Dream sustainable family business that is music to the ears
So many elements of the business you are about to read about sound like fiction - as if they are taken from a novel, something about ‘how to start your dream business and fall in love’.
Chapter one begins with a couple travelling around Europe in a van, he busking on his guitar while the love of his life steals the show with a musical spell cast with her mysterious instrument – a wooden harp.
Life is good, they live day to day, saving enough money to start a dream they didn’t really know they had - a sustainable eco-friendly business. In keeping with the romantic overtones, they move into a ramshackle cottage in Gloucestershire to pursue their dreams, start a family and fall deeper in love.
Who needs Crowdfunder, bank loans, a business plan after all? And yes, they do live and work in Stroud, in case you missed the clues.
Of course, it was not quite like that for Creag and Morwenna Louttit-Vermaat - who own and run Hands on Harps, a small, carbon neutral, business based in the Five Valleys market town – but neither was it a million miles away.
“Harp on Harps began while we were busking. We spent two years living in a van travelling around Europe. We would busksix days a week and sold CDs,” said Louttit-Vermaat.
“We saved up enough money then came back. We wanted to travel for another year, but Morwenna didn’t want to take her harp with her on the planes.”
Which is when they looked into a practical, cheaper harp which was robust enough to handle being transported through airport baggage terminals and would still sound good to play.
The solution – or at least their solution – was to make one. They did, it sounded good, ticked every other box, and was relatively cheap compared to the investment you could make in an instrument normally bought to last a lifetime.
Everywhere they played and travelled everyone wanted to know about the harp and where they could get one. It was like the perfect market research.
From that came the business idea (Creag’s father has also had an entrepreneurial flare) – an investment in a CNC machine followed and now a new product, a special version of their harp which reveals a little more behind the mystery of how Morwenna plays.
As she learned herself her dyslexia saw her create a ‘think around’ to reading sheet music and relating it to the harp – and she began to colour code her instrument and music notes.
“The harp already traditionally uses colour to mark it’s C and F notes. Colouring the other strings seemed like the next logical step and it just so happened that the colours of the rainbow fitted with the existing markings already used on the harp,” said Creag.
“When she became a harp teacher Morwenna reflected on this and extended it by putting coloured dots on the soundboard for some of her students to use with sheet music that had been coloured in by hand. She found that many students who had previously been unable to read music were now able to.”
The Rainbow Harp – the business’s latest product line – was born.
Skip forward two years and with the help of fellow harp teacher, Ellie Prout (pictured above), and a graphic designer called Sam, an entire book of coloured sheet music was created to allow each player to truly embrace their potential.
It can still be played by anyone, but is aimed at opening the door also to anyone who might find tradition learning a barrier – from the dyslexic to those with special needs. The harp can also be played by those considered neurotypical.
It has already helped the couple’s son, Django, 4, learn to experience the joy of playing the harp.
Pictured below: Matt Kirby, one of the craftsmen producing instruments for Hands on Harps.
To go back now, to fill in some of the gaps. It has been no easy pathway, with the business taking the couple through the typical highs and lows of having to hold down a second job to support the dream that at times seemed just that.
It is a route made more challenging, perhaps, because of their ambitions of achieve carbon neutrality and pay a Living Wage to staff.
A move to Stroud, where they discovered a workshop in which they could develop further, are all part of the detail and reflect the struggle that only at the start of lockdown – because of the time it gave them – were they finally able to find the time to say it had achieved its goal of being able to support them both.
So as much as the story is worthy of a film, but perhaps the driving forces that have seen this venture begin to soar under its own steam at last are familiar to every one running their own business – sheer determination and belief that it will, against all odds, one day work.
Hopefully for everyone else battling away out there, this story will be music to their ears.