerce.

With a growing number of shoppers moving away from the mass-produced to the unique, MOSTYN has chosen to keep its store in-house and offline to ‘better support more makers, and provide a more personal shopping experience for customers.’ In North Wales, MOSTYN acts as a hub for the local community and visitors come not only for the galleries and exhibition programs, but also to take part in a variety events, talks and engagement activities. They can learn a new skill at their adult and children workshops or browse for gifts in the exquisitely stocked shop. To put the icing on the cake, the visitors and local community are invited yearly to vote on the Open exhibition, the next one will be taking place in 2019, to present the ‘Audience Award’ to their favourite exhibit. It is a testament to their curation that whilst only one can win, every single work usually receives some votes - there really is something for everyone!

MOSTYN is proud to always welcome individuals and groups to experience contemporary art and be part of wider community. For example, Lin and Barry shared a story of a mother who has been taking her children to the gallery for three years. ‘She often refers to the gallery as “her church”, bringing the children in regularly to experience the exhibitions, take part in workshops and activities, meet with artists at our openings and use our shop and cafe. We’ve watched as the children have grown in confidence and developed their artistic abilities, and their love of contemporary art.’

The Hills Meets: MOSTYN Gallery - Countryside Blog Wales

As a registered charity MOSTYN is dedicated and also proud to support independent makers and small businesses in its retail spaces, and all income generated is invested back into the exhibition and engagement programme. Put simply, MOSTYN encourages people to tell everyone what a fabulous place it is and are always looking forwards to seeing them return with the whole family!

When was the last time you stepped into your local art gallery? You could be in for an unexpected treat!

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.

Cymru - Cider Country!

Well, here we are in autumn, with its velvet-soft mornings sharpened by cool, still air - a reminder that winter is on its way. This is the celebrated ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’; the time for harvesting summer’s bounty from our trees and hedgerows and I feel that arguably one of our most popular fares, the British apple, is worthy of a blog post today.

Cymru - Cider Country!

Now that we have joined other European nations as wine and Prosecco drinkers, it seems to me that we largely overlook the production and associated traditions of our own native drink, cider, which has been made in this country for millennia – indeed, when the Romans invaded, they found that the locals were already old hands in fermenting apple juice to make this delicious drink!

Yet springtime orchards in blossom are things of great beauty rivalling (and surpassing, in my humble opinion) any vineyard, and artisan cider is made with the same attention and devotion as any fine wine.

Although cider production might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you consider what North Wales has to offer, among the soaring mountains, rolling hills and glittering seascapes, that’s exactly what you’ll find: passionate, small-scale producers extracting the sweet, golden juice of our native fruit to produce their heady blend.

From ciders made from just one or two apple varieties, to those which are a blend of many, each one is lovingly crafted using methods and techniques, and of course, fruit, peculiar to each artisan, ensuring that each one has its own distinct personality.

With all this in mind, I decided to discover a little more out the tradition of artisan cider producers here in North Wales…

DEE CIDERS

Dee Ciders in Flintshire is run by father and son team, Richard and Scott Johnson.

On his retirement back in 2010, Richard had a cherished dream of whiling away his quieter years with small-scale cider making, and planted some apple trees, choosing the varieties either by their vintage or the glorious silliness of their names (Broxwood Foxwhelp and Brown Snout, for instance!). He planned to make himself a simple basket press and produce enough cider to see him through the year.

Unfortunately, the first year of pressing was missed due to Richard having an argument with a chisel when making his press, resulting in a 3 day hospital stay and a prolonged period of being unable to walk!

Things improved the following year though, and a bumper crop resulted in over 350 litres being produced. Inspired by watching BBC’s ‘The Apprentice’, Scott took some samples of their cider to The Bluebell Inn, Halkyn (CAMRA Cider Pub of the Year winner), who agreed to stock them. This gave the pair the confidence to continue, and they now deliver their cider and perry to many hostelries and restaurants across North Wales and beyond.

Richard and Scott’s aim has always been to produce the highest quality pure juice cider and perry, using fruit carefully picked and processed by hand with no water or concentrates added. Several years of hard work in planting new orchards and bringing old ones to life have literally borne fruit, and the amount of cider being produced continues to increase.

Retirement – what retirement?!


JASPELS, ANGLESEY

After spending many memorable weekends together on the beautiful island of Anglesey, there was only one choice for husband and wife team, Janet and Ade, when they decided to relocate for a change of lifestyle in 2013.

However, they soon noticed that the fruit of many apple trees on the island was largely going to waste, and having previously produced cider on a small scale as a hobby, the couple hit upon the idea of harvesting this fruit to produce a commercial Anglesey craft cider. They put out an appeal on social media for donations of unwanted Anglesey apples and pears, and were overwhelmed by the response, with offers of fruit coming in from all over the island, from single apple trees to orchards! They now have a growing network of ‘Apple Donors’, who in return receive samples of cider the following spring.

Jaspels Cider is made from the freshly pressed juice of these apples and pears, which is extracted using a handmade traditional-style hydraulic press, and allowed to ferment before being blended to produce ‘a true taste of the island’, in the words of Janet and Ade.

They also produce a damson fruit cider and a mulled cider, which they serve at food festivals.

The couple are particularly keen to graft from old and interesting Anglesey trees, and to establish many more orchards across the island, firmly believing that Anglesey has the landscape and climate to become a prime cider producing location.

Jaspels produce 5 unique craft ciders that they sell in their own shop in Amlwch, as well as through stockists across Anglesey, North Wales and Cheshire.


ROSIE’S CIDER

Rosie’s Cider can be found in the rolling countryside of Llandegla, and was founded thirteen years ago by Steve Hughes, whose first serious attempt at cider making from his own crab apples blended with other locally sourced apples gleaned a gold medal at his very first show, the CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) Bottled Cider Competition in Reading back in 2006.

There are three award-winning ciders in the Rosie’s stable: Triple D, Wicked Wasp and Black Bart, together with a Perry (pear) cider – however, Steve finds it difficult to find enough fruit to make much of this, so if you have a productive perry pear tree, let him know!

Steve now grows 860 apple trees made up of 69 different varieties, and all Rosie’s cider is made by pressing fruit with no concentrate, water or ’fruit flavours’ added, to give a 100% full-juice cider, which is ‘super slow fermented’ over the winter months, and is usually ready by the end of May the following year.

Rosie’s sell cider from their own farm shop, which is open from 10.00 am – 6.30 pm weekdays, and from 9.00 am – 6.30 at the weekend, as well as to local hostelries. They also attend local food fairs and country shows.

In Steve’s words: “Good cider isn’t cheap. Cheap cider isn’t good…”

With these words in mind, and in the name of further research only, I took myself off to the Bluebell Inn, Halkyn, which serves both Dee Ciders and Rosie’s, to conduct a taste test and to chat to the friendly landlord, Gary Jones. It was a busy evening, but I managed a quick word with Gary, who took over the running of the pub 18 months ago and has carried on the tradition of selling only ciders from Wales, which, he tells me, continue to be popular.

After perusing the ‘cider blackboard’, I plumped for the Dee Ciders ‘Richard’s Dry’. It was a different experience for me, as although I do drink cider, I’m used to the widely available carbonated varieties. However, although this cider has a more complex taste than I’m used to, I did enjoy it and found it dangerously moreish!

In the interests of avoiding a hangover I decided not to try any more, but was assured by one of the locals that Rosie’s ‘Wicked Wasp’ was like ‘drinking nectar’ - in fact, he will only drink it while his wife is with him, as she keeps an eye on his intake!

I was keen to find out how this year’s challenging weather has affected cider fruit crops, and in turn, their business, so I managed an early morning chat with Janet from Jaspels Cider in Anglesey. She told me that the apple crop was slow to get started, but when the rains finally came in August there was a surge in growth which produced apples with a higher sugar content than in previous years, and although the harvest was 3 weeks early and the physical size of the fruit was smaller overall, the yield was greater.

Jaspels enjoys a steady and plentiful supply of fruit from their ‘fruit donors’ and the business is continuing to grow, with 100 new donors coming forward this year alone. Janet and Ade are continuing their search to pinpoint suitable sites for orchards across Anglesey, and they have been approached by local farmers, some of whom are already donors, who would like to work with them. She was keen to point out that comparing craft cider to commercial cider is like comparing a house wine with a fine vintage, with commercial cider only having to contain 30% pure apple juice (the rest of the flavour coming from apple concentrates and syrups). This is compared to a craft cider, which is 100% pressure-pressed pure juice, and then fermented, like wine – definitely not brewed!

Thankfully, with the advent of the ’slow food movement’ and the growing public appetite for small batch artisan food and drink, awareness of craft ciders is greatly improving, and cider production is on the increase in North Wales. Once they have established an orchard, Jaspels are also looking to reintroduce the ancient tradition of ‘Wassailing’ (from the Old Norse ‘ves heill’ meaning ‘good health’).

A crowd of people gather in the orchard for this night-time event, usually in January, and make lots of noise to scare away any evil spirits lurking in the trees (sometimes referred to as “howling”). Slices of cider-soaked bread or toast are then hung onto the branches, and cider is poured onto the roots of the trees. This ceremony is said to “bless” the trees to produce a good crop in the next year. Cider is passed around the company and drunk from a Wassail Bowl, an intricately made and decorated wood or clay bowl. Beautiful and highly decorated pottery Wassail bowls continue to be made to commission in both traditional and contemporary styles by Gwili Pottery in Carmarthen. This is an exciting development and will be an excellent new tourist attraction for Anglesey - I wonder where the nearest B&B is, because I’m in!.

CRAZY FOR CIDER?

If you are interested in finding out more for yourself, head over to Erddig Hall, Wrexham, whose own orchard contains 180 varieties of apple, where they are celebrating their annual month-long Apple Harvest until Sunday 29th October this year.

This is one of the largest Apple Festivals in the UK, featuring apple tree talks and walks, storytelling, live music, a Welsh Cider and Perry exhibition, and cider press demonstrations – amongst many other things!

Head Gardener Glyn Smith has been instrumental in the planting of a museum orchard at Erddig as part of the ‘ModernStory of Orchards and Cider Making in Wales’ Project, in conjunction with the Welsh Perry and Cider Society. He says that the project will be a real step forward in maintaining the heritage of cider apples and perry pears in Wales.

As part of the same project, 2017 saw 43 new varieties of apples believed to be found only in Wales, being discovered during research carried out jointly between the Society and the University of South Wales: “It’s incredibly exciting for us. The project has unearthed far more unique varieties than we ever expected – fruit that is probably only in Wales, and which has never been recorded. For cider lovers with a patriotic streak, it could be just what they’re looking for!” said Jayne Hunt, the Society’s Heritage Project Manager.

I hope all this has whetted your appetite to seek out our local producers and sample some of their delicious ciders and perrys, and that you will join me in raising a glass or two to this great Welsh cider revival! In the words of Pete Brown and Bill Bradshaw: “Having lost its ancient tradition completely, Wales is now back on the cider map with a BANG!” – World’s Best Cider Book

 
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Sonia Goulding

Sonia lives with her other half, Jon, and her two gorgeous dogs Alfie and Seren, in the pretty hill village of Cilcain, in the glorious Clwydian Hills. She is passionate about rural north Wales and enjoys researching and writing about the people she meets and the beautiful businesses on our doorstep. Sonia and Jon consider themselves very lucky to be able to live and work in such wonderful surroundings, counting their blessings every day!

Supporting Women in Rural Enterprise

I don’t need to tell you that the history of women in business is a proud one. In less enlightened times, women tirelessly supported rural businesses invariably headed up by their male relatives, without pay or recognition. Indeed, ‘support’ is misleading; frequently, they were equal partners in terms of work with their contributions to childcare, budgeting, accounts and record-keeping, but remained in the background, their astonishing multi-tasking unseen and, let’s be honest, vastly underappreciated.

Supporting Women in Rural Enterprise


But times have changed. We know that women now head up a significant percentage of small and medium-sized rural enterprises, and we know that the Young report has acknowledged the valuable contribution these businesses make to the economy. The playing field has broadened, too - a ‘woman in rural enterprise’ is no longer a fancy way of saying a ‘farmer’s wife’, but covers a huge number of fields: women who work in the arts, tourism, the food industry, crafters, therapists and professional service providers to name just a handful. I frequently find myself in awe at the tenacity, dynamism and creativity of women in rural enterprise. The Hills was designed as an online platform to promote the very best of rural business, but I have to admit that I regularly find myself cheerleading most loudly for the female entrepreneurs pushing themselves to the forefront of diversification and innovation against all of the odds.

Whilst International Women's Day and the Day Without Women kick off Women's History Month every March, why are we not concentrating on supporting women in business or breaking their glass ceiling throughout the year? The proportion of small and medium-sized companies run by women is increasing, yet there is greater potential still: there are more women with great entrepreneurial ideas who need support to help their businesses succeed. Did you know, that if women set up businesses at the same rate as men, the UK would have an additional one million entrepreneurs!

Because of course, women in rural enterprise still face challenges; it would be irresponsible of me to try to claim otherwise. In practical terms, there are the long distances rural business owners have to travel - and account for in their invoicing - to reach suppliers and clients, or visit trade fairs and conferences etc - and there is also the ongoing issue of rural broadband. Rural areas are also far more at risk of ‘brain drain’, i.e. talented youngsters moving out of the area and heading for a nearby city to improve their employment prospects, making recruitment difficult for all rural business owners, male or female. All of this in addition to the usual stereotyping and cultural, systemic and institutional discrimination women can face in the workplace makes for a heady mix of what we might optimistically call ‘challenges’.

So how can we support the budding female entrepreneur in our daily lives? We have a some ideas for you to consider:

There is no better way to support business than use a business. Head out on to your local high street and into your community and seek out that passionate creative, shopkeeper or artisan and get to know their business. Small Business Saturday is coming up on the 1st December and now is the time to start planning ahead. As a non-commercial campaign, Small Business Saturday UK highlights business success and encourages consumers to 'shop local' and support small businesses in their communities. Whilst the day itself takes place on the first Saturday in December each year, the campaign aims to have a lasting impact on small businesses. Investigate local events and markets in your area - many small businesses take part in the day by hosting events and offering discounts. Last year an estimated £748 million was spent on the day!

Fewer women believe that they have the skills to start a business compared with men, which in itself is a huge barrier to the aspiring female entrepreneur. Have you ever considered doing a skillshare, a mutual training time swap or mentoring session? Confidence to jump in feet first is a massive benefit to any start up, and so cheerleaders are a valuable commodity. Whilst we can’t always provide funding; advice and pointing in the direction of apprenticeships and training are a great way to help that fledgeling business woman.

I’m a big advocate of seeking out networking events which cover large rural areas and offer a wealth of support, inspiration and opportunities to build relationships with other like-minded women. Does the thought of networking fill you with dread? Let’s work on this. After all, people buy from people - real people - but networking isn’t just a selling exercise. It’s also an opportunity to bounce ideas around, spark connections, even find a mentor with a wealth of experience in a related field. There are a wide number of business networks specifically for women. These networks offer events, support, advice and more. They range from very broad memberships to those targeted at more specific audiences, such as Women in Rural Enterprise (WiRE), Women in Business Network and the Federation of Small Businesses newly launched initiative.

Sandra Donoghue, Membership Advisor for the Federation of Small Business and instrumental in championing the Women in Business network in North Wales says: ‘More and more women are seeing self-employment as an attractive career option and are choosing to set up their own business. In particular, social enterprise and rural business owners are predominantly led by women and creating the women in business network helps to bring them together to share their challenges, triumphs, innovations and ideas. Our aim is to create a network to help women achieve their goals by enabling them to access support that is tailored to their needs. Speaking to other business women at different stages of the entrepreneurial journey, learning from role models and working with mentors helps them to develop their business ideas and identify strategies for future growth. The initiative focuses on the three key goals of; personal development & education, collaboration and empowerment for women both new to business and those looking at ways to learn new skills and develop their established businesses.’

Sandra goes on to tell us: ‘I was fortunate to present at an award winners event earlier this week, the Best Rural Business Award Finals. I was seated at a table that boasted three rural business award winners on the evening and all three winning businesses are owned by women! The aim of these awards is to give recognition to businesses operating right across the rural sector, to acknowledge the breadth and depth of opportunity presented by the Great British countryside, as well as to celebrate the achievements of our rural businesses, from engineering through to artisan food producers and professional services organisations.’

Awards are a fabulous platform for recognising and celebrating the great achievements of our rural business communities. Maybe you can nominate one of the amazing women in business that you know for an award?

Choosing a working life of entrepreneurial innovation may have its downsides - uncertainty being one - but with the help of a supportive community of like-minded women around us - virtual or otherwise - some strong coffee and some thoughtful advice, I honestly believe we can achieve anything. Add a bit of cake into that mix and - well, the world really is your oyster!

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.

Tales of Inspiration - Motivating the Creative Movement with your story

Recently, when the nights have been drawing in and after I have spent the day researching and talking to our brilliant Club members, I have been taking some time out to listen to the wonderful Holly Tucker’s podcast - Conversations of Inspiration. As a small business owner, I am drawn to her stories in a way that resonates totally with me, and I love to hear her chat to a new business founder each week, hear the highs and lows encountered whilst building their business, and soak up some of their advice and inspiration along the way.

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As founder of Notonthehighstreet and Holly & Co, Holly Tucker has spent the last 15 years growing and empowering small businesses around the UK, and as the UK Ambassador to Creative Small Businesses, Holly works tirelessly to positively influence the creative movement by amplifying its voice where it matters most. Just like me, she is passionate about ensuring handcrafted doesn’t become a thing of the past, and that talented artisans have the support and tools they need to continue making a living doing what they love.

In Conversations of Inspiration, Holly invites each guest to share their own story around how they came to start their own business. From Julie Deane OBE of The Cambridge Satchel Company, to Deliciously Ella and Jo Malone, I have found myself gripped listening to their talks, and it makes me wonder - what are my lovely reader’s stories?

I can hear you lamenting already, ‘I don’t have a story!’ - but wait a second. How can you not have a story? We all get up in a morning, do something with our day and go to sleep at night, but what we do with our waking hours is a choice fuelled by our passions and shaped by our circumstances and history. In that sense, no one of us has an identical story, and for me that makes everyone’s tale an important one to tell.

As you may know, I share our directory member’s stories on the blog in our feature The Hills Meets. Be it an account of chronic illness (my daughter Mary bravely opened up about her battles over on our latest blog), a separation, burn out, or simply an urge to live a less mundane existence, I have learned that the more passionate a life we live, the greater our urge to be creative and break the corporate mould.

Take The Hills club member Jo Smith for example, who was so unfortunate and suffered a completely unexpected brain haemorrhage in April 2009, resulting in a lengthy stay at The Walton Centre, Liverpool and several months off work. After also being made redundant from her day job as a Health and Safety Consultant at a university, it is clear that she now grabs every opportunity with both hands and is involved with a range of businesses such as her own cheese making at The Little Welsh Cheese, event venue Hope Mountain and as a passionate business owner is a champion of local and rural enterprises, and can also be found on the committee for a number of local groups.

I strongly believe in designing a life around your passions, and during my twenties I travelled the bright, busy world from my Paris base, and loving the high contrast, bold experiences, the buzz and noise of difference found everywhere I went. But after having my first child, I longed for her to know the love of the countryside, to live what I felt was a ‘real’ life and so I left the city for anywhere green, and somewhere I could set down roots.

The Hills was born from my desire to work again after a long break to raise my children. I needed to feel the stimulation of running my own business, creating something and doing it my way. I married my love of writing, reading and other people’s stories to produce my online magazine and used my training and experience of marketing to share it all with others and help them to find their better work life balance. Like many business owners, including those mentioned in this article, my passion has been lead by an undercurrent of my life choices. My animals and the beautiful hills, forests and lakes surrounding me have always brought me a feeling of happiness and peace.

Like Ella Mills whose inspiration came from her struggle with illness Postural Tachycardia Syndrome or Molly Gunn who continues to be inspired by honest parenting and sharing 'what us parents are really thinking', my Welsh hills continue to provide mine. Here, I am surrounded by like minded people and those who embrace small businesses and village life. On my own doorstep there are a talented array of artisans including jewellery designers, artists, highly skilled carpenters, and even a book binder.

I’m making it my mission to go and find out their story, and discover what brings them to The Hills, but I’m also curious about you.

What’s your story? What, who or where is your inspiration?

I would love to know you more and share your stories with other entrepreneurs. Let’s have our own conversations of inspiration right here!

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.

The Hills Meets - Mary Hill

We are passionate here at The Hills about supporting small businesses, growing a connected community of wonderful people, championing rural enterprise and promoting sustainable living. But sustainable living doesn’t need to only mean ‘eco-friendly’ as it does to many. For many of us, the choices we make in how we live and work need to be sustainable so that we continue to live a happy life here in the countryside.

According to official figures, there were 4.7 million self-employed workers in the first quarter of 2016, the latest period for which we have data (The Telegraph), and we know that most of these brilliant business owners have chosen to be their own boss so that they can have a more flexible and creative work-life balance. Something many of us consider an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Continuing our exploration of the reasons for choosing the self-employed lifestyle, today we are delving deeper into our blog post on the link between shopping small and managing chronic illnesses, through an interview with the main inspiration of the topic - my daughter Mary. As many of you already know, Mary lives with M.E. and it has meant dramatic changes to her lifestyle. Throughout the past years of her illness there has also been worry for her future, will she be able to get a job, run her own home and live a truly independent life when at times her M.E. is so debilitating? She is chatting to me today about her art, her experiences with M.E. and what she feels this means for her future life. I’d like to thank her deeply for opening up to the blog with this, as I’m sure it is not always a comfortable topic to discuss.

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When did you first realise you had a talent in art?

I discovered my passion whilst in sixth form, at the age of 17. Before then I hated it when my teacher would ask me to paint because I had no confidence in my abilities - I was previously only used to drawing. However the more I painted and practised, something in me just clicked. I think I only realised I had a talent when other people started to notice and tell me!

Which medium is your favourite?

I definitely prefer oil paints, there is so much more freedom when working with them on the canvas.

Is there another art form you would like to try?

I would love to try sculpture - I have no experience in sculpture but I would like to give it a go, when you work with your hands it allows you to almost become part of the work itself. 


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What does art mean to you?

It means everything - it was my saviour and my escape during my worst periods of illness and even now it still can be. I feel calm and forget about my anxieties when I paint. I draw inspiration from my surroundings so it allows me to look at the world differently. Art makes you question things and stirs your emotions. Also, art history is very important to me because the progression through time is so fascinating. Art is so personal too, when I create something that’s mine and in my style and my ideas I know it is totally unique.

What does M.E. feel like?

It feels like you're not fully alive, you are so limited in every area of your life. I still struggle with feeling like my life has been taken away. It's so debilitating and frustrating and I feel like I will never achieve what I could have done without suffering from M.E.. I'm running on empty every single day with no break from it, so finding the motivation to make food/get dressed etc is often extremely difficult, never mind creating artwork

How does it affect your daily life?

I don't have much of a life, I don't mean that in a depressing way but M.E. has changed everything. If I do the things I want to do, my body punishes me for days afterwards. It's often easier to give in and sleep 16 hours a day!

Have you been able to access any support?

Medically no but my family, especially my mum, is my whole support. They are my life, I just wouldn't be able to cope with M.E. alone and I sincerely feel for those who don't have a choice but to cope on their own.

What changes have you had to make to your lifestyle because of your illness?

I have given up all my sports so I'm no longer physically active at all. I used to ride my horses and play a lot of tennis which I loved. I had to leave school in the lower sixth and be tutored for my A levels, over 4 years not the usual 2. I can't usually do things in the day time unless I really plan for it because I need to sleep until the afternoon.

What career would you like to have when you leave uni?

I want to paint! If I could make a living selling my work that would be my dream, I am also very interested in teaching at primary school, I love small children and I feel a lot less anxious around them. If I could combine both of these passions I would be very happy.

Is your chosen career going to be possible given the symptoms of your illness?

At the moment, teaching would not be possible because of having to get up early and be on the go all day, but art is absolutely a possibility! I am hearing more and more positive and encouraging stories about those who are successful despite having a chronic illness, and as long as I work hard when my body allows me to I think I can achieve it.

Will art always play a part in your career/life?

I want it to be my whole career! If it turns out not to be it will always be part of my life as a creative person, I can express myself fully and powerfully when words have always been a struggle. Art is a universal language.

What would you say to other people who suffer from illnesses such as M.E. who are worried about how they will work to earn money?

I often think about other people my age who suffer from M.E. who might not have the support that I have from my parents. I have been lucky enough to be able to take several years longer to do my studies, but this has meant a great deal of generosity and extra financial support from family. Not everyone has this opportunity. It is so tough for them.

*Note* - If you would like more information on M.E. and the support available, we recommend using the M.E. association and their related resources.

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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats , four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.