The Innovators: Abby McLachlan, founder of East of Eden

“I had teachers crying on me wondering how they would survive, so there was a real sense that we needed to pull together to get through and keep our community together,” says Abby McLachlan…

Abby McLachlan is founder of East of Eden Yoga and Pilates studios in Walthamstow. Before setting up the studio in 2015 (and during that first year) she worked in digital music and media in a range of roles including business development and strategy, international marketing and brand solutions, for Rhapsody, Warner Music, MySpace, Yahoo, BBC and ITV across a 15 year period. She has a law degree from Oxford University.

This past year, in a word, has been … exhausting.

At first, my work was … completely under threat. I had just completed a big expansion of the space in March 2020, a build that had been beset by problems and gone way over budget. I was desperate to finally open the doors and be able to start to reset the business, which would have happened in normal times. But of course March 2020 also saw the COVID-19 pandemic sweep across Europe and the world, and 9 days after I reopened the doors to the studios, I had to close them again.

What I realised I needed to do was … pivot online. Starting the lockdown in the red as a result of the build was so terrifying, that it required action to try and ensure the business survived. This was also before Rishi Sunak had announced any support, and I had teachers crying on me wondering how they would survive, so there was a real sense that we needed to pull together to get through and keep our community together.

And so I …  moved my whole offline timetable, online. The day we closed, we already had 80 classes live streaming, keeping the community of teachers, staff and students together. We were one of the first London studios to offer an online presence, and one of the only ones to immediately offer the same timetable virtually that we had in person. We even offered power Pilates, modified reformer Pilates classes for the reformer teachers.

Running my own business this past year has been … intensely challenging and all consuming. There have been various points, especially in the most recent lockdown, where I have seriously questioned whether I had it in me to keep going. It has pushed me to my limits. I can now see the path out of this I hope, and actually I already feel that the East of Eden community has been strengthened as a result of experiencing this together. I feel a sense of connection with teachers and students that goes deeper than before. And I think that will stay, even when we reopen and some sense of normality resumes.

Now, looking back over the 12 months just gone, I feel … grateful that I am still here, still fighting and that the business has a good chance of making it through.

In term of the future of my business/work, I feel … optimistic and positive. I think we can see the way out of this, and hopefully we are firmly enough on that path that we will be in a much better place later this year. There are exciting things happening down the line, such as the Soho Theatre development and new tenants in the mews, to see a vision of it in the future as a creative hub for Walthamstow. Just got to hang on a little while longer.

The hardest thing about working through a pandemic was … the uncertainty and not being able to plan for anything; not having the support staff I would usually have, so having to work seven days a week, having my son at home when schools closed. It’s just the two of us, his dad has never been around, so that makes it very intense when you are also worried about keeping your business afloat and your usual support networks are not around anymore. Though I am super lucky to have my sister nearby.

What I have done amazingly well is … I feel proud that I’ve kept people together, and kept people employed throughout this, and whenever I read messages from people that come to classes saying how much they have helped them survive lockdown, that makes me feel happy too.  We launched a crowdfunder this week, as rent bills are due and we cannot properly open, even in a limited COVID secure way until mid May, and on day 1 we got to 92% of our target, with the most lovely messages of support. It has really been the boost I need, both financially and emotionally. I just feel so lucky to be part of this amazing community.

Instagram: @eastofeden17

This interview series is sponsored by The Robora – an online platform for women looking to start, or grow, the online side of their business. We offer courses, membership and coaching.