Shop Local: Rainbow Valley determined for a bright future
- Credit: Archant
Helen Free has been teaching crochet classes for around 20 years, and has come a long way since being taught by her father how to make patterns during her childhood.
Originally from Barry, Wales, Helen moved to Chatteris in 2004 before concentrating on building her own business and eventually opening her shop, Rainbow Valley, on September 8, 2018.
The designer used to welcome students for weekly lessons and workshops, which became popular until the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“My issue is that a lot of my income comes from teaching, which I can’t do at the moment. I used to do four crochet classes a week and started to do workshops at the weekends,” Helen said.
“I get lots of people asking for crochet classes and I have had to turn them down. We have stock on my website that we sell, but it’s not enough to cover what I’m losing.”
Helen received a government grant towards the start of lockdown as well as universal credit, which without that, she thinks her business would not survive today.
It was not just crochet that her students benefitted from, as Helen also acted as someone to talk to about their struggles.
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“I’ve been getting in touch with customers by Messenger. With my old regulars, I occasionally do one-to-one classes and I used to have, including me, five students around the table,” she said.
“My crochet classes are more of a community thing and people come in and talk about their problems.”
Helen was perhaps inspired to name her shop after one of her best-selling patterns, the Rainbow Afghan, which was initially made with traditional rainbow colours.
Having sold her work internationally to countries such as Germany and Sweden, she is perhaps a well-known figure in the industry, and has thought about expanding her business too, such as introducing a craft café.
But although uncertain times may lie ahead, it is certainly not the end of the road.
“I wanted to create something like a craft café, but I thought people will catch on the café rather than craft,” she said.
“I would love to expand to do fabric, but that’s not practical. The shop always used to be more of a community hub.
“I used to teach four afternoons and one evening a week, but I don’t know how long it’s going to take to change.”