Indie Oxford Interview: Shop at the Old Fire Station
Happy Friday! As it’s a rainy day at the end of February, I thought we could take a virtual look around the Shop at the Old Fire Station, with Shop Manager Harriet Peacock as our tour guide. Harriet takes us around the shop to take a look at her favourite pieces and explains why the shop is so unique. >>
Tell us about how Shop at the Old Fire Station started.
The Old Fire Station opened back in November 2011. In a previous life it has been a nightclub, gallery space and way back in the day was a working fire station! Now it houses a Crisis Skylight centre which offers support, education and training opportunities to homeless and vulnerably housed people, and Arts at the Old Fire Station, a public arts centre with a busy programme of events and a theatre, gallery, dance studios and artist studios. The Shop was set up as part of the arts centre to provide a space where UK independent designer-makers could showcase and sell their work, as part of our mission to support artists with their professional development.
How long have you worked for OFS, and what is your role?
I have worked at OFS for just over 5 years. I originally started as a marketing assistant and then a few months later started working in the shop. My current role is Shop Manager, which involves pretty much all things shop apart from the more customer facing side! I am responsible for the buying, visual merchandising (although unfortunately I don’t get to do this as often as I’d like due to time constraints) and the marketing.
What is Shop at the Old Fire Station best known for?
Hopefully for our mix of colourful, quirky and fun gifts across lots of categories, including jewellery, homewares, textiles and accessories, prints, clothing and stationery. And for selling something that brings a smile (or a giggle) to your face!
What makes the shop unique?
We are the only shop in Oxford which exclusively sells work by UK indie designer-makers or small businesses. It’s difficult to stock a whole shop with just UK designed or made products, but it’s something we work hard to do because we feel supporting UK businesses is important and it makes us different from other high street shops. We stock quite a few brands you won’t find elsewhere in Oxford. And as part of the charity Arts at the Old Fire Station, all the profits from your purchases goes back into our work as an arts centre.
How has the shop evolved since opening?
The Shop has changed so much since we first opened – I’ve only been here for the last 5 years but it looks drastically different from when I started. Part of that has been very much me learning and figuring out ways to develop the commercial side whilst sticking to our values of supporting UK indie businesses. Our style has changed from more of a vintage inspired look with lots of vintage furniture and florals to more of a contemporary, colourful style. We have also recently launched an online shop which is a huge achievement for us!
How has the shop added to the local community?
All our profits go back into Arts at the Old Fire Station. We work with lots of local artists, whether that be theatre makers, visual artists, musicians, all sorts really! We provide support to artists and we are also a unique building in that we do all of this whilst sharing our space with Crisis. We work with Crisis on arts projects throughout the year, where Crisis clients can get involved working with professional artists to produce incredible work such as our recent ICON photography exhibition or our Hidden Spire theatre show. Crisis clients can also do training placements with us to gain experience in all the different ways an arts centre is managed- admin, marketing, finance, theatre tech, visual arts, or customer service in the shop. It’s this work with artists and Crisis that makes the building really special and a wonderful place to work.
Who are your customers?
We tend to have a lot of repeat customers who come to us regularly for birthday presents and of course at Christmas. They appreciate that we stock something a little different and enjoy a good pun!
Which are your favourite pieces at the moment?
Our Harry Potter house themed socks by Katie Abey were one of our bestsellers over Christmas and as a big HP fan I love my Hufflepug pair!
The Positive Planner are a brilliant range of books designed to promote wellbeing through journaling and creativity, and were created by Ali and Finn when they were both struggling with their own mental health and wanted a tool to help. I use their Bullet Diary as my everyday diary which is perfect for me, as someone who wants the flexibility of bullet journaling but without spending too much time on it, as they provide you with basic monthly and weekly setups which you can customise as you like. They are based in Bath and their books are printed just 13 miles away in Chippenham.
And finally, these glitter slogan cards by Oh Squirrel are so much fun- I love the silly quotes and candy colours. These are designed by Katie in London and she has recently found a way to produce these with biodegradable glitter, so they are as eco-friendly as possible.
Tell me about your plans for 2020.
Our main focus for this year is to develop our online shop. We only opened in October and there is a lot to learn so we will be doing plenty of research on fun topics such as SEO and Facebook ads! We’re always looking to develop our product range and had great success last year with new wellbeing products and books, so finding new and exciting products for our customers will continue to be a priority for us.
Lastly, what are your favourite independent businesses in Oxfordshire?
I am always a big fan of The Covered Market and have recently discovered the Souvlaki Brothers stand where you can get a range of delicious Greek souvlaki – they even include chips in the wrap! I also love iScream in The Covered Market for an amazing ever-changing range of seasonal ice cream and sorbets. And on a non-food related point, I have recently started going to the life drawing classes at the Jam Factory which I am really enjoying.
We are big fans of the Shop at the Old Fire Station and Harriet has created a real mecca for Oxford locals looking to support UK designers. Even on rainy days, you can cheer them on by taking a look around their online shop full of awesome gifts to raise a smile.