Jewel in the crown
Sue Chadwick is a jewellery designer based in the Peabody Trust’s West Ferry live/work development in Tower Hamlets, east London. Tune in to the BBC to see how her necklaces look on presenter Sophie Raworth, one of Sue’s recent customers. Or visit www.suechadwick.co.uk
What dark forces compelled you to
move to a live/work unit?
The dark forces of landlords getting fed up with messy bedrooms, because I was working out of my bedroom before. So I decided to look for a live/work.
How long have you been based at West Ferry?
I moved here three years ago. The space is fantastic - it’s definitely met my expectations in terms of being able to expand and make my business a more adult operation, as opposed to a bedroom hobby.
Did the term live/work mean anything to friends and family or did explaining your new home/studio entail tedious explanations?
Some of my friends are architects so they knew about it, but others thought live/work just meant having a bit of space for your laptop. It can take quite a bit of explaining to tell people about the variety of businesses you get in live/work, as well as about all the space and the fact that the proper brick walls and concrete floors mean you can make noise and things like that. They don’t realise that they’re specifically built with workshops and studios in mind.
What attractive features did your unit have to offer?
For example, floors, walls, plumbing, a roof…..?
What sold me on it was that it was open plan and there was lots of light, which is essential for me. Also, at the time it seemed affordable, but they changed their minds after they’d accepted my application so it went from being subsidised rent to market rent, which wasn’t so palatable.
I also liked the idea of a community of like-minded people at different stages of growing their businesses. In the last couple of weeks, for example, I found I suddenly had to rely on my neighbours to help me out when my father locked himself out of my flat with his passport inside and a plane to catch. They were all wonderful, so that was lovely – you realise that you’ve made good friends.
I think we also rely on summer and keeping our doors open, with everyone popping out for a coffee and a chat. We actually even enjoy the tenants’ meetings – not as a big slag-off, but as an opportunity to chat and swap contacts and cards. It’s a really nice meeting point, but because we’ve had no one in charge of us at Peabody for a while now there have been no more tenants meetings. I hope that will change soon.
Have you added any extras to make your unit more functional, comfortable or easy on the eye?
Most recently, draught excluders! I also had to get the electrics done because they were dodgy – apart from that it’s just been maintenance.
I haven’t put in a mezzanine, for example, which some of my neighbours have done.
How long do you plan to stay live/working?
It still suits me so I’d love to keep going for the full five year contract and possibly renew, unless something drastic happens. I know I won’t get this kind of place anywhere else.
How long does it take you to reach your studio in the morning and what mode of transport do you use?
My feet, and around four seconds!
What motivates you to start and stay
working each day (or night)?
That’s the tricky bit. Because they changed their minds about the rent I had to take on a part time job, which means that my time’s been squeezed quite considerably and my business isn’t developing as much as I’d like because I can’t give it that full focus.
Do you ever find work takes a back seat to valuable conflicting interests like going back to bed, watering the plants or staring out the window?
I do have rather a large procrastination gene – just to pass the blame! When I’m absolutely full-on busy, like now at Christmas, procrastination gets kicked aside, but when I’ve got more time then, yes, watering the plants and having a chat play a bigger role. It’s tougher to be more disciplined then, but part time job sort of helps because it squashes down the time I have to get things done. You may have to ask me that one again in January when I can remember what it’s like to have spare time!
Do you ever feel slightly cut off from the rest of the world or is that an advantage in your line of work?
Yes, because I’m working on my own. You do have to make a big effort to be sociable. The poor man who comes to read the gas meter all of a sudden gets a full blown conversation because I haven’t spoken to anyone for ages!
Around the corner there’s a fantastic little Italian café, which is also a new, young business and I tend to go there, have a coffee and then come back – that’s enough of a feeling of getting out.
What do you miss about the more conventional home/studio divide?
Closing the door on the mess, and being able to invite people round without having to tidy up. Also, it’s easier to keep warm in a smaller place – I’ve just put curtains up for insulation which I didn’t really want to do but the double glazing here is extremely cheap and thin and when you turn the heating on you get this incredible convection wind flow with hot air rising and freezing air coming off the windows. Putting up the curtains and sealing the windows for the winter has definitely made a difference to the breeze - the curtains still flutter, but it’s more manageable and quite warm.
On what terms would you contemplate
a return to the other side?
Friends keep asking me why I don’t move to somewhere cheaper in the country, or a flat further out of town, but I think what’s putting me off is suddenly having little poky rooms. The things that would motivate me to a return to something more conventional would be a garden, or access to some kind of greenery; price; quiet - because we are in a very noisy place - and if I could find somewhere affordable where the rooms were just a little bit bigger. Also buying somewhere, or the option to buy, instead of just keep putting rental money into a big hole.
You can find more about Sue's work and how to contact her here .