Banbury Inspires: Barry Whitehouse

Our Banbury Inspires campaign aims to recognise and promote the achievements of our town centre businesses flexing during these challenging times. One such business owner who has seen a radical change is Art-shop owner Barry Whitehouse.

Barry runs The Artery at 21 Parsons Street, nestled within the back of the Old Town Cafe & Deli with a classroom upstairs where he delivers art classes for up to eight students. In the past, he relied on a modest income from loyal customers purchasing art supplies, art classes and artwork.

Then COVID-19 hit and by late February he was already seeing the effects. What Barry did next truly demonstrates what is possible with a bucket full of positivity and the determination to not give up on his business.

We caught up with Barry to find out how he used our Banbury Marketplace to change his business model and even led to him being a ‘poster boy’ for Visa’s Where You Shop Matters national advertising campaign.

Artful move
How long have you been in Banbury and tell us what daily life like for you right now?

I have been involved with art since the age of 17 and been in business in Banbury for ten years. This is my third premise in town. It’s taken some time to find the perfect home and perfect our offering.

Working within the Old Town Cafe & Deli is great as art is so sociable. People can buy art supplies, book an art class, stay for a bite to eat or coffee and even browse or buy the art on the walls! There is a real sense of community.

Daily life for me has not changed much in terms of hours, I’m still working around the clock to make ends meet. However, I now spend more time preparing for online classes as opposed to physical ones and packing and sending off art supplies.

Lockdown has done me a huge favour to be honest. It gave me the kick of the bottom I needed to develop a sustainable online offering. You see, we are limited in terms of the number of spaces we can offer for a physical art class, but now I am seeing people from all over the world come together for my virtual classes!

What have you found the single hardest thing to deal with in this situation?

Initially, it was having to close the shop. I worried about how I would serve and stay in contact with my customers. Shutting up shop meant cutting off my main revenue streams. Previously, I had an online shop for customers to order art supplies, but never really generated enough wider traffic to get it going.

The online Banbury Marketplace via ShopAppy.com which The BID made available to levy payers has really helped transform my business during the lockdown. The platform is a great way for people to continue to support local in one convenient online place. As a result, my business has been featured in Visa’s national campaign and my interview has made the national newspapers, which is great exposure for my Banbury business!

Who are your typical customers and how have you adapted to continue to serve them?

Art is for everyone! My typical customers in Banbury though are more mature art lovers, many of whom would be considered in the ‘at risk’ category for coronavirus. As such, my business would have really suffered if I did not adapt quickly.

My online art classes, supported by a Facebook Group, means we are still able to come together to learn, enjoy and express ourselves through art. Location is no longer an issue. One of the most popular classes cost just £6 and attracted 200 people from all over the world! Now, I could have never done that from my humble premises in Banbury.

What is your message to residents, shoppers and visitors of Banbury as we ease out of lockdown?

Our local economy needs you more than ever. Please consider where you shop and what you want to remain on the high street. There is often a lot more choice on the doorstep than people first think. We have seen a focus on shopping local during the lockdown and do I hope that is something that continues.

Some of my favourite places in Banbury town centre to visit are Shelia’s Sweets and Sugar Rush, I do love Dolly Mixtures, Jelly Babies and a slushie! The Banbury Sewing Centre is also great, as is the Old Town Deli & Cafe for lunch and coffee.

Are you optimistic that as we emerge from this, it could be a chance to create a better Banbury?

 You have to be optimistic, but realistic. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best I always say. I will definitely be continuing with my online art classes alongside the physical as soon as it is practical to do so. I imagine footfall will be slow to start and people’s shopping habits will once again have changed. However, I think people will be craving social interaction, personalisation and a friendly greeting. I hope people will be more mindful to shop local and support and appreciate those still here.

 Get Arty in Banbury

The Artery is a small but perfectly formed Art Centre nestled in the heart of Banbury Town. A wide range of materials, excellent product knowledge and good customer service, makes us the place to start in art. You can now book your slot on any Artery Class online at www.theartery.co.uk or visit The Artery on Banbury’s Marketplace. Please Like The Artery on Facebook