Cathy Frost: Flying the flag for Ipswich 

Cathy Frost, owner of Loveone in Ipswich. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

Cathy Frost, owner of Loveone in Ipswich - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Some people are so enthusiastic it’s infectious. This is certainly the case with Cathy Frost of Ipswich-based gift and lifestyle store Loveone – situated in the popular Saints area leading to the town’s Waterfront. 

The 57-year-old businesswoman (seamstress, interior designer and biologist) is perhaps one of the most vocal advocates of the high street and, locally, Ipswich. She’s always putting her head above the parapet to promote life in this part of Suffolk. 

It’s easy to be narrow-minded about the place where you live. We all have our grumbles. But our county town has been especially prone to home-bashing in recent years. And much of this is unwarranted, says Cathy, listing off all the redeeming qualities of the place she came to love when she settled here 30 years ago. 

But what can be done? 

“It’s difficult. It’s very multi-layered. There isn’t one solution here. Ipswich is a town that has always been different to the rest of Suffolk. It's quite a unique urban space, and that brings its own challenges, but it’s also so exciting. It’s a bit like where I grew up in south London. How I remember Greenwich and Deptford being back in the day. 

Cathy Frost, owner of Loveone in Ipswich. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

Cathy Frost, owner of Loveone in Ipswich - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

“I’m always surprised when customers come into my business, amazed and pleased to have discovered us. They’ll say they’re delighted by the Waterfront. Or they love a certain road, the river, the buildings. They might have been to one of the parks, or to the museum. It’s fascinating to see the town through the eyes of a stranger.” 

A particular ‘hidden gem’ of the town, says Cathy is its “amazing culture”. 

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“I remember sitting with Robert (Pacitti) when he was planning the most recent SPILL Festival and he showed me his computer screen. He was getting emails from all over the world, from artists who wanted to come to Ipswich. How incredible is that? We have the most fantastic people here. We just need to be a bit more positive!” 

Since opening Loveone 14 years ago, Cathy has been involved in many initiatives to help shine a light on the town, including Ipswich Vision, but perhaps her biggest legacy (in addition to her shop) has been the creation of a series of annual markets along The Saints. 

Founded in response to the recession at the end of the noughties alongside college lecturer Jess Broad and Jess’ partner Chris, I Make Fun Stuff is a community interest company which Cathy says “shows the pockets of brilliance” within Ipswich, all in one place. 

“With the recession it was so hard,” she admits. “My customers dried up. People didn’t have money to spend on £100 cashmere throws and curtains. It was, like with Covid, having to adapt to survive. So many times I wondered what I should do next. Should I shut and give up? But I noticed people were buying lower value items – like gifts and cards – so I started to move in that direction. And then a lady I met through a client told me I had to meet Jess. 

Cathy Frost, owner of Loveone in Ipswich. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

The botanical section of Loveone - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

“That’s really when I connected with the shops around me, and the town even further.” 

Dozens of small, independent traders attend the events, which spread along St Peter’s Street, up to St Nicholas Street – with stall prices kept purposefully low to help give these fledgling businesses a ‘leg up’. Some of them, Cathy says proudly, have gone on to open their own shops. It's a positive cycle she’s enormously happy to be part of. 

Of course, while the recession was a dark period of retail history, Cathy and others like her have most recently had to live through one of the worst trading times ever - the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus has been bolstered in its devastation by the blows of Brexit, climbing stock prices, and global stock shortages. 

Despite admitting she’s had dark times, Cathy still remains upbeat, and even says The Saints have come back stronger as a result of the many shutdowns, having had to look long and hard at what they’ve been doing, and where they go next. 

“I celebrate 14 years on the high street this month, and I think we’ve been very fortunate here,” Cathy says. “I went into the pandemic scenario with a very good, loyal fan base, so we went online in the first lockdown.”

Cathy Frost, owner of Loveone in Ipswich. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

Gifts at Loveone - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

 

As much stock as possible was posted on Loveone’s website and via social media. Free local delivery was set up (enabling Cathy to meet lots of new customers). And Cathy laughs as she remembers putting her A-board up in the door of the shop as a makeshift barrier, so she could pass over click and collect items. 

“I think if you’re fleet of foot and adaptable you can get through almost anything. I was so happy that when we re-opened we saw a huge uptake in footfall and support, for which I was incredibly grateful. That comes back to all the years I’d been open, people knowing me and knowing they could trust me about new products without touching them or seeing them in real life before buying.” 

Last Christmas she says was “weird”, with just three weeks of ‘Christmas trading’ before lockdowns came into force again. Buying products over Zoom is not something she enjoyed, and Cathy says as the festive season rolled into the New Year, she mentally found the further lockdowns tough. 

“At times I really had to dig deep. I got quite low. I’m a people person. I want to chat, and be in the shop, and help people. And I’m a massive advocate for the high street. It was a shock. Government grants were a help because they took away some of the worry about the bottom line. I knew I could pay the bills and exist.” If she made any money online – it was a bonus. 

“I think we’ve come through to be bigger and better now. Not just me, but other shops on The Saints. I’ve been selling items before I can even get them online! And actually, some friends have said to me they like to go on the website to see what I’ve got before they come into the shop. It’s a window into my world. Like a brochure.” 

While there’s been fearmongering in large cities such as London about the impact of home working on town centres, for Cathy the opposite has been true, with former commuters taking the time to get to know the place where they live better. 

Cathy Frost, owner of Loveone in Ipswich. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

Inside Loveone, Ipswich - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

“It’s been an interesting dynamic really, and I’d say footfall is holding its own. We definitely saw an increase in the summer months. And I’m seeing more people visiting in the morning, maybe after dropping kids off at school, or around brunch – early lunchtime.” 

The Saints, Cathy says, has become a ‘local destination’ for shoppers. “Without going into the centre of town they can park up, come to The Saints and do a bit of shopping, have their hair or nails done, have something to eat. It's fantastic.” 

But she’s also realistic. “We’ve got to understand that the high street is no longer king. We knew this four to five years ago and lockdown has accelerated the process. 

“But we’ve also got to understand that the high street is vital. We get customers from nought to 90 coming in because they knew we will give them time and make them feel welcome, and a part of the community. Like anyone else I shop online for various things, but shops are so important for our sense of belonging.” 

Cathy hasn’t always been involved in retail, coming from a creative – and scientific – background. 

Cathy Frost, owner of Loveone in Ipswich. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

The botanical section of Loveone - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Born in London, she grew up in Woolwich and Greenwich, moving to Tilbury aged 10 when her dad (a foreman in the Royal London Docks) was relocated. 

Spending her teen years in Hornchurch, the bright lights of London were never too far away, and Cathy found herself drawn into the quirky, creative, magical world of the 80s, immersing herself in the punk, ska and new romantic movements – although she could never quite muster the courage to pierce her own ears like her mates. 

“It was such an exciting time,” she says. “My hair changed along with all the fashions and I was desperate to be a punk! I’ve still got lots of friends from those days.” 

Cathy skims over her ‘less than impressive’ A Level results, but says she managed to study applied biology at what’s now the University of Hertfordshire, meeting her husband Andy at this time. And it was this meeting that sealed her fate... because Andy is an Ipswich boy. 

Cathy took a job working as a health inspector in London, while Andy was offered a job at BT in Suffolk. London life was far too expensive for a pair of new graduates, so they took on a house in Ipswich, with Cathy commuting into the city before landing a position as an environmental health officer at Ipswich Borough Council in 1990. 

“That’s when life in Ipswich took off for me!” 

Cathy and Andy welcomed their daughter in 1994, and son in 1996, with Cathy stepping away from her local government career to focus on the youngsters. Sadly, just a year after her daughter (Hannah) was born, Cathy’s mother died.  

“Mum was a real creative,” she remembers fondly. “She had a soft furnishings business making curtains and things and I’d always been around it – surrounded by fabrics. 

“When mum died we’d just bought an old house and were doing it up. I knew I had to make the curtains myself – I'd helped mum in the holidays and been around her, so I knew how to do it. I made a few pairs and people started saying ‘oh can you make me a pair?’ 

“That’s when my new journey started.” 

Cathy signed up to a two-year interior design course at Otley College, fitting it in around her tots, and built up a small business, before working at a local kitchen company, focussing on their interiors and design, where she started to buy products to dress the showrooms. Plates. Cups. Saucers. Pretty things. 

“I realised,” she laughs heartily, “that I love shopping! 

“I put together a small collection and launched a little website, and went to lots of craft fairs. I really enjoyed it. I knew what the plans for the Waterfront were, and I saw St Peter’s Street could have potential. There might be something in opening a shop there.” 

Cathy looked at Number 21 in the summer of 2007 and, still undecided, jetted off on the holiday of a lifetime – three weeks in Australia with her family – asking the landlord to give her first dibs... and a bit more time to think. 

When they got back, she signed on the dotted line in August. Loveone had begun. 

Cathy Frost, owner of Loveone in Ipswich. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

Colourful cacti at Loveone - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

After a month of preparation Cathy says she remembers sitting on the window shelf in the shop on her own, bursting into tears. “I was thinking, ‘what have I done?’ 

“I knew nothing about retail or running a shop. What on earth was I doing?” 

In those early years Loveone was largely a shopfront for Cathy’s interiors business, morphing into a gift shop, and even becoming a host for pop-up stores (there’s a vinyl shop on the upper floor). 

Asking Cathy to pick her favourite items from within Loveone is tricky. “There’s too much!” 

But she shares her adoration for the chunky, colourful, warm knits in stock right now. For the “random” selection of keyrings which always put a smile on her face. And the beautiful collection of cards, with customers popping back regularly for the ‘latest releases’ from local print makers. 

“I do really like the candles from True Grace,” she adds. “They must have started about three or four years before I opened the shop. I remember going to trade fairs in the beginning and there weren’t many candle makers. You could either get cheap ones like you’d find at the supermarket, or brands like Jo Malone. There wasn’t much in between, until True Grace came along. They were something really exciting and different – and they were affordable.” 

Cathy’s favourite scents are Moroccan Rose, and Village Christmas. “That smells like a pine forest but quite sweet. It epitomises Christmas for me.” 

Cathy then holds up a cute fluffy Jellycat penguin – Loveone has a lot of Jellycat. “He’s called Percy! He's adorable isn’t he?” When it comes to the latest Christmas collection, Cathy says due to supplier issues, when they’re gone, they’re gone. So get in quick if you need a plush gingerbread man, gingerbread house, yule log or candy cane.

Cathy Frost, owner of Loveone in Ipswich. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

Lotions, potions and candles at Loveone - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

When her St Peter’s Street neighbour Emma’s Florist sadly closed during lockdown, Cathy was quick to step in and help, and alongside Emma she has over the past year created a gorgeously green botanical and plant section at Loveone, which is set to grow (excuse the pun) next year. 

The Potting Shed has already started to take shape, with a vision for it to become a hub for everyone who loves house plants. From those looking to build their collection or buy plant food, labels and containers, to newbies just getting started and after a bit of advice. 

A potting service is even being offered – ideal if you have a few plants and don’t have room at home or in the garden for a big bag of compost. 

Flowers, grown near Ipswich by Lucy Spencer, will also be available in season. 

And there will be workshops on everything from caring for plants, to buying plants, making macrame plant hangers, and maybe painting your own pots.

“House plants have really come back into fashion during lockdown and I think a lot of that is down to Instagram. Certainly this has become more of a hobby for me at home – I've got over 70 plants here at the moment (some I’m babysitting for the shop) and it’s become a bit of an obsession. 

“I think lockdown made us more aware of the environment, especially our own environment. And we know some plants actively help our internal climates – there was some research done about that by NASA a few years ago. 

“Plus, they’re good for our mental wellbeing. They give us a focus. It will be good to see how the business grows from here!” 

Find out more about The Saints at thesaintsipswich.org 

The next market on the Saints takes place on November 28. Traders include: Emma’s Florist, After Hours Collective, Miss Quirky Kicks, Appleyard Candles, Ginfinity, Capricorn Cakes, Lucy Lockets, and Afrocentric. 

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