In ‘What Works For Me’ - a series of articles considering how we can find balance in our lives - we talk to people about their self-care strategies. If you’d like to contribute your story, email us.
Each day before work, Lucy Baines has a very particular ritual that she carries out without fail.
“Every morning I have a coffee with my bees before I get ready for work,” explains the 42-year-old from Colchester. “I walk to the end of the garden with my dressing gown and wellies, cup of coffee in hand and just go and have a little sit with the bees before my day starts. It’s so nice, they do calm you, they’re quite hypnotising. I see what they’re up to and then come in.”
This ritual began some two years ago when Lucy finally hit a wall and realised that she needed to do something different. Having tried a number of activities and clubs (all of which she managed to talk herself out of sticking with) she finally came across the idea of beekeeping. After a quick Google search she then found a 10-week course in Colchester and went for it.
When the course finished she realised that there was one last hurdle to overcome. “It’s all well and good having done the course but it is very much a hands-on hobby, so I wanted to see if I could actually overcome a bit of a fear I had of bees,” she says. “So after doing the course I went out and inspected a few hives and I literally had the bug from then.”
For Lucy, beekeeping has hooked her not only because it’s a new challenge but because it’s one that takes up her attention all year round. “There’s always a little job for me to do, whether it’s reading up on something or thinking about the upcoming weeks and what the bees might need.”
It’s also a hobby that socially, allows you to put in as little or as much as you want. While there is a thriving community of beekeepers in Essex, there’s never any pressure to become involved in the day-to-day. Lucy is a member of a WhatsApp group that share stories and advice, but she doesn’t feel the need to attend any of the weekly meetings that take place.
Beekeeping isn’t just about the community though, for Lucy, the bigger challenges also provided her with a newfound sense of confidence that then spilled over into her everyday life.
Native swarms occur naturally in the wild and for beekeepers, the sighting of a new one can present them with the opportunity to start a new hive. It’s a daunting task though for a newcomer and requires a cool head.
“I was due to deliver some training at work and I was really worried about it, but once I’d climbed up a 3.6m ladder and snipped down about an 8,000 strong swarm of bees, I thought ‘I can actually do it, I can deliver any training now,’” she explains.
The everyday act of beekeeping is considerably calmer than haring around the county chasing swarms of bees. During the day Lucy is a family liaison officer at a special needs school. It’s a full-on role which is why this everyday routine can be so rewarding.
“Everything’s got a name and everything’s got a purpose and everything has a role to play within the little beekeeping world,” she says. “It makes me think ‘have I got all the right equipment?’, which I quite like, it clears my head from everything else and I just focus on the bees.
“If you’re stressed and you’re banging around and you’re doing everything rushed you’ll disturb them, so I can’t tend to the bees if I’m not feeling great within myself, if I’ve got a bit of a headache or whatever. It makes me sit down, take a moment and have a cup of tea. It keeps you in check really.”
Beekeeping isn’t an art that’s learnt by simply Googling, instead it’s something that’s handed down from person to person. “Everybody has a way of doing something, and so you learn that way from them and then I’m looking forward to handing that down to somebody else and sharing that experience.” she says.
Keeping bees isn’t what you’d consider a mainstream hobby, and so unsurprisingly the reaction she got from her friends when she started was one of surprise. “A few of my colleagues just didn’t believe me,” she says. “And I was like ‘no I really have, I can even bring you some honey from my bees.’”
Her family however have been on board since day one, and really that was crucial. “My family’s been super supportive, I’ve got suits for my husband and my daughter.”
In addition to bringing the family on board Lucy has big plans for the next few years.
“Next year I’m looking into taking some exams to build up my knowledge. My plan is to each year get another hive, until it gets a little bit silly. I can see how it starts,” she laughs.
“Finally my plan is to encourage other people. I’ve got a nan of 94 and she’s interested in sharing some bees with my mum in her garden which I would go and look after, but I can see my nan sitting with them and having a little look in the mornings.
“I’ve also had some chats with the school I work in about them keeping bees and they’re quite interested in that too. I think as my confidence builds I’ll be more happy to help other people get started, which would be lovely.”
When I ask Lucy what she’d like the readers of this piece to get out of it her answer is simple: “I would love to think that they could then give it a go. For them to say ‘well she works full-time, she’s got a child’ and then to think ‘well if she can do it then maybe I could join a course and give it a go.’ It’s given me so much, and continues to give me so much.”