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12 months of highs and lows

By Merryn Groves

In February 2018, I became a mum and my life changed completely.

I took 12 months of maternity leave and loved learning how to be a mother and bonding with my baby. While the ‘year off’ certainly wasn’t a holiday, I did finally have the time to put my dream of opening a café into action. And so, March 2019 saw the official opening of The Grove in Portland, NSW. We serve excellent coffee (which I had to quickly master), small eats and home-made treats.

I had never felt so powerful and alive as I did in those first few months of opening. I was proud of the hard work I had overcome to realise my dream. For the first time, I understood what the phrase, ‘You can do anything you put your mind to’, actually meant.

The year was tough. Tough in the way starting any new job or challenge is tough. But, as the months passed I would reflect on how far I had come, and how huge obstacles in the past were now a non-issue.

Through care, dedication and kindness I built a supportive local group of ‘regulars’. I can honestly say that they make what I do so much fun.

Unexpected challenges

Starting a new business is hard, especially when you have zero industry experience. Adding to these challenges was a horror bushfire season, then COVID-19.

During the 2019/2020 summer, constant smoke made it unbearable to go outside. These months are usually filled with people excited about Christmas and holidays away with family. But it was quiet, nerve-wracking and miserable. There was a constant fear as surrounding bushfires threatened homes.

Thankfully the rain eventually came and the smoke cleared. 2020 was starting to improve. My partner of 11 years and I got married in February. We celebrated with 150 family and friends, the words ‘COVID’ and ‘social distancing’ were nowhere to be heard. We shared food platters and danced the night away. It was absolutely perfect.

After the wedding, we went away for a mini-honeymoon for two nights. We were back and I was serving coffee by Wednesday. I had one week of customers asking about the wedding before COVID-19 stole my thunder. From then on it’s been a constant recount of everyone’s experience with COVID-19 and how it has affected them.

At first, it was kind of exciting. The virus that was affecting everyone in the country and most of the world. What a crazy notion to fathom. But, as the days passed and months rolled on, the ‘exciting’ buzz of the unknown turned into frustration. I was very aware of my own emotions and the uneasiness COVID-19 was causing. I had to change my business model so that I could survive the months ahead. Luckily, my small business coped well with the changes. I couldn’t help but compare my situation to others working in hospitality. I struggled to comprehend how they would be able to survive.

Moving forward

I am a very logical person – I wouldn’t say I am overly emotional. My friends would agree that I am honest and open with them, but I am not one to get overwhelmed or anxious. These qualities have always gotten me through life with a pretty level head. However, even I can admit the cloud of COVID-19 hanging over daily life has made my head feel foggy.

I am so lucky to have the support of the locals to get my business through such unknown times. The confidence I have in them to support me and turn up every day makes it a lot easier to sleep at night. They also make me put on a smile every day, even when I don’t feel it on the inside, and that has helped me stay positive.

Like the rest of the world, I am sick of COVID-19 and I worry how long it will take, if ever, for life to go back to normal. I worry that I will become more and more unmotivated as the negativity of COVID-19 continues to cloud my thoughts. I worry about friends and family and the effect this is having on them as well.

For now, all I can do is continue to turn up to the café every morning and serve coffee with a smile on my face. I hope that this gives people at least a little bit of peace and familiarity in a time that is so uncertain.

This blog piece was contributed by our partners from the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, as part of their work with Everymind and on their Wellbeing in Rural Small Business project.

About Merryn Groves

Merryn Groves is the owner and manager of The Grove in Portland, NSW. Before opening her business in 2019, Merryn was an event coordinator working for Bathurst Regional Council for three years, and prior to that, a customer service representative for PoliceLink. Merryn has a Bachelor of Natural Resources/ Bachelor of Urban and Regional Planning, Environmental Science degree from the University of New England. She is also a proud mum to Ned.

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