Norfolk mum who has raised thousands for charity with the help of her gorgeous pony
PUBLISHED: 18:57 10 July 2020 | UPDATED: 15:57 12 July 2020
Gina Long talks to mum-of-two Ali Stearn. She’s former Grand National winner Bob Champion’s stepdaughter and her love of horses has seen her devote hours of her time to raising funds for dementia with the help of her own four-legged friend
Ali Stearn, founder of The Garden Box and owner of the well-known mini Shetland Jack Brock. She lives in south Norfolk with her husband Rupert and two children Bunny and Bertie on their farm. Due to Covid-19 Ali has relaunched her business, offering an online point of sale and has now opened her barn as a ‘garden room’ selling plants and cut flowers. She can also be found at beautiful weddings with the family mini Shetland ‘Little Jack Brock’, who carries confetti in wicker baskets or they visit care homes, raising vital funds for dementia within East Anglia.
What’s the impact of Covid-19 on your business and how are you adapting?
Covid -19 has changed all our lives one way or another. Some 90% of the wedding dates booked for 2020 with Jack Brock, my mini Shetland have been cancelled. Last year we raised over £19,000 for Dementia charities within East Anglia and sadly it has impacted our fund raising schedule this year. I have always taken Jack into dementia care homes and dementia cafes to cheer up the residents as part of our charity work, but of course thats stopped due to the pandemic. It is heart breaking to think of the residents cut off from their families, especially when many of them dont understand.After baking lots of cakes and decorating rooms in the house, I decided to relaunch The Garden Box, a business I started up before I had my babies. I began by advertising some plants for sale on local Facebook pages. We have many people walking past our house during the lockdown, I decided to put a small table outside the drive, full of classic perennials and some bedding plants. It soon grew into a potato box and a table full of plants. I had an honesty box, so many people asked questions, so I had to be there to help and take PayPal. Supplying our compost we make on the farm really helped too, I’ve became a one-stop-shop! I am about to open up the barn, situated next to our house, where I will sell plants and cut flowers two days a week. Every dark cloud has a silver lining.
What advice can you give to our readers during lockdown?
Use the time to appreciate the slower pace of life, evaluate what is important to you. Don’t rush back into a super-fast mode that we all seemed to be living in before. Learn from how we’ve all managed to slow down, and if you are lonely and anxious do reach out, where and if you can, look in on others and stop and smell the flowers.
What is your connection to East Anglia?
I grew up in Newmarket on a racing yard, apart from a few years in Gloucestershire and London I’ve always lived here and will always call it home.
What is your East Anglian Heaven?
The strong roots I have here. I know so many people who have been born and bred in East Anglian, especially Norfolk. Many see it as perhaps “not worldly wide” but I think it’s wonderful and you can tell by the strong passionate communities that are dotted about the county
What is your East Anglian Hell?
The long commutes to and from Norfolk. Its always 50 minutes of a journey before you start getting anywhere.
What’s your favourite East Anglian Landmark?
For me its two! Holkham Beach- I love walking early on the beach with the dog and children collecting shells, when I stand to look out to sea, with the sound of the waves lapping the shore, I find my best daydreams and thoughts stem from those moments. And Warren Hill in Newmarket, memories of being out of control on my pony galloping to the top where there was an old dead tree, that was hollow. Our mother always said its Pooh’s house. Trouble is, whenever we reached it, he was never in!
What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?
The Royal Norfolk Show and The Suffolk Show. Both hugely missed this year. It’s where everyone comes together selling their wares, promoting their businesses and with some proudly showing off their livestock. Adrenalin is high watching the top international show jumpers fly round in the speed class. It’s a huge undertaking for all who organise the events and exhibits, it brings so many people together, along with adding such joy to all those attending.
What’s your specialist Mastermind subject?
I can’t pretend to be good at any. I was useless at school and left when I was 16.
What is always in your fridge?
Milk for my cappuccinos, Stork as I’m always making cakes, double cream and red onion. You can usually whisk something up from leftovers if you have those two ingredients.
What’s your simple philosophy of life?
“May you live all the days of your life” via my wonderful mother. It’s so true. Have those lazy days, but still live them.
What’s your favourite film?
Champions, It’s based on my stepfather Bob Champion, whom my mother married when I was just three years old. I adore the music and grew up with dear Aldaniti staying with us many a time, when they were fundraising together for the Bob Champion Cancer trust. Sir John Hurt who played Bob was a fantastic actor and it was such a loss to the acting world when he sadly passed away.
What was your first job?
“Assistant trainer to Bob!” I used to wear a flat cap like him and watch the horses on the gallops. As the lads rode by and waved at me, only 7/8 years old, Bob would say I’m the assistant. My proper first ‘paid job’ was a waitress for a wonderful outside caterer.
What is your most treasured possession?
My children are my most treasured possessions. I have to pinch myself every day that they are actually mine!
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Who do you admire most?
This changes all the time for me, but currently, it’s, of course, all the amazing key workers, and all the heroes in the NHS and care systems.
What is your biggest indulgence?
I lived in Chelsea for a year, working for Ralph Lauren. I may spend most my days in scruffs at home, but I do need my London ‘fix’. Now, it’s a very special treat and involves visiting some rather special shops and of course I find myself indulging a little.
What do you like about yourself most?
The power to escape reality. Its always got me out of tricky times.
What’s your worst character trait?
Over analysing things. If I were a horse, I’d be a box walker.
Where is your favourite holiday destination?
Barbados. I adore the white beaches and crystal sea, fabulous parties, and the local Bajans are so lovely.
Best day of your life?
When Rupert asked me to marry him. I had loved him for many years, and knowing we were about to start the rest of lives together and live on the farm was all rather magical. I guess my wonderful childhood, although at times unstable, I loved the feeling of knowing that the path I’m on with him is a strong stable one, and I’ll always have him to drive round the bend!
What’s your favourite breakfast?
My mother’s scrambled eggs, Italian toast and roast tomatoes with a cappuccino.
What’s your favourite tipple?
Espresso Martini! Always get the party started.
What’s your hidden talent?
Two years ago I learnt that I can paint! It’s perhaps not so hidden anymore. I got into it so much, I had some help with Nicki Saunders a watercolour artist on how to use the paints. I just love escaping to paint my illustrations for Jack’s Book that I am writing.
What’s your earliest memory?
Having Rice Krispie cakes at my grandmother’s house, I still adore eating them and it always takes me back to her kitchen.
Tell us something people don’t know about you?
I did a course two years ago on children’s literature, and before Covid-19 would go to writing groups in the evening In Norwich with a small group, to learn more and share notes. I would sneak off after the children’s bath time and leave Rupert in charge. I also have someone helping me on the children’s book I am currently writing and illustrating.
What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?
When my little boy was born, he cried once, then was silent, when the nurses told me, “He’s having trouble breathing” and I was laying numb from my C-section while he was whisked away to intensive care. Those words were the worst as at the time, I was useless to him and it was all such a worry. Thank god for the brilliant NHS and producing a tough little cookie, after several days on a machine in NICU he was fine!
Tell us why you live here and nowhere else?
Marry the farmer, marry the farm. I am an independent person who loves to flit about but need a base to call home, and where my family is, my home is. You can’t beat the Norfolk skies and our coast is magnificent.
What do you want to tell our readers about most?
Please do take a look at www.thegardenbox.co.uk and pay the barn and pop up shop a visit when next out towards Wymondham. Do consider following Jack Brock, he has his own Instagram page-and look up his website www.jackbrock.co.uk Please look out for his charity Christmas cards this year, painted by me- proceeds go towards local Dementia Care Homes to help increase the activity departments funds, along with going towards admiral nurses, whose families just wouldn’t cope without them. Get in touch if you know of a wonderful home that would appreciate a visit from Jack, when government guidelines allow. Please support local businesses and dementia support groups within your area. Stay safe and take time to check in on those who are lonely and would appreciate to hear from you and see a friendly face.
Are you or your business doing something special during Covid-19 times? If you are living in Suffolk or Norfolk and are adapting your business please do email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Twitter: @geewizzgee1 Instagram: ginalongmbe
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