Interview by Ceri Wheeldon
I love to share inspirational midlife reinvention stories. Today, Susie Whitfield shares how she followed her dream as she approached 50 to set up her own baking school The Cotswolds Baking Workshop. Susie is currently offering baking workshops via Zoom – which I thought was a fabulous idea – ideal for those looking for an idea for a birthday get together! I caught up with Susie to talk about the inspiration behind her midlife business venture.
A little about yourself:
I live on the edge of the Cotswolds in Shipston on Stour with my partner Jake who is a photographer. I am 52.
What were your main activities before turning 50?
I originally got my BA in education and trained as a primary school teacher. After moving to the U.K. 25 years ago, I worked in Promotions for The Birmingham Post and Mail and when I was married I owned and ran a bed and breakfast in Shropshire for 15 years. I did a 30-week Diploma in Floral Design at the Covent Garden of Flowers before deciding to follow my dream and teach baking.
What have been your main activities since turning 50?
I began teaching baking and working in event floristry on a freelance basis before setting up The Cotswolds Baking Workshop.
What prompted you to start your business/ take up the challenge/follow your dream.
I was very unhappy in a part-time job I had in my late 40s; I promised myself that by the time I turned 50, I would be doing something I loved. I just got there by the skin of my teeth!
How old were you when you started?
Just about to turn 50 with my freelance work and 51 with my new business, The Cotswolds Baking Workshop.
Did you have to take any courses or training to do this?
I have taken baking classes since I was in my early 20s. Over the last few years, I have taken masses of baking classes both in the U.K. and US and done an enormous amount of learning and practice on my own.
What does your business / dream /job/challenge look like today?
As I am new to the area, my challenge is to become a part of the business community here and build the face-to-face classes, events, and parties up once lockdown is over.
What has been the best aspect of your journey so far?
I love connecting with people through baking and inspiring confidence. It is very rewarding when someone who hasn’t been a confident baker creates something delicious and beautiful in one of my classes.
What was /is your biggest fear?
Getting fat from all of the baking!
Inspiration for setting up a new business over 50
Did anybody in particular inspire you?
The wonderful Jane Butel, the doyenne of Southwest American cooking, who is still teaching from her New Mexico kitchen and looking fabulous at age 80! I had the privilege to spend a week cooking and baking with Jane when I was in Albuquerque in 2019.
What difference has it made to your life?
I really enjoy being my own boss and if I have an idea, I can quickly turn it around and put it into action.
What challenges did you initially face? How did you overcome them?
I started the business during the pandemic so everything has had to start online rather than being able to get out and meet people face-to-face in the community to network and generate interest.
How did the opportunity come about?
I had been teaching baking on a freelance basis in Berkshire and in London. When the pandemic hit, all face-to-face teaching had to stop or move online. We had a great opportunity to move to the edge of the Cotswolds last summer and I decided to set up the business rather than continue working freelance.
Which of your previous experiences (if any) did you draw upon the most?
I feel I have drawn on all my previous experiences. My teaching background has come in very useful, as has working in newspaper promotions, and of course baking all of my life!
What are your next steps?
I look forward to when I can teach face-to-face again and can offer baking parties, experience days, and classes.
How have friends and family reacted?
They have been enthusiastic very supportive. I have always cooked and baked for them so they see the business as a natural fit and next step for me.
I wish I would have been in a position to do this sooner!
What 3 tips would you give other women over 50 looking to do something similar?
Make sure your heart is into it, have realistic expectations, and Go For It!
A little bit more about you……
I am completely dedicated to my fitness and I have to get outside everyday for a bracing walk. I used to go to the gym several times a week before lockdown but now I link with my trainer and yoga instructor online and I bought a Peleton which I absolutely love.
All time favourite book or film? I loved The Help by Kathryn Stockett
How would you describe your own style? Casual, creative, and feminine
Three words that sum up your life over 50 Active, Healthy, Entrepreneurial
You can find out more about Susie and her business at The Cotswold Baking Workshop