The department store with a difference

 In General news

The department store with a difference, in the heart of the New Forest

Jewellery designer Gem Freeman and upholster-slash-furniture painter Katy Hamilton have teamed up to create their very own ‘mini department store’ in the pretty village, selling both their hand-made products and other goods created by talented locals.

“We called it Gem of England because we think Burley is the gem of the New Forest and, as we are making our own products, we are made in England,” explains Gem, 38.

“It’s all bespoke – 70 per cent of the shop is hand-made by us.”

Gem, who lives near Ringwood, decided to open a shop after noticing am increased demand for jewellery stores in her industry magazines.

As well as creating her designs in the workshop at her family home, and having her lines stocked in various local outlets, Gem felt it was important for her customers to be able to see and feel the jewellery.

“We know the high street is suffering, but jewellers are opening up more shops,” she explains.

“People want to come and try on the jewellery and feel the weight. I wanted the next step for me to be developing the brand. I still have my jewellery out in places, but I wanted a base where my clients could come and see a showroom, but also see me working.

“I’ve wanted a shop for a long time, but I’ve got a family to consider – my little boy goes to Burley school.”

Gem also felt it would be more interesting to add another concept to the shop, and after meeting Katy, who lives in Sopley, felt they had the perfect partnership to go into business together.

“I was working from home,” says Katy, 46, who also offers bespoke curtain and blind making.

“I’ve been doing it for 20 years and it’s just really nice to be working alongside other people.”

Gem and Katy now split their time between their home workshops, the Garden Road shop, and their families, and believe they have hit upon a winning way of life.

“We got the key at the beginning of February and we opened 11 days later, says Gem, who is working on her existing collections, as well as building new lines.

“We are open six days a week and we all do two days, which really helps us, because we all need to be at home in our workshops making things.

“But it’s getting the brand out there and the feedback that we’ve had from locals is great – nothing stays in here very long and people have said that Burley needs a shop like this.

“It’s going so well.”

As featured in the Bournemouth Daily Echo, June 2017

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