The lovely Vanessa and I met via an online course earlier this year. We both wanted to improve our blogging skills. It didn’t take long until we started to chat about our business ideas and hopes. As I run events and she hosts workshops it soon became apparent that we should do something together. Not long after, The Heiter Autumn Event took place at Vanessa’s Oak Tree Barn in Somerset, England. It was such a heiter experience that I wanted to find out more about Vanessa, and share her story wih all of you.
Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.
I’m Vanessa and having spent the last 30 odd years pursuing many different occupations in many different locations I find myself back in the village of my childhood. I have rather taken the long way round, but have finally been able to identify the fact that the simple pleasure of spending time with like-minded people is what fills me up. Friends, family and those whom I welcome to my home in North Somerset, England, which I share for workshops and retreats.
I’m happily married to a wonderful man and we have two very nearly grown up daughters. We’re a little spread around the country at present but love nothing more than being together at the barn where we enjoy pottering outside, gardening, eating, drinking, chicken wrangling and sitting in front of the fire.
When did you decide to start hosting workshops at Oak Tree Barn and why?
I began hosting workshops at Oak Tree Barn just a year ago having previously run them from our home in Bristol. I initially began running workshops having identified two things - that I definitely wanted to work for myself, and that I needed to meet other people regularly. I’ve always enjoyed attending workshops as I love learning, and thought this might just be the thing for me. I’m always happy for an excuse to try out new recipes and baking without the danger of eating it all myself is welcomed!
I do know from experience through that running a workshop alone is quite challenging. It’s hard to be fully present for a group of participants if you’re worrying about whether the kettle has boiled or if lunch is ready. I hope that what I’m able to do is enable others to share their skills, knowledge and experience in a relaxed and pleasurable way for everyone.
What kind of workshops are held at the barn?
I’ve hosted quite a variety of events here, from floristry and Christmas wreaths to skills for small businesses and some quite intense personal development retreats. Indeed, I even hosted your first UK Heiter event which felt like the perfect combination of getting people together to enjoy a bit of everything - the benefits of a lovely walk, getting creative and also reflecting on the things that genuinely give us pleasure.
The barn is a very special place to us and has a particularly peaceful, calm ambience. I am possibly a little biased, but others do comment upon it too. It’s a wonderfully flexible space so lends itself to a variety of small group events, and I’m always happy to try something new so welcome suggestions.
Why is the Oak Barn Tree different to other workshop locations?
I think perhaps it is partially the fact that the barn is a home that enables people to quickly feel comfortable here and able to absorb whatever the day has to offer. I’m always happy to share the (rather longwinded!) story of how we ended up owning and converting it; we know how lucky we are to have had the opportunity to create this space, and sharing it gives me great pleasure which I hope people can sense.
From a practical perspective it’s away from the city but within easy reach, parking is no issue and we have the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty literally on our doorstep. I offer nourishing home cooked food that I’m on hand to serve, and I’m always here to help out during workshops.
Why do you think workshops can have a positive impact on people and add to their Heiterkeit?
I have no doubt at all that workshops have a positive impact. It may not always be what you expected, but I think the benefits of spending time amongst a group of people are enormous. Meeting people outside our regular circles, learning or experiencing something new, walking, talking, eating and drinking together is hugely uplifting. It opens our eyes and hearts to the possibilities we can create and offers support from others in exploring the options.
What have you enjoyed most about running your business?
It’s funny, when I very first began I think I thought I would find a creative pursuit that I would be able to fully embrace and turn into the business itself, but what I have actually discovered is that producing the words and imagery required to communicate about a business is what I really gain pleasure from. Photography and writing have become the ‘work’ I love, while welcoming others here at the barn doesn’t really feel like work at all.
What has been the biggest learning curve you’ve experienced while being a creative business owner?
The sheer number of things I’ve needed to learn and understand over the past couple of years has felt at times quite overwhelming. From the vague notion of having a business to actually being able to say confidently that I have one has been a huge leap. Sales, marketing, social media, admin, writing, photography, food hygiene, health & safety, insurance, finances, communication... The list is endless and just trying to remember to take it one step at a time, to slow down and breathe has been so important.
What’s next for you and the Oak Tree Barn?
I’m so looking forward to next year, to spending more time here with more people. I will be continuing to host others’ workshops and in addition am going to be offering other ways to join me here too. I will have a sort of ‘non-workshop’ day here each month, a day of camaraderie, of spending time with others who are perhaps creative and/or self-employed, to walk, talk, eat & drink together. I think it will be a lovely way to meet like-minded souls and cheer each other along.
I am also very excited that I will be able to offer short 1:1 retreats in our new Shepard Hut. There have been many times in my life when I have felt a strong desire to hide away, to take stock, breathe deep and be looked after. And this is just what I want to offer to women who can’t get away to join a longer retreat with others, don’t want to be entirely alone but simply need to find a little time and space to reset themselves.
Where can people find and connect with you?
Instagram is my favourite social media hang out so join me there @simpsonsisters
My website is www.thesimpsonsisters.co.uk and I’m always delighted to find emails from real people in my inbox firstname.lastname@example.org
How would you describe your perfect heiter (cheerful) moment?
Warmth is the word that springs to mind, both the physical warmth of the sunshine or a fire and the psychological warmth of being with those we like and love. Sharing food and drink in the warmth - that’s heiterkeit to me! Vx
Images: Vanessa Dennett
Interview: Katharina Geissler-Evans, heiter magazine