Simone Manley, Hong KongLeaving behind city life and returning to the Island with her young family, Simone has not only gained a great work-life balance but has also found the Island to be the perfect place to launch her business, Blank Canvas Concepts.
How long have you lived on the Isle of Man, what made you move back here?
I’ve been back on the Island now for two and a half years, but I grew up on the Island and my husband, Garry, is Manx so our connection to the Island goes back much further! Our eldest daughter was born in Hong Kong but when we started to think about expanding our family, the work-life balance that the Isle of Man offered seemed incredibly enticing after years of living and working in cities around the world.
How would you describe it to someone who has never been?
From its rare historical attractions to its magical coastal views, the Isle of Man offers unparalleled living and holiday opportunities. From a family’s perspective it provides safety and an exceptional outdoor lifestyle. The food and drink industry has improved 10 fold since I last lived on the Island in the early 2000s. Small things can make you pine for city life, so the decision to relocate was made easier by the knowledge that we could grab expertly made (and locally roasted) coffee and fresh local food from the Island’s many great restaurants and farmer’s markets. For its size, the Isle of Man attracts a lot of media attention for a wide range of reasons, from the Isle of Man TT to the Visit Isle of Man supported ‘Fairy House’ initiative which saw Swedish art collective AnonyMouse MMX create a series of unique miniature fairy houses around the Island and reached a global audience following press coverage which helped to promote the Island’s extraordinary folklore and culture. So despite the Island’s size it connects with the rest of the world in unique ways.
What difference has living on the Isle of Man made to your work-life balance?
The Island has had a huge impact on both of our work-life balance, but in very different ways. When we were city dwellers (whether in London, New York or Hong Kong), Garry’s career was so demanding that he didn’t get much time for the “life” part of this equation. The demands of his job (and commute) are far more reasonable on the Isle of Man, and his improved work-life balance has enabled me not only to entertain the idea of establishing and running my own business but also to realise that ambition. Having two young children, I can’t see how this would have been possible if we still lived in a city. The Department for Enterprise’s Micro Business Grant Scheme has been particularly helpful, and we have benefited hugely from its engaging mentoring assistance.
Tell us about your job – what do you enjoy most about it?
I am a Co-Founder of Blank Canvas Concepts, an event & interior styling business that is unique on the Isle of Man. We provide a bespoke event styling service completely tailored to our clients’ needs, ranging from entire event styling to assistance with smaller finishing touches. We also offer interior styling packages from small facelifts to entire projects. Recent projects have seen us styling corporate events, private parties and a number of bespoke wedding stationery packages. I have a degree in interior architecture and over 10 years’ experience of working for a number of leading design firms around the world, so the business allows me to bring the benefit of my experience to our clients. I love my job as each project so far has brought a new and exciting challenge. One of my biggest strengths is concept design, so I love creating abstract ideas for my clients and then bringing those visions to life with the help of my extremely talented business partner, Gez. What I love most about my job is that it allows me to focus on my family and be creative at the same time.
Outside of work how do you spend your free time?
Having a young family means we are typically running around after the girls, whether that’s stomping through muddy puddles, taking our eldest to her weekend ballet class or going for a stroll along one of the Island’s many beaches. I like to unwind through exercise, so I typically start my week off with an Animal Flow session with Rachel Kermeen – this is empowering and enables me to completely switch off. Mid-week I’ll attend a super early bootcamp (to squeeze in my exercise before the children are up!), and on Friday evenings, I have recently started taking a jujitsu class to finish the week. My husband and I love exploring the Island’s food and drink offerings: Among our favourites are Noa Bakehouse, The Boatyard, Foraging Vintners, Secret Pizza Co, Bath & Bottle and Wine Down. The most memorable thing I have done so far since being back on the Isle of Man was paddleboarding in Port Erin whilst watching a spectacular sunset unfold behind the silhouette of Bradda Head. There are so many ways to get out onto the water on the Island, and I am looking forward to trying more of them next year (sea kayaking being top of my list!).
What’s the best-kept secret on the Isle of Man?
I’m not sure I can limit it to one – so here are some of my must-visit/dos:
- The Shed in Laxey – such a charming spot and perfect for all walks of life.
- Coffee with your own “private” barista at the original Noa on Fort St in Douglas (don’t miss their new mocha swirl pastries!)
- Gelatory in Ramsey – authentic Italian-style gelato with innovative and unique flavours.
- Collecting glass on Chapel Beach in Port St Mary – this keeps the children entertained for hours.
What is your favourite element of Manx culture?
The sense of community. Being an expat can often be quite lonely, and it can be hard at first to embed yourself into a new place. But since returning to the Island I’ve found that everyone is so welcoming and quick to make introductions. This has been instrumental to my new business as well as forming new friendships.
What opportunities has living on the Isle of Man given you/your family?
More than anything else it has allowed us to spend more quality time together. My husband and I are fortunate to have our families on the Island, but the babysitting options on the Island are fantastic. For those who aren’t as lucky as us and arrive on the Island with no family network, most nursery staff will offer fantastic babysitting services.
Why would you recommend the Isle of Man to others looking to relocate and what would be your top tips?
The Isle of Man helps you to appreciate what’s important in life and gives you a platform (if you want it) to embrace island living and not be a part of a “rat race” culture. From one day to another you could be paddleboarding in Port Erin, riding one of the oldest working trams in the world or dining out on some of the Island’s exquisite fresh local produce.
My top tips for those looking to relocate would be to rent first and take your time to consider where you would like to be placed on the Island. Research networking opportunities and throw yourself in at the deep end by attending one of the varied events in your chosen sector. Try to spend a weekend (or a few if you can spare the time) on the Island before you relocate to get a feel for the Island’s charm.
What information sources would you recommend for others looking to relocate?
The obvious starting point is to look at Locate.im, which includes a treasure trove of information about relocating to the Isle of Man, ranging from income tax rates (including the National Insurance holiday, which could make you up to £4,000 better off) to job opportunities. I would also suggest looking at local estate agent websites to get to grips with house prices and become familiar with different location options. Lastly, drop into the Visitor’s Centre at the Sea Terminal in Douglas, where you will find information on many of the Island’s top attractions and upcoming events.
Is there anything else you think is of interest to those looking to locate to the Isle of Man?
I’ve been back on the Island now for over two years and am still discovering new parts of the Island and different activities that we have not experienced before. Even though the Island may appear small in size it packs a punch and can really offer a different outlook on life.