Artistic approach to business at old bank

Sinead Brennan at the Bank House, Whitehead INCT 08-200-AM
Sinead Brennan at the Bank House, Whitehead INCT 08-200-AM
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Go Your Own Way: Sinead Brennan, The Bank House, Whitehead (www.thebankhousewhitehead.co.uk)

The Bank House sells high quality local art and craft and quirky, beautiful and unusual gifts. We actively support the local art and craft scene and hold art and craft classes and special events, such as meeting the makers, storytelling and music, throughout the year. The Bank House café is a coffee lover’s paradise which sells locally roasted artisan coffee and loose-leafed teas, homemade cakes, scones and tray bakes in a relaxed environment.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you ended up doing what you are doing now?

I am a mother of three girls (12, 9 and 6 years old). I studied for an Information Technology degree at Queen’s University, followed by a Masters in Electronics. After working for BT for nearly nine years, I was lucky to be able to take voluntary redundancy when I was pregnant with my first child. I started making fabric bags when my third child was a baby and sold them at local craft fairs and shops. I was visiting craft fairs around Northern Ireland to refine what fairs to target for selling my bags, when the idea of opening a shop to support local crafters took hold.

Did you always want to run your own enterprise?

No. A friend brought me to view the bank building in Whitehead in 2012; and I fell in love with the architecture of the old listed bank manager’s house. Over the year it took for the sale to go through, what I had originally viewed as an investment opportunity, developed into the concept of the shop and how to develop the building over time on a very limited budget. Whitehead is a uniquely beautiful coastal town, with a strong community feel – the people and businesses of Whitehead are very friendly and supportive of each other, so I was delighted to get the opportunity to try and contribute to the success of the town.

What skills/qualifications do you require for the role?

Self-motivation, hard work and a passion for your business are the key elements that I would highlight.

The Bank House opened in the middle of the current recession and has been well supported by local people as well as visitors from throughout Northern Ireland. I have no idea if the timing of opening would have made a difference!

What were the biggest challenges you faced when setting up and what support did you get?

Time, or lack of it, continues to be my main challenge – family and friends are fantastic and help out when they can. On setting up, finding out what skills I needed posed the main challenge – nibusiness.co.uk is an excellent source for those starting out, and the internet for reviews on self-help books on a number of subjects such as running your own business, book-keeping and sales and marketing. Carrickfergus Enterprise helped me to write a business plan, which proved invaluable for working out a start-up strategy and budget, and for focusing on what direction the business should take.

What three tips could you offer those considering starting their own business?

Do a business plan. Carrickfergus Enterprise gave me invaluable guidance in writing mine which focused my mind on what direction to take and initial start-up costs.

Spend time getting to know who your customer is. Without customers you have no business.

Take time to reflect and regroup. I have gone full pelt into each new renovation project over the last year and a half – if I were to do anything differently it would be to slow down and take time to regroup and refine processes before moving to the next stage.

What are your plans for the next 12 months?

My next project is to rejuvenate the outside space in the spring – the café, which is situated at the back of the shop, opens on to an enclosed courtyard which catches the sun (when it’s out!) from 11.00am to 4.00pm in the summer; and the garden where we currently hold our craft events. I’m hoping to renovate the last unit on the ground floor of the house towards the end of the year, which has planning permission for a studio.

What do you get up to in your free time?

Any free time I have I spend with family and friends. I luckily enjoy DIY as I am currently renovating my house, and when I get more free time I would like to return to making bags, running and reading. New hobbies I would like to try are yoga and climbing

If you could swap places with anyone who would it be and why?

It would have to be Annie Lennox. I have admired her since I was a teenager as she stands up for what she believes in, musically, politically and socially – which I believe is the secret to her phenomenal success.