Six years into my first job, I had worked my way up from an Admin Assistant to a Project's Manager, when I was told the company was being bought out and we were to all be made redundant. I was one of the few that were offered either redundancy or a new position with the newly formed company. As much as I had loved working there, most of the great people had left and after seven long months of management dragging out their decision, I had the blessing of having a lot of time to think about what it was I wanted. I'd always heard people saying 'do what you love and never work a day in your life' so I decided to focus my attentions on what I loved, and that was chocolate.
So I opted for redundancy and used some of the money to pay for a chocolate making course. I travelled up to Manchester and spent a few nights in a very questionable hotel! The grim, unsafe hotel didn't matter to me as I was learning how to make chocolate! Three enjoyable, educational days later, I took my learnings and a box full of chocolates I had made proudly back to London and set about photographing them. I named my company 'Just a Little Chocolate' and a friend of mine designed my logo and website for free. I paid for 500 leaflets and spent hours walking the streets delivering them. For a year I worked out of my mum's kitchen, which she hated! As you can imagine making chocolate out of a small domestic kitchen while she was also trying to cook for the family was a recipe for disaster.
I had set the business up as a favour making company, so I was making the chocolates predominantly for wedding and christening favours but I was also making the traditional bonbonnieres (sugared almonds in netting). I had purchased this weird looking contraption that helped make them but again that took up even more space in my mums house. I needed a solution. The friend that had created my logo had just closed a deal on an industrial estate in Hemel Hempstead that he was running his business out of and he offered me a room in the unit to run Just a Little Chocolate out of. It was the perfect space and he wasn't going to charge me rent, instead I would do his admin work for him. It was a great deal! I painted the room, fitted shelves and cupboards, installed a fridge and lots of shiny stainless steel tables and I was good to go. I loved working there. It was so nice being my own boss but also working alongside another business meant I had company, people to talk to and people to sample my new chocolates. I had been running my business for about a year at this stage and was doing well.
This all dramatically changed suddenly and with no warning. One morning I woke up to a phone call. It was bad news. There had been a huge explosion at the industrial estate and at that stage it was unclear what damage had been done to our unit.
We were not allowed to go there until the police and emergency services had deemed it safe. The next few hours that followed felt like weeks. Finally I was allowed to go down. What greeted me was harrowing; car windscreens shattered, debris everywhere, it was a real disaster area. I was given a yellow hard hat and told to watch my step. I ventured up the stairs as tears filled my eyes. All our hard work to make the upstairs office and my work room so lovely was completely destroyed. We had lost everything. I didn't stay in my room for long. I told the officer I'd seen enough. He asked if I wanted to take anything and I shook my head. He put his hand on my shoulder and told me he knew it was hard to take in. I asked him if anyone had been hurt and he said yes but no deaths which was the most important thing. You can read about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buncefield_fire
At this point I could have given up. I would need to start again; stock, ingredients, a new space. It was a lot. I took a few days to have a think. Within that time I was still getting enquiries for chocolate favours so I pulled my socks up and battled on. My friend secured a new unit, this time on a farm and he asked me to go and see it with him and his business partner. It was beautiful. A barn building that was absolutely huge, on the most stunning farmland. I said yes straight away. This time my room was on the main floor so I could see all the working's of the factory whilst I had a great little space to make chocolates. I was very glad that I hadn't given up and the next chapter for Just a Little Chocolate was just around the corner....
...to be continued.