Mak­ing a clean sheet

Jan Ether­ing­ton talks to Nicky Thorpe, whose en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit is clean­ing up on the coast. Im­ages: Sarah Lucy Brown

EADT Suffolk - - Inside - east­coast­li­nen­ T 01986 875896/ 07532 788187 Face­book Nicky’s Clean­ing & Gar­den­ing Ser­vices: 078097 71121

Nicky Thorpe spots a gap in the mar­ket for a linen hire ser­vice for the coast’s B&Bs

I heard Nicky Thorpe, be­fore I saw her. She and her deputy, Sarah Botwright, were singing Ed Sheeran’s Think­ing Out Loud – ‘Kiss me un­der the light of a thou­sand stars’ – while fold­ing sheets and stacking tow­els, in the sparkling new workspace, that is the head­quar­ters of Easy Coast Linen Hire. Of­fice man­ager, Ja­son Robin­son, who per­forms with lo­cal group The In­vis­i­ble Band, some­times sings along, in per­fect har­mony. But then, Nicky and her team have a lot to sing about.

The word ‘en­tre­pre­neur’ seems to be ap­plied to any­one who sells a few jam jars on a mar­ket stall, but Nicky has a true en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit. This is a brand new ven­ture - sup­ply­ing high qual­ity, crisp, clean bed linen and tow­els, to com­mer­cial and do­mes­tic clients, in Suf­folk. I’ve known Nicky since I moved to Suf­folk, five years ago. She and Sarah were a fa­mil­iar sight, whizzing around our vil­lage and coastal towns be­tween Low­est­oft and Alde­burgh in a smart white van, in­scribed Nicky’s Clean­ing & Gar­den­ing Ser­vices. Armed with vac­uum clean­ers and mops, they sprinted in and out of houses, never wast­ing time, chat­ting and laugh­ing.

With so many ho­tels, hol­i­day rentals and B&Bs along the coast, Nicky soon re­alised there was a need for a com­pet­i­tively priced laun­dry ser­vice. “I’d been tak­ing my cus­tomers’ linen to the laun­derette.” Her phi­los­o­phy is al­ways ‘Let’s give it a go and see what hap­pens’, so she found new premises, in Mount Pleas­ant, Halesworth, and hired her old friend, Ja­son, to ’run the shop’. He had spent 10 years in hol­i­day parks man­age­ment and learned ex­cel­lent cus­tomer ser­vice skills. As he puts it, “I like keep­ing peo­ple happy.”

They seem to have achieved that al­ready, with their ex­ist­ing cus­tomers. Ed­ward Wright, of Wal­ber­swick told me that he had his wife had used a num­ber of lo­cal laun­dry com­pa­nies. “But we’ve switched to East Coast Linen Hire. It’s miles bet­ter – both the fin­ish on the linen and the ser­vice. Al­ways cheer­ful and ef­fi­cient.”

Nicky’s com­mit­ment and will­ing­ness to help out, in all sorts of ways, to­gether with her bound­less en­ergy, re­li­a­bil­ity and cheer­ful­ness, has gained her many loyal cus­tomers and over the years, some have be­come close friends. She says: “For me, trust is the most im­por­tant thing. I have peo­ple’s keys. I look af­ter their homes, gar­dens and dog when they’re away. My rep­u­ta­tion is ev­ery­thing.”

Nicky Thorpe has packed a great deal into her 41 years. Suf­folk born, the daugh­ter of a builder, her par­ents sep­a­rated when she was 16. The same year, she left Sir John Le­man High School in Bec­cles and spent two years in var­i­ous jobs – Waveney Ap­ple Grow­ers, Sizewell and the White Hart pub in Blythburgh - be­fore mov­ing to Spain. For the next decade, she worked and trav­elled in Europe and Aus­tralia. “They were def­i­nitely char­ac­ter form­ing years,” she laughs. Re­turn­ing to the UK in 2004, she met John, a plumber, and they mar­ried in Las Ve­gas, suf­folk­

but di­vorced two years later. “He’s a re­ally nice guy but we were both on the re­bound – me from my trav­els and he from a past re­la­tion­ship.” She’s been with her part­ner, York­shire­man Andy Bail­lie, for four years. He works at Sizewell and is also a dog trainer. “He’s got his work cut out with our spaniel, Char­lie,” says Nicky.

Hav­ing al­ways re­gret­ted leav­ing school with no qual­i­fi­ca­tions, Nicky took an Ac­cess course, gained her A lev­els and, in 2013, earned a BSc de­gree in so­ci­ol­ogy and crim­i­nol­ogy at Uni­ver­sity of Suf­folk.

She sup­ported her­self do­ing clean­ing and gar­den­ing jobs. “I re­ally en­joyed the work and it steadily built up.” Five years ago, she of­fi­cially reg­is­tered Nicky’s Clean­ing & Gar­den­ing Ser­vices. That busi­ness – with Nicky ‘muck­ing in’, as al­ways – will con­tinue, while the new, sep­a­rate com­pany, East Coast Linen Hire, of­fers long or short-term linen hire, for a fam­ily visit, or a sea­sonal busi­ness, for ex­am­ple, and two grades of linen, Ev­ery­day and Su­pe­rior. With a rapidly grow­ing list of reg­u­lar cus­tomers, is Nicky look­ing to ex­pand al­ready?

“It sounds like the log­i­cal next step but I like

‘I look af­ter their homes, gar­dens and dog when they’re away. My rep­u­ta­tion is ev­ery­thing’

to be hands on. I’ve been part of many of my cus­tomers’ lives – seen their chil­dren grown up and grand­chil­dren ar­rive. Re­cently, I was the only non-fam­ily mem­ber who was in­vited, by a lady I worked for, to her hus­band’s fu­neral. My cus­tomers want to see me and I want to stay close to them, so at the mo­ment, I’m keep­ing it close and per­sonal.”

Time for an­other song, as the laun­dry is pil­ing up. Ed Sheeran’s lyrics could have been writ­ten for Nicky Thorpe “I’ll make my mark. I’ve got my spark . . .”

Nicky Thorpe has started a linen hire busi­ness for B&Bs on the east coast, called ‘East Coast Linen Hire and Laun­dry Ser­vices.’ Nicky Thorpe and Sarah Bowright. Pic­ture: Sarah Lucy Brown

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