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My journey at Page & Bloom- Roberta's story

Hello, I’m Roberta* and I’ve been with Page and Bloom for 18 months. I often get caught up in the challenges in my life right now, and don’t appreciate the journey I’ve been on, so this blog post is a good opportunity to look back and see how far I’ve come.

I got offered work with Page and Bloom towards the end of 2019 - of course we didn’t realise a pandemic was just around the corner! Rosie (the founder of Page & Bloom) was looking for an extra person as it was one of our busiest times, leading up to Christmas. Back then we were working from Rosie’s front room and now things have changed as Page and Bloom keep growing. In fact we just moved to a new studio in the building where we’ve been since last summer.

Looking back the job came at just the right time for me. I think leaving a bad relationship is a process, rather than a one-time event. My journey out was also a series of events that helped me, with the job at Page and Bloom being a vitally important part of that.

I’d been in a relationship for many years, and had 2 children, and had been unhappy for a long time, but just felt really really stuck. Although I am in many ways privileged, and was lucky to have a mortgage with my husband for the family flat, it made it really difficult for me to leave because I didn’t think I qualified for housing benefit, because of the money in the property. I couldn’t see how I could pay rent (I had a tiny amount of self employed work, but it didn’t cover living expenses, let alone London rents).

I hadn’t had a job for years, I’d brought up my children, and felt my CV would look terrible. I was depressed and stuck, with my confidence draining away.

I didn’t think I even qualified under domestic abuse as there wasn’t physical violence. So I just felt stuck, stuck, stuck.

Breaking free

However, a series of good events happened. Firstly I decided that I really had to leave. And I did leave, when a friend of a friend let me stay with them, for free. That was so amazing that they helped me. However, it was a lot of travelling for my youngest child who was doing exams.

Then another step occurred when someone I’d met through a course offered me a room in her house. She charged me a small amount of rent and she also worked at a Refuge and put me in touch with Rosie. It is incredible to look back and realise that almost the exact day I started to pay rent, I started paid work at Page & Bloom! I also began to have some more self-employed work, and then over time, as one of the women left Page and Bloom, I got more hours. Things were on the up!

In the end I was able to save some money for a deposit and got some good advice that I could get universal credit housing costs paid for a while (hat tip to Gingerbread). I had Rosie’s support helping me feel I could get what I needed and all the ongoing boosts to my confidence enabled me, with some fear, to go for it.

And I can proudly say that in December 2020, at the end of a good, but strange, year, I finally got the keys to my first ever rented flat that was just for me. Wow. I share it with my youngest child and this is the first time they have ever had their own bedroom. There’s still a divorce to go through and selling the flat and trying to find somewhere to buy which probably will mean moving out of London as it’s so expensive. But, I have my freedom.

Little things were just so joyful - choosing cheap fun cutlery from Argos, and getting a bed for my child and us assembling it together, seeing them put up pictures in their room and make it their own space, and me making my space my own. It’s been fun just watching a film together, with pizzas on our laps, just us.

It’s been a big thing for me choosing what I want, what I like, without someone making me question my decisions.

Starting work

I look back and I was pretty nervous in the early days with Page and Bloom. Even when I had (a very informal) interview with Rosie, I feared I wouldn’t qualify to work here, because what I had experienced was emotional rather than physical abuse. Then I was quite nervous about learning to make the flowers - am I getting it right? Am I picking it up quickly? However, Rosie was very supportive and so appreciative when I would arrive each week with a shoebox or bag of pretty roses that I'd made at home, and I felt proud of what I'd achieved. There is something lovely also about seeing a whole lot of beautiful flowers that you’ve made or someone else has made. Very uplifting.

For those of us making flowers, we usually come into the studio for a day or two, and then we make flowers at home. My living room is often strewn with bits of cut paper and painted pages drying on a fold-out clothes rack. It's certainly colourful!

I started out making roses, they’ve been our staple flower - sold as a single roses as a gift or for Valentine's day, or a few together, and there is often a rose or two in a mixed flower bouquet. I can’t believe how easily I make these now - in the beginning there were lots of aspects of making them to remember and master, particularly the stems which were fiddly. Then other flowers came into the mix, and as a company, we have developed more flowers.

Branching out

I helped design last year's summer bouquet with poppies and anemones. And over the last week I've been making a bird of paradise flower that I’m really proud of (coming soon in a tropical bouquet). We had a nice get together - three of us, myself and a woman on the training scheme, along with Rosie, brainstorming possible flowers for the bouquet, and sharing leaf designs over Zoom. Can we make a book paper ‘bird of paradise’ flower? Can we make bromeliads? Could we make alstroemerias? (You certainly learn some flower names in this job!!)

Sometimes I or one of the team will have an idea of a flower that we might try or different combinations for a bouquet. We did this with the Christmas bouquet last year, swapping colours and flowers until it looked right. We had fun with the photo shoot, with four of us arranging flowers for that bouquet with a gold picture frame and Christmas decorations.

And again with our recent bouquet for International Women's Day I tried out combinations of flowers and colours (based on white purple and green) and Rosie and I decided together on the final mix.

It is nice when there are more of us - the pandemic has been a lonely time for a lot of us, and it is fun to laugh and share ideas and make flowers together. It’s also nice when it's just a couple of us, working together to get flowers wrapped and boxed in the post in time.

I've also helped with corporate orders - I remember putting various greenery in a lot of crates for an award ceremony and making many many (many!) map leaves for little trees for a foyer display. They looked amazing.

I'm now also teaching other women how to make flowers, just as I did, which has been a further step on my journey. And it’s good to see them grow in confidence as well. Pass it on!

So….. here’s to a good year, 2021, at Page and Bloom! I'm not sure what the rest of the year will bring, as I sit here writing this in the middle of May. Hoping in some ways for a less eventful 2021, or eventful in the right ways…..!

*For safety and privacy we have used a pseudonym

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