Updated: Mar 15
In this weekly blog series we aim to highlight fantastic creative people mainly from SE London who we either work with or admire every week! This week its Maddy Carrick owner of Dreamcatcher a play cafe in Crystal Palace.
Hello! I'm Maddy and I'm the founder of Dreamcatcher, we're a play cafe and children's party business in the heart of the Crystal Palace triangle.
I founded the business way back in 2008, when it was a part-time enterprise running children's parties and events across North London.
Since then, we have grown into having our very own bricks and mortar in Crystal Palace with a lovely play cafe, space for children's classes and host our renowned super-fun birthday parties for children every weekend.
It's a great space for new parents to pop by and meet other local families, for toddlers who can't keep still in other coffee shops and for bigger kids to dance their feet away at our disco parties. A community and imagination hub.
1. What led you to start up your business?
At the time I had recently finished drama school and was performing with my comedy sketch group, we were regularly taking shows up to the Edinburgh Fringe every August and gigging across London.
I needed to find work that was flexible and I could arrange around gigging and auditions. I had lots of experience working with children in different capacities, loved making people laugh - so children's party entertainment seemed the perfect combination!
The business grew and grew, I ended up taking over the running of a children's party venue in Stoke Newington before opening Dreamcatcher in Crystal Palace two years ago.
For years I was known as Pirate Maddy throughout Hackney, even last year my husband and I were at the Royal Albert Hall and I turned round to shouts of "It's Pirate Maddy!"
2. What were the biggest obstacles to starting up?
There were lots of obstacles when I opened the space in Crystal Palace, lease negotiations and council paperwork slowed down everything by a few months.
It was hard to keep track of everything and to also keep sight of the end goal.
There were lots of renovation work to do to get ready for business, and it ended up being a real juggle with everything happening at the same time - new staircase, building a website, staff recruitment, building up the class timetable...I remember showing potential class teachers round a building site, having to point at different areas telling them that would eventually be a staircase and the piles of rubble would become a buggy park!
3. What do you love about your business?
Sounds like a cliche, but it's the people.
We have the most wonderful customers who will pop into the cafe each week, we really do get to know all of our customers and their little ones.
We have the best team. It's incredibly rewarding, friendships are formed at Dreamcatcher, we've had first steps, children who came as toddlers and now visit us and tell us about their days at school, new parents venturing out for the first time.
We greet everyone with a smile and a warm hello.
One of my favourite stories is of two grandmothers who travel to London each week to help with childcare, they both regularly popped into Dreamcatcher on a Wednesday morning not knowing anyone locally. Soon, they became friends and the children met for play-dates, and celebrated birthdays at Dreamcatcher. I love our parties! It really is a joy to be part of such special occasions and help make family memories.
I do think this sort of business is so important at the moment, and hopefully a sign of what the British high street can grown into.
As people are more and more fragmented, starting families living away from relatives and the close infrastructure that brings, we can help to provide that sense of community and inclusion. Something a chain coffee shop just can't bring.
4. Who would be your dream client?
Anyone! Maybe a first birthday party for little Archie Sussex?!
5. Where would you like to take your business ultimately?
I would love to expand the business, and open a few more Dreamcatchers at different locations across the UK.
I think there are so many great spots which would be the perfect home for Dreamcatcher. It's a good, solid business model and would work well for a franchise.
I don't think you should rush expansion though, you really need to test your business thoroughly and get to know it fully - all the gritty sides of it.
6. Where have you received the most support along your journey?
I had great early support from Sam at That Place on the Corner in Stoke Newington, she mentored me and was a great sound-board for ideas.
My parents also had their own business, my Mum routinely has been a huge source of encouragement and never shied away from showing me what hard work looked like.
She's helped me with everything - from developing my business plan to painting walls!
7. Would you consider going back to employment for someone else now?
I won't lie - sometimes when a toilet has broken on my day off or it's late on a Sunday and I'm still clearing away party cups and popping balloons, the 9 to 5 lifestyle is hugely appealing. But, seeing our regular customers pop in each week and receiving lovely emails from parents after our birthday parties soon puts any of those ideas to rest.
8. What do you consider the key skills a small business person must have?
Strength, determination and tenacity.
You need to be open to learning new skills, especially if you're a one-man (or lady!) band, know where your short-comings are and when to ask for help.
You need to encompass the tech department, marketing, human resources and be the face of your business.
You can't do everything, but there are lots that you can - especially in those first few years where it's so important to keep your costs down.
Learn how to send out your newsletter, know how to maintain the maintain coffee machine and try to fix the loo yourself!
In those first early weeks when I had the keys to the cafe, it became clear that some of the building work was going to take longer than originally anticipated, so instead of paying someone I painted every table and chair myself.
9. Have you been influenced by any business books or blogs recently?
Like lots of small business owners I'm a huge fan of Holly Tucker's podcast, whilst Holly herself is a huge inspiration, I just love the stories of the different founders and their journeys - I particularly enjoyed Keith Abel's recent episode and hearing about his early disasters and eventual success - lots of grit and determination.
I also love Sarah Akwisombe's instagram and facebook group: "No Bull Business School", she's created a welcoming and open space for small business owners to air ideas and gripes, and she facilitates it really well with good leading questions and tips.
10. What would your top tips be to anyone considering starting their own business?
Time. Give yourself time.
It's highly unlikely you're going to be that runaway success in the first few months.
Try not to compare yourself to others, no two business are the same.
Take the time to get to know your business, learn how it works when you're incredibly busy and know how to react during slow patches.
You need a business plan to get going, to set yourself goals and to give you clear thinking, but don't be a slave to it.
Confidently walk away from it if it needs adapting and evolving.
React and understand to what your customers actually want, don't stick to something if it's not working. It's yours - you can mould the business as you want.
11. Do you think networking is important for your business?
Yes! Crucial! Sometimes perhaps more for me than my business itself.
Networking brings opportunities for collaborations and starting new working relationships.
I often find that it can be hard for those in regular employment to relate to all that is involved in running your own business, often I get a sympathy nod or a "I don't know how you do it" when telling people about fixing the air conditioning unit, overseeing the accounting and working weekends. It's so wonderful and gratifying to meet other people in the same boat and hear their stories.
I'm expecting my first baby in October, and have met a couple of other women in the same position who are roughly expecting at the same time and running their own businesses, we've become each other's sounding boards. It's been great!
To contact Maddy
Don't miss reading more in the 'Have you Met?' series
Interview 18- Maddy Carrick
Interview 17 Anja David
Interview 16 -Bridget Daley
Interview 15 -Karen Arthur
Interview 14 -Rebecca Trowbridge
Interview 13 -Angélina Jandolo
Interview 12 -Kelly Harris
Interview 11 -Sara Dalrymple
Interview 10 -Ciarán O'Fathaigh
Interview 9 -Elizabeth Knights Trench
Interview 8 -Aba Edwards-Idun
Interview 7 -Roxsanne Slatford
Interview 6 -Lara Pearce
Interview 5 -Ashanti Jason
Interview 4- Shannon Reed
Interview 3 -Claire Connor
Interview 2 -Becca Teers
Interview 1 -Cat Bateman
Singing for my Supper
If you enjoyed reading this article and maybe others I've written, found a tip that worked for you or learned something new, it would be great if you'd consider sending me the price of a cup of coffee :) https://www.paypal.me/thanksforreading/2.50
Space at 61 is a venue for hire in Nunhead near Peckham. Often used for childrens parties, workshops, classes, talks, filming and popups you can hire us from £20per hour. The 'Have you Met?' Blog interview concept was created by by Shona Chambers owner of Space at 61 and Shona Chambers Marketing. To read more like this visit www.shonachambersmarketing.co.uk