Vicky Gawith: Founder of MerseyMade.
The brainchild of Liverpool-born director and founder Vicky Gawith, there is a real buzz around her MerseyMade enterprise, which supports around 100 creatives from within a 50-mile radius of its location on Paradise Street.
It’s situated in the old Gordon Smith Institute for Seamen, a beautiful grade II listed building featuring 10 open-plan studios.
Resident artists can work and sell their products on site and there are events room where visitors can get involved in various workshops from calligraphy classes to jewellery making.
The pool of local talent includes illustrators, fudge makers, abstract artists, jewellery makers and suppliers of locally made gin and honey, fresh and dried flowers and eco-friendly products.
MerseyMade is just yards away from shopping complex Liverpool One, but offers a different experience for shoppers who can watch the creatives making products and commission pieces of bespoke work.
How it all began
Mother-of-four Ms Gawith visited local makers markets for years, in places such as Sefton Park and Liverpool Cathedral and this acted as a catalyst for her vision of MerseyMade.
“Enjoying the markets and knowing that there wasn’t a venue in Liverpool that permanently showcased beautiful, unique items by local makers, I decided that I wanted to use my project managing and retail skills to support our community,” she told LiverpoolWorld.
“I’m also a trustee of a local charity and have been involved in charity work within my community since my teens, so my vision was to create a hub for these people, to champion local creatives.
“I love creating things myself, when I have spare time, I sew and embroider and spend time creating things with my children. I grew up around an artistic grandmother and father, who both enjoyed painting.”
She explained her mother enjoyed art and had a History of Art degree: “We both loved going around the makers markets together and buying that unique gift for loved ones.”
Ms Gawith has treasured local partnerships during her journey to launch her business and this includes Jenny Dunlop, MerseyMade creative director, who she met at the school gates in 2006.
“We had been part of the Parents Association, planning and organising events for about ten years.
“I had the business idea brewing inside me for many years and bought the domain name for MerseyMade back in 2013.
“It made sense to reach out to Jenny, who is a mixed media artist, about the idea. We worked together from 2018 on the concepts for the business plan, visiting venues, meeting architects, talking with suppliers and creatives, to bring all of this to life.”
Ms Gawith said she was able to fund MerseyMade through a variety of channels and credits the Women’s Organisation, a Liverpool-based social enterprise which is the largest developer and deliverer for the training and support of women in the UK.
“I heard about them first on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour and I went to them with my business plan.”
From there Ms Gawith met with the Merseyside Special Investment Fund, a private equity fund which provides a wide range of funding to businesses across the North West, from £3,000 to over £2 million.
“They believed in our vision too and enabled this to happen and we opened in November 2019.”
A tough start
MerseyMade had only been open for a few months when the pandemic started.
Ms Gawith recalls how her team had to use their initiative to keep their dream alive and look to other sources of income.
“We had only been trading for around three months before the pandemic started, so we acted quickly and set up an online shop,” she explained.
They also applied for a recovery grant from Liverpool City Regions growth platform, created to support local businesses.
What’s on offer for you?
As well as workshops ranging from calligraphy classes to jewellery making, there is a GCSE and A-Level catch-up club, for students to work on their artwork over the summer with a qualified art teacher.
There is a Harry Potter watercolour workshop and even upcoming comedy nights at the city-centre venue.
MerseyMade also houses the Gordon Smith Café, which offers a range of hot and cold food and drink and a diverse menu that includes gluten free and vegan options and an assortment of locally sourced and freshly made cakes that are available daily.
They serve a bespoke blend of coffee provided by Neighbourhood Coffee, artisanal speciality coffee roasters based in Liverpool. As well as dining in the café, customers can pre-order food for collection including hampers and freshly baked bread.
Nurturing talent in the local community
The bread too has a special story and is made by Andy Cook, a baker, expedition leader and rock climbing and ski instructor, who set up the South Liverpool Plattsville Bakehouse during lockdown after baking bread for his neighbours.
Vicky firmly believes there is a lot members of the local community can do to help each other.
Ms Gawith said: “Artists here all talk together and bounce ideas off each other.
“It is a place you come to understand the community.”
There are many respected artists and creatives at MerseyMade and one of the latest to join them is Gemma Longworth, a creative designer from Liverpool who stars on Channel 4 restoration show Find It, Fix It, Flog It.
Ms Galwith is already discussing the possibility of expansion with a nearby Christmas market and even a mural on a nearby electrical substation.
MerseyMade is a 2021 finalist for the EnterPrise Vision Awards, celebrating the achievements of the North West’s most talented female entrepreneurs and also a finalist in the North West LGBTQ+ Business Awards.
Ms Galwith said: “We want to be an oasis of creativity in the heart of the city. There’s a lot of talent in Liverpool and we want to make this section of the city an artistic corner.
“Both my parents gave me a strong work ethic and ambition to always strive for things you believe in and I do hope I am making them both proud.”