It all started out as a hobby, but it soon became much more.
It’s August of 2017, and Fulwood bank manager Kirsty O’Brien has torn her abdominal muscles in an accident and is working from home for six weeks as she recovers.
“I needed something to fill my time and, as a huge candle, fan I thought I’d have a go at making my own,” said Kirsty. “I enjoyed it and I was giving candles away. People were saying ‘we’d pay for these’.”
The hobby became a business in about eight weeks. Blenheim Candles was born.
Based in Warton about six miles west of Preston, Blenheim Candles specialises in eco-friendly and non-toxic candles. Kirsty, from Greater Manchester, has had asthma all her life, and grew wary of the products she was burning at home.
As a result, Blenheim Candles’ hand-poured products are made from 100% natural soy wax and have cotton wicks.
They were a hit, and Kirsty left the bank and went full-time last November.
“People want British, hand-made, unique, and we’ve grown dramatically since I went full-time,” said Kirsty, 39. “To be in control of something completely is the most terrifying yet satisfying thing I’ve ever done; I’ve never worked harder or more hours, yet everything you put in is for yourself.
“It’s been a huge learning curve: it’d be easy to work 24 hours, but I’m a wife and a mum, so that’d defeat the objective,” she added.
Blenheim Candles, which now supplies own-label products for other brands, creates signature fragrances, offers wedding flavour packages, and sets all their candles in hand-blown glass jars created by John Ditchfield of Glasform. What is more, Kirsty also runs popular workshops for people wanting to try their hand at candle-making.
“The workshops are loads of fun - not too serious, but you learn a bit and get to make your own candles,” explained Kirsty. “The workshops are part of keeping my connection to working with people: becoming a business owner and working from home was really tough to begin with, but now I have the best of both worlds.”
Always a staunch people-person, Kirsty has also taken up a role as one of two co-captains of Etsy Lancashire. A hugely popular e-commerce site geared towards hand-made or vintage items and craft supplies, Etsy has a ready-made community of artisans, with Kirsty helping to support to thousands of small businesses across the region at free quarterly meet-ups.
Now a strong advocate for local traders, Kirsty has also assisted in the organisation of this weekend’s Christmas Artisan Bazaar at Fishergate Shopping Centre, which is set to host over 40 artisan makers to kick-start the festive season, with everything from cakes and candles to Christmas gifts and a wide range of food and drink on offer.
“My history of helping to grow SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) gave me a strong network, so that stood me in good stead and got us onto the bazaar, which has been almost 12 months in the making,” said Kirsty. “We’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of applications, which just goes to show how many fantastic local businesses there are in the area.”
Speaking ahead of the bazaar - which will also be raising money for the Rainbow House charity, supporting children, young people and adults with neurological conditions - Keith Mitchell, General Manager at Fishergate Shopping Centre, said: “This is going to be a fantastic event for the city and one we’re extremely proud to be hosting. We’re excited to welcome the very best of local business from the North West and bring our customers a superb Christmas shopping experience that all the family can enjoy.”
From her very first forays into the world of candle-making, to becoming the owner of a booming independent business and a strong advocate for local artisans, Kirsty is relishing her work. “We’re excited,” she said. “It’ll be great.”