Jewellery designer Janet Gibson was delivering work to the gallery at the Ferrers Centre for Arts and Crafts when she noticed an empty studio up for grabs.
Tempted by the tranquil setting of the Georgian stable block on the Staunton Harold estate she and her husband Paul, a ceramicist, made enquiries with the landlord.
They were told that that one had been taken, but immediately offered another studio – with accommodation above.
They had just had their first child and bought their first home in Nottingham so upping sticks and moving into a rented flat was not a decision many would have made – but they just couldn’t resist the opportunity, and within a month they were in.
That was in 1993. Twenty six years later Green Man Ceramics and JG Jewellery are still at the heart of the Ferrers creative family. Not only that they have expanded into extra studio space and some years ago they moved from the flat into a family home next door.
Visitors to Ferrers probably have no idea that the Gibsons’ kitchen window overlooks the thronging courtyard and that on the other side of the building there is an amazing garden with views over the estate.
I tell Janet I would be pinching myself every morning it I had the good fortune to call the place home, and she smiles.
“It makes for a very interesting life. I love being part of Staunton Harold estate and never take it for granted. Our two children grew up here and now they are adults they look back and realise that they had a very special childhood. It really is a wonderful place.
“Both Paul and I love people, and the customers and visitors here are also our friends. We share all this with them during the day and then once the centre is closed we have the tranquillity back.”
The couple met at art college in the 80s when Paul, who was brought up in Essex, moved to the Midlands so he could study ceramics at Stoke-on-Trent.
“My dad was a potter and I had been interested since I was young, building my own little kilns in the garden and experimenting,” he said.
“I worked at Camden Lock with him for a couple of years as a teenager and learned a lot about the commercial side of being a potter. He persuaded me that if I wanted to make a career of it I needed to go to college. After my foundation arts course, Stoke was the obvious place for someone interested in ceramics to go.”
The 56-year-old potter, ended up studying sculpture and eventually he combined his semi-industrial know-how with his creative skills to establish the successful Green Man brand.
The Green Man, who can be found on churches and cathedrals all over Europe, is an established part of our folklore so it is no surprise that Paul’s work has proved to be popular.
He produces a vast range of porcelain and stoneware ceramics featuring the iconic face. He also has a range of other decorative plaques and in recent years he has also become well-known for his porcelain bird feeders and planters on poles.
The studio expansion was essential so that he could bring their production to the estate. Hundreds of them are packed off to other outlets around the UK each week and the couple have had to take on part time staff to help.
“The bird feeders are so popular we can hardly keep up,” he says cheerfully.
While Paul is busy with the production side of the business Janet takes responsibility for the studio shop as well as finding time to design her own unique jewellery in porcelain and silver.
“We are very lucky we made the bold decision to come to Ferrers when we did. We had no idea how it would turn out but sometimes you just have to follow your heart. We hoped it would work and I am glad we took the chance,” said Janet.
To see more of Paul’s work go to http://www.greenmanceramics.co.uk