Countryside Art Ltd is now managed and run by a brother and sister team, Lawrence Chapman and myself Kathy Brookes, ably assisted by our spouses, other members of our family and a great team of enthusiastic employees.
The company was originally started in 1975 by our parents, John and Margery Chapman, plus a very close family friend Patrick Carnwath. Prior to this they had all established a small screen printing company producing home furnishings which ran for a few years until it out-grew the buildings in which it was housed. The original reason our parents wanted to set up a business close to home was in order to be able to spend more time helping to looking after our younger brother Patrick (nicknamed Patch) who has severe learning difficulties.
The establishment of Countryside Art coincided with a move to an Old Rectory, based in a sleepy Lincolnshire wolds village, where John, Margery and Patrick built the first small workshop in the tree filled grounds.
The move to the new premises and change of name also brought a change of direction. John’s mother and our Grandmother, Pat Chapman, was also a very entrepreneurial lady. She persuaded John, who had a great talent for drawing and painting, to produce a couple of tea towel designs for some local churches with whom she was friends with members of the congregations. Once these were in the public domain she took samples around other churches and as far as our main stream giftware business was concerned, it all started from those small beginnings.
With John designing and printing, Patrick assisting in sales and Margery running the quality control and despatch, business continued in the same way for a few years although a new partner Simon Hildred also came on board during this time.
Very early on in Countryside Art’s existence, children from our brother Patch’s Special Needs School started coming up one afternoon a week to experience hand-silk screen printing and designing. One of the projects they completed was to produce their own tea towel featuring the children’s drawings and a picture of the school.
Our Grandmother immediately saw the potential in this idea and again went off and marketed the idea to all her local schools. The rest is history – needless to say the idea was a huge hit and we quickly became the main producer of School tea towels, something which we still are to this day.
As the company was consistently growing throughout this period both Lawrence and I joined. A second building was also built on the same site as we had outgrown the original workshop.
Around 2003 we realised we were going to have to move as the business had out-grown the premises yet again and there was no way we could extend the buildings any further.
After a prolonged search for a suitable site we decided to move to our local market town of Spilsby on to the industrial estate. It was quite a wrench deciding to leave the original workshops as the surroundings were idyllic but we were very lucky in being able to find a site right on the edge of the estate facing over farmland with a fantastic view across the fens.
By the late summer of 2006 we had over-come all the planning problems and were ready to move in to our purpose-built factory mainly designed by John and Lawrence. The building was a complete success allowing the production to flow smoothly throughout.
By this time our parents were taking much more of a back seat in the running of the company with Lawrence and I taking over the day-to-day responsibility. However after we had completed the move they decided it was finally time to take a well-earned rest and they both retired. Although, to this day, they still continue to take a great interest in their ‘baby’.
With our experience of having a brother with learning difficulties; throughout the whole existence of the company we have always tried to employ people with disabilities wherever possible. We have had some great members of staff throughout the years whose contributions to the company have been immense despite being over-looked by other employers.
Our interest in continuing to help with issues of disability led to us winning BT’s Deaf Employer of the Year in 1994 and we also work closely with the Shaw Trust assisting us to currently offer jobs to two employees in need of support.
Our brother Patch continues to live within our family with our parents and is a frequent visitor to the factory.