Putting family first to build a business in Provence
- Credit: Archant
Keen to give her children the gift of bilingualism, Antonia Beauvoisin-Brown moved to Alpes-Maritimes 10 years ago and saw a gap in the market for a business that would benefit her family and the local community
When Antonia Beauvoisin-Brown and her husband Mark decided to move from Brighton to the south of France, they were keen to do it while their son Louis was still young and before he started school.
"We decided this was the moment, that if we were going to do it then we should just do it," says Antonia. "So we thought let's go to France, live the blue-sky experience and raise bilingual children - and what an amazing gift that would be to give them."
Daughter Daisy arrived while they were still living in Brighton and was nine months old when Antonia boarded a flight to Nice with her, toddler Louis and a very large rucksack. Mark stayed behind to finish packing and organising their furniture removal to France, and joined them once his job transfer had been approved. The couple bought a property in need of renovation in the village of Le Bar-sur-Loup, close to the perfume capital of Grasse in Alpes-Maritimes, and although Antonia was ready to make the change the culture shock she experienced on arriving in France still came as something of a surprise.
"I'd read Living France and followed all of the advice to help us settle in here but the culture shock hits you quite quickly," she says. "We'd moved from Brighton which was so vibrant and family-friendly with so much going on for children. I had just assumed I would be doing exactly the same things but with more sunshine, and when I realised how little there was for children under the age of three it was a bit of a shock as that's how I had planned to get to know people."
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She began to research what was available in her local area and where any gaps might be, and in 2007 she established KidooLand, a club offering activities in both French and English. However she soon found that she would need to adapt to the needs of her market while still keeping her own children in mind.
"Originally I offered activities in both languages but I realised very quickly that what people really wanted was English only, as they felt they could do activities in French in lots of other places," says Antonia. "I had to adapt very quickly while still making sure that my own children would benefit from what we were offering. Louis was going to a French school and the progress he made from the September to December was incredible. I started to worry that he might lose his English and realised that concentrating on English at KidooLand could work well for everyone."
Slowly but surely Antonia began to add more activities to the timetable, including cookery, yoga and Pilates, and she also introduced a pre-school so that daughter Daisy could follow the Early Years Foundation Skills system. And then Antonia had what she calls her Lego moment.
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"When Louis was about eight, I got cross with him for not tidying his Lego pieces away again - he always left pieces lying all over his bedroom floor and I was forever trying not to step on them. However, I realised he was simply being creative and I needed to turn this into something positive rather than keep telling him off. And that's when I came up with the idea of running Lego holiday camps at KidooLand, where the children could be as creative as they liked and make whatever they wanted, but had to use English to explain what they were doing."
Antonia's instincts were right and she discovered that tapping into the popularity of these colourful building bricks was the perfect way to encourage children to learn English while having fun with something they love to play with. The success of the Lego camps - "we had a room full of 10-year-old boys eating out of the palm of our hand" - prompted her to start involving her own children more by asking them what activities they would like to be able to do, and then introducing them at KidooLand. As a result she has organised fashion weeks, entrepreneur weeks and outings to museums along the Côte d'Azur, as well as sailing and paddleboarding excursions to name but a few.
Louis and Daisy are now teenagers and are both, of course, completely bilingual, which was a driving force behind Antonia and Mark's decision to move to France in the first place.
"If you have a passion then I believe you will achieve your goal," she says. "Setting up a business that you and your family can personally enjoy and benefit from is a great way to motivate yourself, and it makes up for all those extra entrepreneurial hours you put in. We have a stunning view across the valley from our terrace and every day it's a reminder of the beauty of living down here."
Antonia also hosts her own podcast, Riviera Firefly, where she interviews local entrepreneurs and offers tips and advice on settling in to life in France