Ten Minutes With – Claire Armstrong

We recently caught ten minutes with one of our original Guilders Claire Armstrong.  Claire talked to us about the development of Big Beans Design who we used for a lot of our design work and We Amplify Cumbria a brand that you will hear a lot more about this year

We started with the crucial question, what’s her favourite Leonardo Di Caprio Movie? The answer wasn’t as straight forward as you might expect…

Movies are my least favourite thing, but only because I have the attention span of a goldfish. I would have to say Romeo & Juliet it’s the only one I have watched and really liked it because of its soundtrack, Des’ree – ‘I’m kissing you’. It’s so emotional, it makes me cry.

We then asked Claire to give us a quick run-down of how Big Beans has grown

Quite organic really, the best way to grow beans… I go with the flow, obviously I put some little goals in to reach. Mostly, that’s the way I work, I rely on passion not structure.

Once my three children were at full time school it was ‘my time’, time to do something for me.  I started college on a fine art and design course for a year.  Then I moved onto an FDA degree on Graphic Design.  It was a bit more practical, you worked with clients rather than the theoretical stuff.  

College was the first time I had used computers. I had an absolute heart attack; I remember when the tutor said just click on such & such and I couldn’t even control the mouse.  

Claire stressed that her life is just what she does, she sticks with it and gets through it.

After college I had planned to set up a design studio.  However, I had done a personal project with the college and I wanted to see where it would go. The project was called ‘Tribe’. My youth was all about living for the weekend, getting the ‘tribe’ together, going to warehouse parties, and planning the next mission to secret raves and the most popular underground clubs as if our lives depended on it. We thought we would be young forever.

My idea was to set up a national event called Spirit, the aim to bring various club nights and music events together for one night to connect and celebrate life, and take a moment to reflect on the weekend warriors who once brought light and life to the dance-floor, those who are no longer with us. I wanted to see if I could pull it off.  So, I started organising music events in Carlisle to raise funds for the project.  Whilst running these events one of the local nightclub owners decided to cease trading. 

So, going with the flow again I ended up with the keys for a night club.  To be honest, the opportunity came faster than I expected. I was always going to run a club it just wasn’t going to be so soon. I went into a partnership with another Clare, Clare and Claire ‘the Cumbrian C&C Music Factory’ and after a big refurb we opened The Melting Pot, an absolute labour of love… ironically The Melting Pot melted 5 weeks into trading due to an extensive fire from a faulty fridge. It was a crushing disappointment to see the club we worked so hard to build… go up in smoke. The Insurance company only paid out half the loss.  It was difficult times ahead, after a rebuild we re-opened but on a shoe-string. We kept going had some amazing nights. The Melting Pot was indeed a ‘melting pot’, of people and events ‘melting together’ a common culture brought together by music, resident nights and one-off events, an eclectic, electronic mash-up of sounds and flavours. People came from all around, from SW Scotland and the North of England. It makes me smile, we made some good memories in Carlisle for people and we became part of people’s youth.

Eventually we closed and I thought ‘what now?’  I continued to work in the licence trade in both management roles and as a grafter on the floor.  The long hours and constantly been on my feet started to affect my health.  So, had to think about myself and I became a graphic designer. I started by working for friends who were in business. I set up in my bedroom with a desk and a computer.  This was another organic move as I had already been doing the graphic design and brand styling for clubs and events.  This was regular work as there were always new events happening.  Things naturally fall into place, a health problem didn’t mean I gave up, I just changed.

I started using Foxes as a space to meet clients.  Loved that place, drank coffee, met new people, it had a great vibe and a sense of belonging. In Foxes I heard about what you guys were doing and it sounded like that would fit like a glove. I wanted to grow.  A bigger space where The Guild does the graft and I just come in, do my thing and go with the flow… Grow with the flow.  Sometimes in life things can hit you all at once and you can’t see past it, but as long as you don’t give up and keep striving to be better, things will start to flow again. 

The future responds to how you act in the present. If you present yourself in a particular way you are going to attract that kind of group around you.  That’s my life. It’s all about tribes. I am now part of The Guild Tribe.

So, we had to ask what was Claire’s favourite thing about the Guild

People… it’s all about the vibe.  People, I like the fact people have their own their dreams and are all working towards them. Its exciting and inspiring.

We are all our own boss so no infighting.

Think a lot of people will start to use this type of concept. Co-working is the future!

Then we asked If a kid walked up to her, asking for your advice and she only had a few minutes to give them her answer. What would it be?

Be yourself, most important one.

Never give up, keep on keeping on.

Don’t get lost in what people expect you to be.  If the glove doesn’t fit take it off.

The big question was what’s next for Claire’s business?

The graphic design strand Big Beans is just part of the bigger picture which is We Amplify Cumbria.  It’s ultimately about bringing people together to have a good time, a celebration of the human spirit, and the community that exists in the region. The fact that we are alive. I’m passionate about that kind of thing. Creating memorable, meaningful experiences. That’s what I am working towards.  The first step towards this will be the Happy Out Loud Day 20 June 2020. A full day of wonky and wacky goings on planned across Carlisle. It’s about connecting, and making each other laugh. Inspire creativity, dreams and imagination:  From culture to a way of life!

The vision is big, but I can see it vividly and how it will benefit a lot of people so I’m happy to keep working on it.

The day will be driven by individuals, and businesses, who have each signed up to do something positive. That might be your local pub, club, events venue.  Each party will amount to a variety of music events, mad antics and celebrations in the City of Carlisle, ‘coming together’ with a common goal. To encourage everyone to get out… to meet-and-mingle and revel in the joy of being part of a community, especially when its one as special as our community.

I see Happy Out Loud day as a yearly event and imaging other events and businesses.

At the heart of it, it comes back to the health and wellness thing. My health condition made me change my way of life. Happiness is the most important thing.  Money can’t buy you happiness, you should be happy with what you’ve got and celebrate it. Family and friends are important to me. The Melting Pot had a big impact on my way of thinking. Good-times, bad times and that dam right ugly. Watching your hard work, livelihood, and dreams devastated by fire was hard to accept back then. Then in Christmas 2015, Cumbria was flooded, if people weren’t directly affected they knew someone who was, an entire community mentally, physically and financially drained. Its easy for some of us to forget the scale of what happened, but for some the the scars are still there. If any positive can be taken from the floods it is the way the people of Cumbria came together to help one another.

The Cumbrian floods compelled me to bounce back and do something positive, focus on the good stuff.

It is this spirit that We Amplify Cumbria took shape, an appropriate response to the absolute tragedy of the floods is to celebrate life and the community spirit that continues to be a marvel!

We then asked Claire to explain coworking to someone who didn’t know what it is?

Shared work space, brings people together. Lots of independent businesses renting space under one roof.

You get to spend your days with people who are driven and passionate about what they do and that has a knock-on effect on the rest of the room because it inspires them.

Constantly learning every day from everyone.

Helps you to grow.

You get motivated. Working in the bedroom doing my job you only have self motivation.  In here you are motivated by everyone. Everyone is in the same boat so they understand what your doing is important to you so you’ve got that support mechanism as well. We’ve got each others back.

No big egos.  We understand each other’s headspace.

Finally we asked for Claire’s three top tips:

Be yourself. That’s if you wanna be happy!

Never give up. keep on keeping on…

Act with integrity.  Be kind.