With two successful businesses under her belt, I sat down with the number one children’s events creator, Faye Kenny, the mother of Boom Chikka Boom and Our Place.
Leeds Living Magazine does an In Conversation feature about people doing great things in Leeds. Your name was the first to spring to mind.
Faye (laughs) Thank you. I hope you don’t mind – I have brought my Grandson with me. I take him to work two days a week to support my step-daughter while she’s at uni.
Robyn Wait, so you run Our Place and Boom Chikka Boom with a baby attached to you…Faye (He’s easy).
You are amazing. So let’s start with your background. Where are you from?
Faye Bramley…..Bramlehhh. How Yorkshire does that sound? I am a Leeds girl. I was brought up with brothers and sisters. My mother was a nurse and she was always working, so I lived with my Dad throughout my teenage years.
Did you always want to perform? Is your family into any arts?
Faye I was brought up with a family of creatives and grafters. My brother and sister are both musicians and they were always touring while I was growing up. My other sister ran her own barbershop. My dad is an electrician by trade and contract manager by career. He even had a cafe. I worked between there and my sister’s barbershop growing up.
So working extremely hard and performing is just a natural way of life for you?
Faye Yeah, I’ve worked for as long as I can remember. It was just in us all to graft. I always wanted to play an instrument like my siblings, so I took up the only opportunity at primary school to learn the glockenspiel and xylophone (laughing). I sound so cool. I also sang in the school choir. In high school, me and my best friend Sheree joined the school orchestra. That’s where I took up the cello. Sheree played the flute. She was also part of a creative family. Her Dad Is part of a big sound system that performs all over the world from Leeds called Irrational Steppas. I remember us listening to instrumentals and making up our own words. Still, Dre was the one I always go back to (singing the beat). We started singing lessons with our music teacher and performed solos or together at every school concert we could. We still kept it cool and geeky and played our instruments in the orchestra.
The only option after school I guess was to pursue a career in performing arts?
Faye Exactly. I did performing Arts at Thomas Danby College and at the end of my first year my tutor (Big up Ken Reed) took me to one side and told me to stop applying for all the basic courses and to apply for the posh, prestigious performing arts schools. Well, I did, but got into none of them. I did not have enough experience. Liverpool offered me a diploma space to get the experience but it cost a fortune. My Dad and Grandma insisted I said yeah and somehow we would find a way to pay for it. I was denied any grants I applied for and eventually got a career development loan through the bank. I get my drive and spirit from my Dad and Grandma.
Do you think they have a big impact on where you have come to today?
Faye Once I have an idea and I have no idea how I can possibly make it happen, I just know that somehow I will find a way and that comes from them. Like from me taking their advice. I finally got into all the big, best performing arts schools in the country. But I chose to stay and do my degree at Lipa, because I had created a family there. I was comfortable.
Did you find everybody at drama school different from you?
Faye (laughs, covering her face) The first day I started at Lipa we had to stand in a circle and introduce ourselves. Nobody understood my Yorkshire accent. They called me Furr for ages. Although it was in Liverpool, most of the students were from down south with posh backgrounds.
(The baby boy Faye is holding is gazing at me, smiling. I’m pretty sure he’s flirting.)
Robyn Your grandson is distracting me and making me blush Faye He needs to stop selling me out; he’s such a little creep!)
How was your uni experience?
Faye In 2009, our graduating year, we had to do a showcase of monologues in London and mingle with castings agents and directors afterwards. I loved performing but I hated the networking after. I experienced my first panic attack and quickly realised that fake life of selling myself kind of just wasn’t for me. I just wanted to perform. But that wasn’t the last time. I sound ungrateful but every year each drama school across the UK pick their top female and male student to collaborate together and do another showcase of monologues in London. That’s all everybody wants is to be chosen. And I was. I despised the whole thing.
That’s such a shame. So did you give up on acting and performing?
Faye I returned to Leeds and threw myself into numerous jobs. I juggled retail, arts specialist at schools, fire breathing and stilt walking at events. I also created a band called Faze Two where I did Live PAs almost every weekend at Mission in town. That was my life for years.
So when did you have your son and create Boom Chikka Boom?
Faye I was (counting on her hands) 26 when I had Ziah. I was still performing at night clubs every weekend so I hid my pregnancy as long as possible. Can you imagine, big pregnant belly performing at the biggest dance nightclub in Leeds at 2am? When I had him I still performed at the nightclub. I would breastfeed him, put him into bed and leave him with my partner; perform, come back, feed Ziah, then sleep. Robyn (Machine) Then repeat.
So you are crazy then. I honestly don’t know how you did that? I’m sure most mothers cannot relate. Having a baby is exhausting. How the hell you performed in night clubs while still breastfeeding.
Faye I opened my own drama school for kids on Saturdays and brought Ziah with me. I just found different ways of working while I had him. Hardly any of my friends had children. I had this idea that I’d meet a whole new set of mum friends at baby groups. But I found them so boring. I didn’t click with anybody or relate with them. If I was so bored at those groups, imagine how bored my son or other other babies must have felt. My son loved bouncing around listening to MTV base at home, so the boring slow nursery rhymes didn’t cut it.
Yeah, nursery rhymes send you crazy. My daughter loved current music as a baby, too.
Faye It was actually my brother who encouraged me to create a baby rave. I was totally up for it. I was dying to do something that I would enjoy, too. My brother’s friend created my first flyer which had a foetus holding a mic on it. We had no real plan as such. The first event was April 2012. I just hired a venue and brought some lights from Maplins, which I took back after the first event because I couldn’t afford them. My cheerleader friend sold me a load of pom poms. My grandma made loads of blankets that I could lay on the floor for babies. My friend wore an upsy daisy costume (laughing) that her boobs were too big for. Very inappropriate. The evening post covered the first event. It held 40 people and sold out at £5 each. The feedback was amazing. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t have a fancy Facebook page, just my own that I posted the event on.
I bet you never would have dreamed it would be so big.
Faye Not at all. I booked my next event at a family friend’s club called Vox. Now it’s called The New Craven Hall. That held 160 people. Sold out again at £5 a ticket. I started holding them more and more, even venturing out at Huddersfield, Manchester and Wakefield. The mothers’ feedback helped me build up my equipment. Each time I did an event I’d buy some soft play or lights instead of constantly losing money renting them. I didn’t get a start up loan. I built it from the ground up with support from family and friends. I didn’t think this would be my career and business. I literally still thought it was a side hustle.
It must have given you some confidence, having the Evening Post cover it so early on and selling out every event?
Faye BBC evening covered it in the early days which was nice. It was just ideal. I could work with my son and enjoy every day. A mixture of parents would come to my events who would refer me to hold events at their places of work, which helped me get gigs at the White Rose Centre, Mothercare; even old people’s homes.
When did you decide to open your own premises? I know you travelled and brought your event to different venues for years.
Faye Last year my storage space told me I needed to find somewhere new as they were turning the building into housing. To be honest it was too small for the equipment I was holding anyway. A young work experience girl suggested I look at her. I rented her Dad’s warehouse. I visited with my Dad one Sunday morning in January and it sent my imagination wild. I could turn this gigantic space into actual premises for Boom Chikka Boom somehow. The rent was way out of my budget. But my Dad persuaded me to just go for it. He said “What’s the worst that can happen? You waste a lot of money and time. But we can laugh at it after?’’ I was inspired by the crowd funder for Manjit’s Kitchen to open her own restaurant. I set up a £7,000 funder and exchanged the donations of people to tickets to my events for free and party packages. I liked the idea of being able to give back.
That’s so cool. So you reached your target?
Faye Yeah, well, we actually raised £7500 but after the crowd funder fees that left us with around the £7000 mark anyway. After back to back parties, we finally got the keys on April 1st. My Dad was able to use his contract management skills and survey all the work that needed to be done to renovate it. My partner, who is also an electrician by trade, did all the electrics with my Dad. My business partner Rachel covered all the cafe side of things. I never liked DIY but I learnt to love it. We were all there day and night knocking down walls, fixing up ceilings. Installing accessible toilet facilities, That was really important for me. I wanted everybody to use this space. I found that difficult holding events at other venues. They aren’t always safe or possible for everybody to be included.
You did all that and still ran Boom Chikka Boom events?
Faye Yeah, it was crazy. On May the 4th a usual family day of construction and at a month into renovation. 10 minutes after leaving My Dad, his partner and my partner I had to rush back after a worrying phone call from my partner. I was on my way to dropping my son in Bradford at my Mum’s and just before I got there I turned around, put my foot on the gas, went through red lights and didn’t care if police were following me. I just knew I had to get back. I arrived in the car park and there were ambulances, police cars and a crowd of people. It was my Dad – he’d had a heart attack. He was hooked up to a life support machine and out into a coma for a week. The nurses prepared me and my family for the worst and were sure that he would never be the same again if he woke. After my Uncle shouting at my Dad while he was practically dead, me and my family got together and sent loads of positive energy into the room. Well, I couldn’t believe it. I had gone home to prepare for the worst to come back the next day in what I thought would be the last time I would see him. My sister opened the door for me and there was my Dad sitting up in his bed, no brain damage – he even mentioned my son. We had a few more complications, spent my Dad’s and my birthday in hospital.
I cannot imagine what that must have been like. How did you manage the business while all that was going on?
Faye That’s when i realised how much responsibility I was in charge of for the business. I put up Facebook and instagram notices on having a family emergency and every party will run as usual. But I wouldn’t be responding to new queries. People still ignored that. People didn’t care and would still ring and message me.
Did you start to resent the business? How did you cope with renovating the warehouse?
Faye Rachel finished loads of jobs on her own and my Dad’s work friends got together and did loads of work. We opened our doors in July as planned.
Why is it called Our Place?
Faye It’s for everyone. With everybody being apart of funding, building and putting it together it was fitting. We want everybody to be able to use it. Last summer we let Team Creative, a carnival troupe, use it as their workshop for making costumes and rehearsing their dance routines for the Leeds West Indian Carnival. A young entrepreneur, Lelani, who is 13, holds her own cupcake classes here. Yoga classes, networking events and all kinds of workshops are held here.
As a business owner yourself, is helping new businesses thrive important for you?
Faye Absolutely. I want to encourage people who come up with a business idea to just go for it. You will find a way. There is always a way. I offer free or discounted space for new businesses that fit what we believe in at Our Place.
What do we have to look forward to in 2020?
Faye Well we are always working on new ideas. There’s a few people wanting to create events for teenagers to be held at Our Place. We are also working on events for them. We want the space to be used by all ages. We update our website and social media on upcoming events every week so keep an eye out. A few weeks ago we had the brilliant mind of Molly hosting her No Limit event on our human Habits. She’s holding another workshop on Anxiety in February. Our networking events for like minded business owners will be happening throughout the year too, they have been very successful.
You must be so proud of yourself. You’re inspirational. Thank you so much.
Faye Thank you. It’s only recently I’m able to talk about what I do and my business. Seriously, I’m so awkward and shy about it.
Boom Chikka Boom provides extraordinary events for kids. They’re unique and original, unlike other traditional mother and baby groups that I have suffered before. Faye hosts events that people from every age can enjoy – children can be as crazy and as messy as they want. Parents can enjoy their time and not clock watch until the ordeal of a kids’ party is over.
Our Place is a one off creative space that holds upto 200 people, catering for families and entrepreneurs to use it as their imagination tells them to. The blank canvas of white walls now shows me secret illuminations of the blood, sweat and tears from Faye and her family’s hard work.
I’m blown away by Faye’s humbleness. I am not convinced she actually understands how much of an incredible businesswoman she is. She may not be performing in the West End where she imagined herself as a teen, but Leeds is her stage where she performs every week, being her authentic self without having to be fake. Her entertaining events sell themselves, giving children and families memories that last forever. The same blood that runs true with belief and resilience in her Dad also runs through hers, pumping pure life into Our Place and Boom Chikka Boom.
Right, I think I need to have a baby so I can keep going to these events for at least another decade. How else am I going to feel after staring at Faye’s beautiful grandson the whole interview?
Feature photograph shows Faye (on the right) with business partner Rachel. Photographs taken by Robyn Wilson.