Welcome back to the Parents of the North feature, where I've invited local mams and dads to spill about why they love to raise their kids here in the North East. This week its Natalie from The Simply Small Co's turn. If you didn't catch last week with super mam of almost 5 kids (she's 39 weeks pregnant) Jayne's post, then check it out here. If you fancy featuring then please get in touch via the contact us page.
Not only does Nat run a gorgeous children's store, but she used to work for the English Heritage, so knows her way around a family friendly visitors destination. Basically she is far more qualified than me to run a family blog - so lets all promise that we aren't going to burst my bubble and mention it to her okay? This post is a lovely long one, with lots of recommendations, and details about Nat setting up her own company. I loved it - Enjoy.
Who am I
I’m Natalie, also known as Nat. I’m a 37 year old mam or mammy (I’m definitely not a mum – no offence mums) to Samuel (age 6) and Sally (age 3) and wife to Leon (age 44 but acts like he’s still 24). We also have a cat called Lola who is part feral these days.
I live in Hebburn, South Tyneside. I’m originally from Jarrow (Jarra) the next town along and the North East is the only place I’ve lived. Yep, I’ve come really far! If I had any regrets (which I don’t) it would be not travelling more before I had kids. We got to do some great things and go places but it would be nice to experience living or somewhere else for a while. Maybe we still will? But I LOVE the North East. There is no greater place as far as I’m concerned. I think sometimes you get a bit complacent about your surroundings. In my previous jobs, I often had to take national journalists, travel writers and tourism representatives from other parts of the UK and world and show them what we have to offer here in the North of England. They were always amazed and went away totally in love with this place. There are so many great places to visit for families and didn’t Newcastle recently get voted as the best place to bring up a family? You can’t argue with that?
Tell us about The Simply Small Co
The Simply Small Co is an independent children’s retailer specialising in lovely things for little ones from pregnancy, birth to age six. Run by a north east mam for mams and mummies everywhere. We specialise in clothing, gifts, toys, nursery décor and personalised products that are a little bit special and not readily available on the high street. Our motto is let them be little. You can find The Simply Small Co online at www.thesimplysmallco.com as well as the pop up shop at events and markets around the North East of England. Follow us on social media to find out where we’re going to be next as well as special offers and updates @thesimplysmallco on Instagram and on Facebook as The Simply Small Co
what made you start your own business?
I’ve worked in PR and marketing ever since I left university mainly for luxury retail, hotel and tourism brands. Most recently I was a marketing manager for English Heritage, responsible for promoting castles, roman walls and priories across the North East and Cumbria. It was a great job.
I suppose having my children was the catalyst for me starting my business. When I had my babies I transferred my love for shopping for myself onto shopping for them. I love finding clothes, gifts and toys that are classically designed, good quality and something that not every other baby or child has. But what really annoyed me about some of the more high-end or designer brands was their ridiculous prices. Let’s not kid ourselves, we buy into brands. Most of today’s products are manufactured in China and the far-east. But stick a designer name or brand on it and suddenly it costs four times as much!
I was sick of that and started to think maybe I could develop my very own retail brand. But I didn’t know where to start. Then about two years’ ago I thought….”Natalie, you’ve grown two babies, given birth, kept them alive. You’re a marketing manager. If you don’t know, then find out. You can do this!” So I did. I put a lot of research and development into it beforehand and The Simply Small Co started trading in May 2016.
Earlier this year I left my job to concentrate on it properly. While I had a good job, there was no joy in it for me anymore once I’d got a taste for working for myself. Running a business is hard work, much harder than working for someone else. I still feel like I’m winging it most of the time but I’m getting there and it’s growing. Working for myself is definitely more rewarding but it is not without its challenges. I get to do the school run most days, I can pretty much pick and choose the hours I work (at the moment) but I do burn the midnight oil and because I now work in retail, I inevitably have to leave my husband and the kids most weekends and sometimes I end up missing out on fun things that they do with our family and friends. It’s swings and roundabouts. If it was that easy, everyone would do it!
I gave birth to both of my babies at the QE in Gateshead. The midwives were great. I was lucky and had two very straightforward and very quick labours. I did all of the usual pre-natal courses offered by the hospital and I also had reflexology which at the time I had Sam was a free service offered by the QE. When I had Sally it wasn’t offered anymore but I’d found it so beneficial that I went for private sessions at the Westoe Practice in South Shields. I highly recommend it.
I met my mammy mates (aka The Pram Mafia) at various baby groups (like baby Sensory, messy play etc.…). They were my saviour, especially the first time round. You need other mams who are going through the same thing as you at the same time. Those type of groups are definitely more for the mams than they are for the babies. When we all returned to work, it became more difficult to keep in touch and meet up but I’m pleased that I still see a lot of them in the holidays and our kids are still friends too.
WHAT ARE YOUR TIPS FOR THE NORTH EAST WITH KIDS?
Tynemouth is the best. Make it an adventure by getting there by ferry or metro. Visit the market in the station, get fish and chips and a massive muffin at Crusoes
Warkworth Castle in Northumberland is my most favourite of all the castles we have (believe me, I’ve been to them all!) it’s a proper castle, full of nooks and crannies for the kids to run and hide and no rare paintings or vases that you have to worry about them knocking over. Plus if there’s an event on that day you can pack a picnic and it’s a really cheap day out. My favourite thing is the boat trip across to the hidden hermitage at Warkworth.
The Gardens at Belsay Hall in Northumberland are also brilliant. The Quarry Garden is just magical.
If you’re stuck for ideas and need a cheap day out why not take the kids to a local market? Browse the stalls (there’s always stalls that will interest the children), support local businesses, enjoy some gorgeous locally sourced street food. My favourite markets in the region are The Quayside Market on Sundays, Tynemouth Market at weekends and The Grainger Market in the city centre anytime, it’s such a fascinating place.
Get an annual pass for The Life Science Centre. It’s the best purchase we made because it means we can make a spur of the minute decision to visit if it’s raining/we’re skint and the kids are bored. The kids love it and there’s something for all ages. I’m looking forward to taking them to Dino Jaws.
Role Play in Hebburn is the cleanest play centre in the North East. It doesn’t smell of wee which is always a bonus ☺
One of my favourite places spend time with the kids is our own back garden. Sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves to have a fun day out when the kids are just as happy squirting each other with the hose or digging in mud. And we can have a beer while we watch them.
EATING OUT WITH KIDS
Our favourite place to eat is Riley’s Fish Shack (with or without the kids). It was great when Riley’s was at the Quayside Seaside.
Heart North East
My favourite North East Business? Ooosh that’s a tough one! There are so many amazing north east businesses. I love Geordie Gifts for presents they’re online and at markets around the North East (can’t get more North Eastern than that can you?!) and my favourite north East business for little ones (apart from The Simply Small Co) is Tumbles and Grumbles which offer paediatric first aid training courses for parents with little ones. I had an absolutely terrifying choking incident with Sally once when she was a baby and have since done a few courses with them. Samuel also did a little rescuers session with them which he absolutely loved.
What would I do on a child-free day? Book into Rockcliffe Hall, have a spa, lots to drink, lots of naps and just chill. When are we going???
My favourite parents to follow online are Sprog on the Tyne (obvs), North East Family Fun and Here come the Hoopers. Their blogs are where I get all of my days out inspiration from because they’re written by parents for parents. My absolutely favourite parenting blog of all time is Hurrah for Gin, sometimes it feels like I’ve written her blog.
My other tip for pregnant mamas would be to join lots of local Facebook groups because they were invaluable. La Leche League Tyne & Wear and Parenting North East are two that spring to mind. I was also in my local mams group on Facebook most local towns have a mams Facebook group relevant to them these days. There’s also great initiative on Instagram called the Mama Meet Project which is all about connecting mamas who want to meet other mamas. They’re actually looking for more members in the North East to arrange meet ups.
A massive thank you from me to Nat. For the post, but also for mentioning me in the same paragraph as Hurrah for Gin. Surely that means that a book deal is just around the corner for me? Yes? I loved finding out about her career change and setting up The Simply Small Co. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I think I might be an English Heritage virgin? If I have visited any of their properties it hasn't been for years, so I am glad to have got the insider info, and I know that my first visit to an EH castle will be Warkworth - that boat journey sounds too good to miss. I completely agree about Nat's suggestions for Centre for Life and Role Play, and by following those links you can see photographs from our previous trips there. I would suggest immediately heading to The Simply Small Co's instagram page to follow them, as their stock is just gorgeous.
We hope you are enjoying this new series. If you have any burning questions then please feel free to get in touch, also let us know if you would like to feature and tell us all about your North East with kids tips. See you in a fortnights time for the next one.