A huge welcome to Mel Black of Black Brushes who kicks off our Independent Worthing: Unwrapped series.
IW: What inspired you to start your own business?
MB: I was made compulsory redundant in August 2020 from the airline industry due to Covid. I had been cabin crew at BA for 16 years. This was a complete shock and I had all the feelings that people do when they go through that process: despair, upset, lost, lonely, useless, misplacement and most of all scared and my confidence at rock bottom. I was not just made redundant from a job but my way of life. I made a list that went on the fridge door of everything I wanted for my life and next job. It was my firefighter partner, Ashley that had the idea of a chimney sweep. The idea was totally random but the more I researched it and gave the idea some serious thought I absolutely loved it. I could see a crossover of my robust customer services capabilities with the chance to learn a trade and be self-employed. My motivation is my son and Ashley. I wanted to be in control of my own destiny and for all the hard work that I deliver, I get the recognition and the reward of a job well done. Black Brushes was created and I haven't looked back since. The support from my family, fabulous women in business, and even complete strangers gave me so much strength through all the various the stages. My very own bunch of cheerleaders are a true inspiration and it comes in all forms every day.
IW: What is the best thing about what you do?
MB: The best thing about what I do is variety! I have so much variety in my work and this is something I thrive on. No job or day is the same. I have an impressively varied customer base and so have the opportunity to meet some lovely people and have a good chat. My learning and experiences on jobs challenge me every day to expand my knowledge and expertise. I also have access to a wealth of knowledge and experience through a chimney sweep forum. Those guys and gals (shout out to the soot sisters) have welcomed me to the industry and are forever a source of explanation and top tips. I feel like I am part of a sooty, good natured, hardworking family.
IW: What pearl of wisdom would you impart to anyone wanting to set up their own business?
MB: Don't undervalue yourself and the uniqueness only you bring to your business.
IW: What are your ‘go to’ local businesses?
MB: We have a baker husband and wife duo that come to the village, affectionately known as the bread lady. They have been a constant through lockdown and provided us all with baked goods through the seasons. The hot cross buns are in full swing and there is real delight in seeing them there every Tuesday, Friday & Sunday; it's a huge comfort. Plus the doughnuts are the best.
IW: What do you get up to in your spare time?
MB: At the moment I have to create spare time for myself, and this is something I am discovering about running my own business. Giving myself a slice of time in the day or week to do something that recharges my wellbeing. This is usually sport for me! Paddle boarding, running and archery are my favourite things. If it's winter time get me on a mountain. Beach time is a tonic like no other for me, especially if you can throw in a BBQ, some beers and friends. But sometimes simply playing some good music and having a moment to think is enough.
IW: What’s your guilty pleasure?
MB: My guilty pleasure is terrible TV and doughnuts, not necessarily together or in that order!
IW: What’s your favourite way to start the day?
MB: I am caffeine free but love a good decaf coffee. My favourite way to start the day is drinking coffee outside and preferably in the sunshine. Those glorious quiet moments before everyone starts moving. I love that stillness where I can just clear my mind and be at one with the coffee.
IW: If you were stranded on a desert island, what 3 things could you not do without?
MB: Desert Island ....I like sand so this set up would suit me pretty fine. Some days stranded on a desert island would be pretty sweet right now. I would take my paddleboard, hammock and a fully stocked and working brewery. I am taking the desert island question to be an extended time of peace and reflection not the hardcore survival sort, and I don't want Ant and Dec turning up with dinner either. hahaha.
IW: What plans do you have for the future?
MB: When I read this question, I realised the word 'future' felt like a forbidden fruit or alien planet far off in the distance. My personal survival strategy for lockdown was take one day at a time and try not to think about the things I was missing. But with the vaccine came hope, and there was a spark of daring to think about the future and how else I could expand the business. I started Black Brushes in what sweeps affectionately call the silly season. This meant I hit the ground sprinting. I am now able to see the year in different phases- end of season sweeping will be in full swing through March & April. My goal for the future is to expand my round and still continue to bring friendliness and professionalism to my customers.
The Summer months will bring a different pace of work and I am excited to bring to life a piece of sweeping tradition- the Lucky Chimney Sweep. The tale of the lucky chimney sweep dates back to the 18th century and King George III. A fearless London chimney sweep calmed the Kings horse who was startled by a yapping dog and bolted. The sweep stepped into the path of the runaway horse and brought it to a halt, calming the horse. The sweep disappeared back into the crowd and the King never got chance to thank him. But from that day the King declared that all chimney sweeps should be treated with honour and believed them to be bearers of good luck. When his youngest daughter got married, King George sent for a chimney sweep because he believed that the presence of the chimney sweep would bring good luck and happiness to his daughter in her marriage. The age-old tradition began, and the luck is still passed on to this day.
Bringing luck and happiness to people in love at weddings or any celebrations would be truly rewarding, and I am very excited to add this service to the Black Brushes brand.
IW: Anything else you would like to add?
MB: I need to thank platforms like this for the absolute invaluable support and presence they provide for new businesses like mine. I am forever grateful for my customers so far who have made this happen, and continue to support me through recommendations, likes and shares on social media. I want to credit Ashley for being there with me all the way and helping me in all the ways to succeed.
Setting up the business was a process that I really enjoyed- creating the brand, building the website and advertising. It was a leap into the unknown and I am proud of Black Brushes and myself. The commitment I have to the business means continuing the momentum, increasing qualifications and supporting other small businesses. Most of all I want to enjoy my work and for this genuine enthusiasm to shine through.