Little Boats

Little Boat Gifts in Brightlingsea on the Essex coast is one of the shortlisted businesses in the High Street Hero category of the Small Awards. 

Now in its eighth year, The Small Awards is a nationwide search for the smallest and greatest firms in the UK, across all sectors. It is organised annually by Small Business Britain, which champions, inspires and accelerates the nation’s 5.5 million small firms. 

With 11 different categories, the Small Awards celebrate the dynamism and resilience exhibited in the UK’s small business sector, across everything from sustainability heroes to digital stars, to long-standing family businesses.  

Judged by a panel of industry experts, the winners of all categories, including the overall winner of the Small Business of the Year award, will be announced at an awards ceremony in London on May 16.  

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The High Street Hero category celebrates the nation’s standout independents that play a key role on their local high streets and within their communities.  

Little Boat Gifts is owned by Olivia Reilly, who has worked there for about 18 years. In 2015 the previous owners of the shop (then called Cutting Corners) decided to close. At that time Olivia was working there on a part-time basis and instead of losing her job, she decided to purchase the business, rebrand it, and see if the small town could still sustain an independently run gift shop. 

Enthusiastic and bursting with ideas, she wanted to make a totally fresh start and so came up with a new name – Little Boat Gifts – and set about making a gift shop that would stand out from the others in the town. In 2017 her husband Peter decided to leave his full-time job and work with her to see how much further they could take it.

Olivia is delighted to have been shortlisted. She said: “It’s been a real mood booster, after a challenging time and an uncertain start to 2024, to have some good news. The team at Little Boat Gifts have worked so hard and we are incredibly proud. It means a lot.”

She added: “We feel Little Boat Gifts was shortlisted because it isn’t just a shop for us. It’s about being part of the community, consistently investing both time and resources into local projects. As a business we actively support many local charities and events through advertising, prizes, and offering a free box office service. Plus, Peter and I volunteer for many local organisations on a regular basis.

“Being a small business means that the majority of our community involvement is on a voluntary basis, which is becoming more important as many organisations require extra support. We hope our business will continue to enable us to contribute, as much, if not more, to the community that has become an integral part of business.

“Feedback from our loyal customers highlights three main areas that they particularly value: good quality/sustainable products, our personable service, and our commitment to the local community and charities. 

“Wherever possible we use independent suppliers, which enables us to give our customers products that they would not find anywhere else on our high street – and matches our ethos. We also offer free local delivery on every item purchased, free personalisation of gifts, opening the shop out of hours for personal shopping evenings, and a warm welcome for everyone who comes through the door. 

“Being located on a small high street, it’s vital that we stay one step ahead of our competitors by constantly seeking out new products and new suppliers. Over the last year we have really focused on extending our range to give our loyal customers as much choice as possible within a small space. Alongside a mixture of gifts and homeware, which changes seasonally, we have divided the shop into mini segments featuring wooden toys, fragrance and stationery. 

“Being on the coast means that we see a lot of visitors looking for coastal-inspired pieces to take home with them. So, alongside items that we buy in, we also showcase Brightlingsea souvenirs made by local makers.” 

Michelle Ovens CBE, founder of Small Business Britain, said: “The Small Awards is all about celebrating the inspiring small business owners who are at the heart of the economy and their communities. They are an opportunity to recognise and applaud the passion and resilience of the nation’s small firms, particularly amidst such turbulent times. Little Boats Gifts is extremely deserving of being shortlisted for this award and we can’t wait to celebrate with them in May.”

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