Hannah Young, owner of Ceramica
This month’s Elmbridge Icon takes us to Claygate to meet Hannah Young, owner of Ceramica, the village’s much-loved pottery and ‘paint your own ceramics’ studio. Here, she tells us about her love for the local community, how Covid-19 helped her forge a new niche, and why her dog, Milo, was behind a series of interviews on national radio and television.
I’ve owned Ceramica for 18 years now. However, like many other businesses on 23 March 2020, as I closed the doors before embarking on what was to be an indefinite period of lockdown, I wondered if I was ever going to come back.
I initially took on the premises, which sits just opposite Grosvenor Billinghurst, when it was known as Brush & Bisque-it – a franchised paint your own ceramics studio, which no longer exists. I initially wanted to take over the part-time job that my sister, Emily, had there whilst she was in education. Although things quickly developed and before I knew it, I had bought the business.
It wasn’t long before Brush & Bisque-it brand wound down, which allowed me to put my own stamp on the business and create what you now know to be Ceramica. The vibrant rainbow colours that you see, both outside and in, were the first things to be introduced and are still the centrepiece today. In fact, it’s these colours that have led me to be known as ‘the lady with the rainbow shop’!
I absolutely love my job, but I was worried that I was about to lose everything as the pandemic gripped the country. It also became very apparent that I had to make a drastic change if I was to survive. Over the years, I had sold the odd paint at home kit, but it was a conversation with a fellow dog walker and Ceramica customer that convinced me that this was the way forward – in fact, he bought three kits from initial batch I had put together. As it turns out, the paint at home kits – or ‘Coronavirus kits’, as they became known - proved to be a lifesaver and kept Ceramica going during the entire lockdown period.
In September this year, after such a difficult few months, I was delighted to be awarded the Best for Speciality Goods category in the Elmbridge Independent Retailer of the Year Awards. Voters loved the ‘fun, offers and outstanding service’ and the studio was described as the best day out for young and young at heart alike. Winning this award was particularly significant because it was the people of Elmbridge who voted for Ceramica, once again confirming their support for my business.
As successful as the takeaway kits have been, it’s great to be back in the studio. Although getting to the point of opening the doors to customers took time. In July 2020, after thoroughly preparing and disinfecting the studio in order to welcome my customers back, I opened the doors to welcome … absolutely nobody! It was so disheartening after all the effort that had gone in to making the studio Covid safe.
After taking a picture of my dog, Milo, looking forlorn as he sat surrounded by an empty studio, I added a speech bubble that said ‘Where is everyone?’ and posted it on social media. The result was incredible. Radio 4 picked it up and I was interviewed by Mark Mardell for the World At One programme. ITN News also interviewed me and BBC Radio Surrey had me on their show, too. It wasn’t long after that that my customers started coming back and now it’s almost back to normal.
This summer, for the first time in two years, I ran a course of our popular Summer Holiday Workshops. When the first fully booked session of nine children finished and the children left, I got really emotional, as it was the first time in a long time that the place had been filled with excitable laughter and chatter; it finally felt alive again.
One thing I’ve learnt over the last two years is how important the Claygate community is to me. Not only have so many people and businesses supported me during this period, but also during the first lockdown, when I was away from the studio, I really missed everyone – customers and fellow traders - and I couldn’t wait to get back.
As I celebrate my 18th year at Ceramica, it’s clear that the strength of the community around me is what has kept me in The Parade for so long. I have seen hundreds of children grow up over the years and to have been a little part of their journey is something really special. I particularly love it when customers who first came to me as children bring their own families in to see me. If I’m fortunate enough to have Ceramica for another 18 years and see another generation grow up, then that will be just fine with me!
Ceramica. 7 The Parade, Claygate, Esher KT10 0PD