July is upon us and what better way to spring into it than to speak with more of our 4th Edition participants. This month we spoke to Patty from Sweet Paper Creations, a not-for-profit family business with a vision to develop creative, craft workshops in the local community.

Tell us about your business 

Our mission and passion come from our personal experiences of the effects of mental health on individuals, which is what it drives us to provide services to support anyone who has been affected by poor mental health.

We originally set up an online piñata store called Sweet Paper Creations where we sell piñatas for any occasion and where customers can commission their own bespoke character. The profits from our shop help us to deliver our “Make It and Break It” workshops, where we provide a creative outlet for those suffering from mental health issues, stress, bereavement or those helping support someone going through such issues.

We do not claim to be therapists, counsellors or a self-help organisation; we are simply someone suffering from poor mental health and someone who is supporting them, both of whom want to share the benefits of their own experience.

When did you set it up and why? 

Although we registered our business Moritas Ltd in November 2018, we only began selling our piñatas a year later when we officially open our online shop “Sweet Paper Creations”; and, early this year we started to deliver “Make It and Break It” workshops.

When my eldest child (Ali) was suffering from mental health issues, I did not know what to do to help or even understand the effect that this had on her.

During this time, we noticed that Ali was struggling to engage with others or to talk to us about her problem. As parents this was devastating for us, as we did not know how to help, and nor did we have anyone to talk to about it.

The idea of making piñatas came from my memories of how I used to make piñatas with my children for their birthdays. I decided to set about making a new piñata and invited Ali to help me, which we discovered became a relief strategy for both of us. The act of making the piñata gave us the space and setting to allow us to relax, communicate and positively release what we were both feeling about navigating through life with its mental health issues.

Because we had experienced the positive effects that this creative outlet had on individuals suffering poor mental health, we conceived the idea to put together a series of workshops to support others who are suffering from poor mental health or being affected by the impact that this can have on them and their families. We therefore set up a crowdfunding link to raise funds to support the establishing of the workshops, as well as allocating the proceeds from any piñatas that we sold.

 Why Forge? What urged you to apply?

I heard about Forge while attending one of the sessions delivered by the SiLL Programme at Walthamstow library. I immediately booked onto a Forge networking event and, after talking to those attending and the organisers, I felt excited to take part.

I was encouraged by the support that Forge offers and their friendly approach when I have spoken to anyone there. They don’t see you as just another individual who is taking their chance with an idea alone; instead, they help you by connecting you with others who are at the same stage as you, thereby creating a family of businesses supporting each other. The meetings and training session have certainly helped me to expand my business.

I am so grateful that I was told about Forge, and that I was able to register with them. Their support through this period of uncertainty has been greatly appreciated, especially because, as a new business, a situation like this can break you and demotivate you.

What are the challenges and opportunities that your business are currently facing during the pandemic? 

The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown came just as we had started to become more active in the community, having delivered three piñata workshops in February and people were starting to get to know about our services.

The impact has been huge, as we had to cancel the three sessions that had already been organised. We have had to put our Make-it-and-Break-it workshops on hold; however, this time has also given us the opportunity to polish many areas of our business that we needed to develop. For example, we were able to develop and launch our website www.sweetpapercreations.com, register our trade mark, review and improve our social media presence and create new piñata characters to sell. Currently we are working on a SWOT analysis and business plan with the help of our business advisor.

How have you had to adapt? What measures did you have to put in place? 

Before the lockdown we used to only sell commissioned, pre-ordered piñatas, which normally took up to two weeks to make and deliver. However, during the lockdown, we decided to develop a range of new piñatas available each week for immediate delivery, which has opened the door to new customers.

The lockdown meant the cancellation of parties and celebrations, which are the source of orders for our piñatas. However, we came up with a new Corona Virus piñata design, and launched it under the banner of “Beat the Virus” as a fundraising range for two of our charities, the NHS and MIND. We were so pleased to find that the Corona Virus piñata became very popular, tapping into people’s desire to support the NHS and to provide a fun outlet for people to deal with the frustration for the lockdown and the resulting cancelations of their planned events.

How important is connecting with other businesses to you?

This has been hugely important to us, as there have been times when it was very difficult to see the future; but the support and encouragement that we have received from the network connections have helped me to continue to focus on my business. Participating in the Zoom meetings and training has helped me to develop new relationships and to share ideas with and from others.

Starting a business can be lonely and scary, but working with others who have gone through the same journey as ours, and being able to talk to them about their experiences, has really helped to keep us going. I would highly recommend joining a network to any person who is thinking of a business start-up.

What kinds of businesses or individuals would like to connect with through Forge? 

To be honest, so far, meeting and connecting with many different businesses has been the best thing I have experienced. Although we are all different, we are all on the same journey and have the same needs; the only difference is our product.

However, in terms of expanding our network, I would like to meet groups or individuals that are supporting anyone affected by mental health issues, including the Local Authority and NHS services. On a separate note, we would love to connect with wedding services organisations in order to develop our wedding piñatas.

Tell us something we might not know about you

I was born and raised in Guatemala, Central America, and moved to England 30 years ago having married my English husband. I have lived and raised my family in Waltham Forest for over 25 years, and much of my working career has been in the Borough; as a childminder, Early Years practitioner in a local school, Coordinator of the Borough’s Childminding Network and establishing and managing a SureStart Children’s Centre.

I have a long-standing passion for Early Years, as I believe these are the most important years for a child’s development, but in recent years I have developed a deep passion to support those who like me who have been affected by seeing someone they love dealing with mental health issues.

What inspires you? 

My faith and my love for my family. Without my faith I could not do what I do, and without my family’s support I would not be where I am today.

Sweet Paper Creations join the Forge community as part of the fourth and final edition, Cohort 4.