Katie and Tom Barker, Walthamstow residents and founders of Venus & the Cat, have been passionate about street art for over 20 years and have collected many pieces for their home. Both avid plant enthusiasts (they have over 60 indoor plants) a chance search for indoor pots led them to realise there was a gap for stylish, artistic, premium pots and homeware, and Venus & the Cat was born.
What does your lockdown life look like at the moment?
We have two small children so it’s a blur of full time jobs; homeschooling, entertaining a toddler whilst launching a business and all that entails. It feels a bit like Groundhog Day with all the meal making and homeschooling but we’re just taking it a day at a time and rewarding ourselves with a few glasses of wine when we complete another week!
What have you found the most challenging about the lockdown?
I think for us the restrictions of launching a business in lockdown has been the most difficult thing – working with photographers and not having the ability to meet artists, galleries and stockists has been frustrating. We work closely with the brilliant pottery to create our pieces but unfortunately, while staff have needed to self-isolate there have been unavoidable delays in the line being ready to go.
How has your business been affected by lockdown life?
Venus & The Cat was a lockdown-conceived business (lockdown 1!) which we then launched in lockdown 2, so we honestly have no idea what business is like outside of lockdown! We’re excited about the prospect of emerging from lockdown and being able to get out and meet everyone we’ve had to put off.
Do you have a go-to lockdown meal at the moment?
During the current lockdown (post-Christmas) we signed up for the Mindful Chef recipe boxes to add a bit of variety into our well-trodden recipe repertoire, and we’ve been enjoying preparing lots of new meals. We’re yet to get over to the Arte e Pasta’s pop up Fritti bar, Tears 4 Fritti but are immensely looking forward to when we can manage one of their meals. If we’re feeling tired and lazy you can’t beat a Yard Sale delivery.
What have you been doing to relax during this time – have you found anything really effective?
Exercise has been something to focus on for both of us during lockdown and we’ve really made sure to juggle and give each other the time amongst everything else to squeeze it in. We’ve also made sure to shift the focus off the business and onto our kids at the weekends – when you’re launching something new it can be tempting to spend every waking moment on it, but we’ve found it incredibly relaxing to take some long Epping Forest walks – splashing in puddles, finding the best stick and listening to the birds.
Have you read any interesting books or articles, or watched any great films or TV series you’d recommend?
We’re both reading one after each other ‘The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti’ by Rafael Schacter and ‘Street Art’ by Simon Armstrong – there’s always more to learn about street art. We’ve also both just finished the ‘Sixteen Different Flavours of Hell’ but David Thorne, which like all his other books is laugh-out-loud funny and perfect light relief in lockdown.
Have there been any silver linings for you during this period?
I guess for us it’s probably been that had we not been locked-down, we would have found outings and socialising to fill our time, but may have never had the headspace to start a business. We decided to go for it after struggling in the first couple of weeks of the first lockdown to find a great large pot for one of our indoor plants and it escalated from there.
Will you be making any changes to your life moving forward in a post-lockdown world?
I think we’d both say embracing being social at every opportunity – have that barbecue, say yes to that evening at the pub, go and see those friends. We’re looking forward to hugging other people again!
Any words of wisdom or support for anyone particularly struggling right now?
I think it gets said a lot but reach out – it’s crazy how much better you can feel after just spending twenty minutes on Zoom with a bunch of friends or on the phone to someone you love. We’ve found it’s really helped to make future plans – even if they get changed or delayed. Almost like a post-lockdown bucket list of things we’d like to do; maybe it’s haircuts, seeing friends and family, holidays, day trips or weekends away. It’s expanded our currently narrowed horizon and makes us feel optimistic.
How have you stayed engaged with your East London community during this time?
As with so many people in our amazing area (E17) we’ve really focused on supporting local as much as possible; lots of the Christmas presents we gave and food we ate were bought locally and we’re continuing to enjoy picking up local coffees and shopping in the local delis too.
Do you have any favourite East London businesses doing great things that you’d like to shout about?
There are so many – we are so lucky in our area.
Arte e Pasta – an amazing new innovate space on Shernhall Street that is half Italian restaurant and half gallery space for brilliant local street artists. They were able to open for one (incredibly busy!!) night before the lockdown rules were put into place and we can’t wait to visit. They’re offering takeaway during lockdown, you can visit their Instagram for menus at @tears4fritti
Flowers for your Weekend – Harri has continued local delivery of her insanely beautiful floral arrangements throughout lockdown, brightening many a weekend in Walthamstow – @flowers_for_your_weekend
Word Store in Walthamstow Village have launched their second line of charity clothing (this time incredibly snuggly loungewear for adults and kids) with £5 from every purchase supporting the Lloyd Park Children’s Charity who support families in need our borough. @wordstoreldn
Artsnug in Central Parade is great for lots of lovely affordable art to brighten your home. We can’t wait to pop in post-lockdown but if you can’t wait they’re offering local delivery for just £3. @artsnug
Please share any exciting projects you’ve been working on during this time, as well as information on how readers can support you and your work right now.
Currently we’re working on our ‘Off the Street’ range. We have collaborated with three artists on a line of Fair Trade, organic, super-soft t-shirts and tote bags with 25% of proceeds being donated to Centerpoint, a charity supporting young homeless people in London, a cause close to our hearts. The t-shirts and totes feature three original, bespoke artworks by skilled print maker Katrina Russell-Adams, award-winning graphic artist Hatch and master of ‘neometry’ Carl Cashman.
We also have a brand new exciting artist/product collaboration in the works which will be launching in the summer.
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