Interview: Holly Dabbs, founder of Foxglove Forest School
Some of you may know that in between PA jobs I retrained as a primary school teacher. I stuck at it for a couple of years before I realised that I’m far too much of a control freak to handle 30 five year olds every day. I returned to a PA role in the City and then ultimately became a VA a few years later. I still have that teaching streak though, which is probably evident in my lesson plans for my From PA to VA programme!
One of my fellow PGCE trainees was Holly Dabbs, who has gone on to found Foxglove Forest School. Holly is one of those people you just can’t not like! She has heaps of energy, always has a smile on her face and is absolutely fantastic with children. She’s created a portfolio career based on her passions (creativity and education) and I was so pleased when she agreed to be interviewed for my blog. Holly has managed to create a life that works well around her young daughter, plus she has heaps more freedom than she did when she taught. If you’re thinking about making a change and leaving a traditional job, I hope you find her story inspiring.
What are your businesses called?
Foxglove Forest School, based in South East London, where I run pre-school family sessions for parents and their children. I also work as a freelance education consultant and design creative programmes for galleries and museums.
How would you describe your business?
In all the work that I do I strive to create fun, creative, and inclusive educational experiences for children and young people.
What did you do before?
My career has taken me on many paths - I am a firm believer in a portfolio career! I initially trained in Drama, Applied Theatre and Education at Royal Central School and worked in the arts in London before training to be a primary school teacher. I managed the Early Years in a busy primary school in East London, supporting a team of 15 staff and over 100 children. I started working every holiday as a freelancer in festivals, events and museums as well as holding down a full time job, and realised something needed to change!
What made you make the change?
I love working with children and their families and felt that my role as a teacher was limiting what I could achieve creatively personally, and with the children I was working with. The increasing pressure on younger and younger children to adhere to strict learning outcomes contradicted my belief that each child develops at different rates and that education should be holistic, focusing on valuing the whole child. I felt that making the jump to freelance work would give me autonomy over my work and life, and it did!
What does a typical day for you look like? (if there is one!)
I live with a toddler and two very hard done by cats so there is no set path! It’s all pretty unglamorous! If we are lucky my daughter wakes us up around 6am and is yet to sleep through the night (when is that meant to happen??) We kick off the day with breakfast, speedy showers and a bit of resistance from a toddler who hates clothes to the sound track of Radio 2 or Hey Dugeee or both! My husband is a freelancer editor and camera man so depending on his schedule we share dropping off my daughter at her child minders 2.5 days a week. The Forest School runs three mornings a week and when I’m not delivering theses sessions I deliver family sessions in museums and galleries across London. During my two week days with my daughter we keep busy and explore local toddler groups or hang out in the park - she is a kid who needs to be busy! I pick up my daughter at around 5:30pm and we return home to bath and bedtime. If that all goes to plan she is asleep by 7:30pm, and then I catch up on email, admin and box sets.
What's the best thing about your business?
Having complete autonomy over it! It’s also the worst as the buck really does stop with me. But I am so happy that I have created a working life that can grow and change with my family. Being able to pick up my daughter from school is really important to me, so in starting to shape my work now hopefully in three years I will be able to do that! The diversity of my work is also very key, I enjoy the challenge of new projects and working in this way can ensure I never get bored!
What has been the biggest challenge?
Admin… and accountancy! I am not a natural mathematician and I find keeping track of my finances challenging. This might be an area that I outsource soon! Also taking my sales online was a big challenge but it has made such a difference and I haven’t looked back! I think the next big challenge for me is expanding the Forest School and starting to hire other people to run my sessions, which is super scary!!
What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting something on their own?
Do it! I started the Forest School when I was off on maternity leave. I felt so out of control of my working life (as a freelancer) and my mind and body (as a mum!) Starting my own business gave me that control back and I am now no longer reliant on finding work as I make my own! I also think don’t set yourself ridiculous targets, there is no rush in life. I’ll probably have to be running Forest School till I’m 80yrs old unless I hit the big time and can move to the Caribbean, so make sure you make choices that are sustainable – you (health and happiness) are your business!!
You can find Holly on social media: