“Just take things as they come”: the Derbyshire florist with a helping hand
“Certainly with the funeral stuff. I really enjoy doing that because you really are helping people through that difficult time in life. It’s that really. Every day is different. You never know kind of work you’re going to get coming in. It’s very creative. And all the different people you meet from all walks of life.”
This is Sarah Francis at Bluebells of Alfreton, inside the town’s market hall. As she tells this her smile says much. A florist with over twenty years experience, she tells of her journey into this, glancing back to her younger self.
“I had a bit of an epiphany moment when I was working in a fast-food restaurant, where people generally don’t appreciate what you do for them. If they have to wait five minutes for some fried chicken they start swearing at you.”
Sarah laughs, her delivery both softly tongue-in-cheek and not. “So I’d decided I’d had enough of that, you know, late-twenties. A ‘there must be more to life than this’ type of thing.”
From here she took a floristry course at college. “Before I settled down, had a family, a mortgage and whatever,” admitting “Floristry wasn’t even on the radar. I’ve always been very creative, but it was the careers office that suggested I might want to go and do this taster course… I went there and absolutely loved it.”
Sarah tells of setting up her own shop in Chesterfield called Arum, her natural glow dimming for a moment.
“I was there for six or seven years. My husband passed away, which is why I got the compassion with the funeral side of it. Things just got too much there to run a whole shop by myself. I stayed doing it for a little while because I didn’t know what else to do. It was either sit in the house on my own or go into work and do what I knew I could do.”
“But I found the wedding and anniversary side of it more difficult then, than the funeral stuff. Eventually it got a bit too much to do on my own. So I sold the shop, had a year or so away from floristry, but never really found anything I liked any better.”
Sarah then returned to floristry here at Bluebells of Alfreton, her strength in using her own loss as a tool to help others, a flower in itself.
“You’ve got that relatability when people are grieving, because you know what they’re going through,” she says, her glow returning.
“To know how happy they are with what you’ve made, it makes you feel proud. It makes you feel like you’ve made a difference. It makes the job a very fulfilling thing to do.”
We look at a bouquet that Sarah has put together for a customer. The relationship of colour and shape, there’s art here. The question is asked: what is it about a bunch of flowers?
“I think there’s an element of it being bright and cheerful. A lot of the things are scented, so the smell of the flowers. For a lot of people it’s the memories as well. So if their dad did grow dahlias, or chrysanthemums in the garden, a lot of people want that meaning to the flowers.”
“We get a lot of people with anniversary flowers, funeral flowers, where they want the same flowers that were in their wedding bouquets. For that significance, that memory.”
When asked about memorable moments as a florist, Sarah pauses, then smiles.
“The Hindu wedding I did. That was just fabulous when it was all set up. I did the garlands they wear for the proper Indian ceremony for the bride and groom… Carnations is what I did the garlands with, and it was all red and white with bits of gold in. I did a huge canopy that they use to sit underneath for the ceremony… I’m not quite sure how I did it, but…”
Sarah’s laughter fills the shop. The conversation turns to busy times for a florist.
“We’ve got Christmas coming up where we do thousands of holly wreaths. Which plays havoc with your hands.
“The busiest day of the year is Mother’s Day. Even if their mum is no longer here, we do have a lot of memorial arrangements ordered. And then Valentine’s is the epitome of flower selling… The bunches of red roses!”
Sarah grins. “It’s usually the women that organise the Mother’s Day things for their mum and his mum. Whereas Valentine’s Day is the bloke… We get a lot of people rushing in at three o’clock on Valentine’s Day ‘What have you got left?’”
More laughter. An elderly couple stand outside the shop window looking at the bouquets.
And the answer to life? “Just rolling with it,” says Sarah with a smile. “Not taking things too seriously. I think I learnt when my husband passed away, I’d got that idealistic ‘This is how life was going to happen’ and it completely didn’t…”
“And I think since then, it’s just been a bit ‘What’s gonna happen is gonna happen’ I suppose. There’s not much you can do to effect that. And it’s served me well for the last thirteen-odd years… just take things as they come.”
The conversation ends with chat about Sarah and her partner listening to an oldies radio station last night, the both of them wondering if in fifty years people will still be listening to Pink Floyd and T-Rex, music passed down from your parents, or will it be Girls Aloud and Boyzone?
Sarah shrugs, her laugh as bright as the flowers that fill her shop.