“Its having that vison of knowing what is to come. At the moment, you watch television and its all doom and gloom, I get really frustrated when you see everybody moaning about the city on social media!” says Laura Heywood, owner of The Scented Garden Retreat on Northgate row.
Reflecting on the Christmas just gone, she says that, ” the city is doing really well, considering how other places are doing, we are doing remarkably well. Yes there are small pockets that don’t look good, but I really think there are going to be some positive changes. If you look at the footfall in December, it was unbelievable, the Market and the Maker’s Market, it was vibrant. ”
“One of the things that took place, which didn’t get as much publicity or praise as it should have done, was the choirs on the rows, it was absolutely remarkable. We had them all up here singing . I went out and had a peak over and to see all these faces looking up, and so happy at people singing, Christmas carols, or Lady Gaga, it was amazing! Jen McAndrew who organised it , did an exceptional job, it was something so unique to the city.”
Laura founded the business on the 18th November 1995, over 27 years ago, originally in a small unit on Godstall lane. “It was a tiny shop, it was a very humble place to start, I had no business experience. I started the business with a £3000 loan from the Princes Trust, I hadn’t got a clue what I was doing, but I knew I loved the holistic and beauty industry. I made a lot of mistakes, but you learn quickly.
“We started off my making a lot of our own products, we exported to Japan, Finland.. Because we had customers over there, I found I was having to take on different roles including learning Japanese. Even though its been 27 years, everyday I still love my work. We moved to this property in 2015. I was against it because we were next door to Rosies, but fair does the bouncers make sure nothing awful happens up here. We are an established business now so we don’t have to rely on the footfall. I think this is the cleanest and nicest part of the rows. ”
The Scented Garden is made up of retail at row level and 4 treatment rooms upstairs. “In the shop we sell skincare, bath and body preparations and essential oils. The key thing for us is wellbeing, that is what got us through the lockdown, we did wellbeing kits, helping people to look after their mental health. . Essential oils are extracted from plants and flowers, they all have an impact on the emotions, for instance lavender aids relaxation and sleep. We also do a lot of work with skincare, with Dermalogica. We are the only stockist in Chester after Browns closed down, we are a gold standard salon, aiming for platinum. “
Treatments offered include reflexology, Indian head massages, aromatherapy, hot stone massage, facials and electrical facials. “We are so busy! Its a good problem to have. We entered December feeling very nervous, its been our best December. Our sales have far exceeded last year. Its four weeks to get an appointment that’s how busy we are. We have 6 girls that we employ. “
Talking about the many changes to Chester over the last 27 years Laura remains upbeat bit admits to concerns “Some of it we have questioned and worried about, you could wax lyrical about the problems with parking, bit every city has that problem. I really do think that , we have a lot of positive changes coming about, but the biggest problem we have as a city is street people. I use the word homeless and I know I’m touching on a very sensitive issue here, but in December, I have seen a whole new group of faces that have made a career out of being on the streets, and the mess they have made has been awful. A lot of people have complained about the mess on the streets, but the street cleaners are doing a fantastic job. I’m in at 6 in the morning and I see what they have to deal with. There are a genuine small percentage of people who are genuinely homeless , but there are people who are making a career out of it. They have pitches on Watergate street and they are there begging. We need a clear cut system that breaks the link between why people are homeless, and those that have drug and alcohol addictions. There are gangs working on the streets who are feeding the addictions, and that’s what people don’t see. We see the same faces up here dealing. More work is needed to get to the root cause of the problem.
” Retail units are filling up, yes we have big empty units like BHS and the iconic Brown’s building. We all remember doing something in there, I remember taking my new-born babies in there to the cafe to feed them! It does need to be filled, we haven’t got a department store. When you think back to the types of shops there were. There are some lovely independent clothes shops for women, but we do need more choice. We have a fabulous selection of cafes and restaurants. If we are to see anything, we need more clothes shops. You have to look at the consumer, women who love to shop, they don’t all want to sit in bars.
Talking about her earlier career she says that “in the past I worked in the theatre. I worked as a personal therapist to many celebrity clients. When I started my business I had lovely messages of congratulations from the likes of Barbara Windsor, Anna Karen, Cheryl Baker. I used to write to Prince (King) Charles, I’ve met him twice and I have 4 letters from him. I have written to thank him for all the support he’s given us , and our industry. Its something that he’s always championed. The Banks wouldn’t help us. When I met him, everything in the room just stopped, he has a lovely manner about him. “
“I am passionate about supporting charities. One of the things I learned during the lockdown was the importance of looking after your mental health. I am a Governor at our High School and wellbeing and mental health is really important. I feel we should be teaching our kids about it, it gets brushed under the carpet. Having taught 3 kids during lockdown I can really appreciate the challenges they face. I made a proposal to the High School and I’ve been in doing assemblies, and now its part of the their curriculum. A lot of it is self care. I enjoy going out into the community and helping people. Our kids need direction , the world is changing so fast, kids are dependent on their phones, but theres a lot more pressure for youngsters to deal with.
” I’m also passionate about supporting the LGBT community. We were in this building and we were watching the parades and I used to get really angry about the religious groups, inciting hate. The world is full of hate and anger and people judging, I get really upset about it and they’re still here, they went into the Rainbow Cafe. “
Always positive, she says” I love the Northgate development and I think the businesses around there there are doing really well. I walked past the Cheese Wedge, what a great business , its great to see his growth, its really encouraging to see! I think Chester is moving in its own positive direction, the problem with street people needs addressing, and it would be great to recognised as a Lego model!”