Retreat to Go Forward: How Starting a Business was Maggie Sorrell’s Salvation

Setting up a business was Maggie Sorrell’s salvation. After a devastating accident, doctors said she’d never walk again, so Maggie started to research how lifestyle changes could help her to recover. The result was  full recovery and the establishment of Breathing Space – a beautiful B&B and haven for women in the heart of Norfolk.  Anne Francis caught up with Maggie there.

What led you to start Breathing Space?

It all began in 2008 when I sold my catering business, Taste Buds, which I had run in Essex for 12 years. At that time, I was starting to get into organic and raw food after an accident left me unable to walk for 2 years; doctors told me I’d never walk again, which led me directly to extensively researching healing through lifestyle.

I then sold my house and the catering business and decided to find a rural retreat for myself. After considerable research, I eventually decided on Norfolk. I completely fell in love with it. One thing led to another and I moved here in 2008. Friends used to come and visit, and we would do wonderful things like riding bikes, enjoying the beach and just being in nature. It was like being children again – and friends often made comments such as  “everyone who leads a busy life should be doing this.” I firmly believe that in our modern, high stress life there is definitely a need for breathing space.

Discussions with friends led me to writing ideas on a single sheet of paper, from which emerged my Breathing Space B&B. Everything has grown from that initial sheet of paper. I had fun building the website and found that the business started to grow without any formal marketing. I’m naturally gregarious and found social media to be an excellent way for me to get my message across. I decided to cater for women because I was living on my own, and eventually my plans turned into something bigger which has taken over my life. I have to say, I love it – I get to meet others and really enjoy sharing my beautiful B&B, providing delicious healthy food and introducing Norfolk to visitors.

Where are you now?

Breathing Space is well on the way to becoming a social enterprise CIC, and our mission is to plow our excess profits into caring for carers. I am part of a trust called Missing Kind, which focuses on bringing people from different generations together. There’s one in Africa and another in Thailand, dedicated to projects such as building eco farms within local communities and building self-sustaining businesses across the world. It’s a great way for people who have a passion for making a difference to get involved. We’re having a big festival in October 2014 in Cambridge, the aim of which is to raise awareness about how kindness and happiness can impact our lives positively.

What were your main barriers to starting the business?

I think because I let it happen quite organically, I didn’t come across many barriers. By selling the business in Essex, I had the capital to start my new life and business. There were some local authority restrictions that I found difficult, initially, but redefining my business as a B&B rather than as a retreat worked to overcome this barrier. I am a very hands-on, can-do sort of person so don’t really think in terms of barriers.

What other help did you receive?

I had excellent coaching from Jenny Eaton  which was refreshing because I’d been to more traditional business support agencies and they seemed to miss the whole point of my business; my whole life was changing and I felt they didn’t understand this at all. I felt I wasn’t listened to. My business was about a lifestyle change for my own personal health and sanity. The tranquility and warmth here in North Norfolk provided the ideal environment for me and visitors to really breathe and re-energise. Friends and family helped in so many ways, like decorating the buildings and keeping me sane. We have also started taking volunteers from Workaway, who come from all over the world to help out.

What are your business values?

Inspiring people to live the life that they truly want to live, especially at those times when people feel stuck in the mud. Breathing Space gives guests a chance to see clearly again. My business values match my personal values and include providing a non-judgemental environment for people to flourish. Just like people take their own time, so I’ve allowed my business to grow at a steady and relaxed pace. I firmly believe that running the business as a CIC makes a difference to the wider community. I am very involved in creating a rich community of like-minded people. People tend to come back time and time again to plug into the space – it becomes a second home to them. There’s a real sense of belonging here, with people getting involved in the garden for instance and contributing much more than just financially.

For a new businesswoman I would advise the following:

  • Follow your heart and whatever it is you’re passionate about
  • Don’t let anything or anyone put you off – the ‘experts’ can be wrong
  • Find a mentor you can relate to and who understands what your business means to you

What are your future plans?

My future plans are to expand but not to lose the intimacy. Not to franchise or get a bigger place but to take it abroad and offer people something different. I plan to introduce more people to the beautiful, untouched sandy beaches and the broads and the magic that is Norfolk.

Check-out the Breathing Space website to find out more. 

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