Setting up a business in Croatia takes some guts, as many would-be entrepreneurs can testify to. Doing it as a foreigner is an even harder task. But there are however a number of success stories out there…
Tim Betts, originally from Peterborough in the UK, and his partner, Julie Montgomery-Smith from Harpenden, are one of them. The couple last year established The Raku Garden, a raku pottery school, in the small village of Povlja on the Dalmatian island of Brač.
Already the pair have run successful classes attracting students from all over the world, including professional artists and craftspeople like Gordon and Heather Hunt from Cornwall. Tim and Julie stumbled across their house during a brief visit to the country on a friend’s recommendation.
He adds: “Initially we were going to establish a diving centre in Indonesia. We lived there for three years with friends but it proved too far away from our family and it was too difficult. Thankfully a friend recommended that we should visit Croatia. We fell in love with the country as soon as we visited. At this point we still had a desire to establish a diving centre but had also been teaching pottery across the UK for over 10 years. When we spotted the house on top of the hill we thought it would be ideal for us. But unfortunately it was too far away from the beach to work as a diving school. We could see its potential as a pottery school and as a centre for other types of teaching, though.
“We have now had the house 10 years. Initially we were still teaching and working in the UK and paying builders to work on our house but it wasn’t working. Jobs were never finished and there was always a general feeling of disappointment at progress when we visited,” says Julie, who has a degree in civil engineering.
Julie, who completed a foundation course in art, before switching to civil engineering, says: “I’d always wanted to work on my own property and Tim has lots of practical knowledge, so we decided to cut out the middle men and build ourselves. It’s taken seven years of building and three years of chasing paperwork. There was a lot of fear initially that we were doing something crazy and we felt worse when we found documents that had not been completed that we assumed came with the house. But finally things seem to be falling into place. We have finally just had the property inspector round and got awarded three stars.
“Over 10 years we have slowly formed relationships with the village and now have strong friends we consider family and feel part of the community. Though we did not know it when we first arrived, Povlja has a history of attracting creative people and still has a large community of artists, musicians and actors from all over Europe, who either own property here or who visit every summer. They include Cannes award-winning costume designers and some famous musicians from the former Yugoslavia. We were here for about four years before we really got to know the artistic community, when we were asked by the mayor if we would do an exhibition of our work in the village gallery, which was very successful and felt like a proper introduction, as most of the village were very unsure of what we did up on the hill.”
Tim and Julie now run six-day courses and provide seven nights accommodation, transfers to and from the ferry on the other side of the island, lunch for the duration of the course, tuition, all materials (clay and glazes), tools, and firings (both biscuit and glaze). The price for 2015 is £845.
“We mainly focus on hand-building techniques but we do have a wheel,” says Julie. “The first three days are spent making. We start with small simple pieces to build confidence and get people used to the clay we use. These small pieces dry fast so by day four people can start to use them for trying out and experimenting with glazes before they finish the large pieces. The last two days are spent glazing and firing. Raku is fast and dramatic so people see the results very quickly. We do not dictate what our students make, preferring to help them explore their own ideas. We do demonstrations and build our work while the guests are working on their pieces, so they can see how pieces develop to a quality finish.”