FH: stories | Lee Hooper

“We could never have achieved in London what we have here in Folkestone.”

Lee Hooper and his wife Rosie made the move to Folkestone four years ago, hoping to put down roots for their young family and explore new business opportunities.

“We’d lived and worked in London for 12 years, and it was the same routine each day. “When you live in London, it’s inflexible – the cost of living, the space, there isn’t room to move. Then some friends from Kent invited us for a visit, and it just felt like a really nice place.

“We realised we didn’t need to factor London in anymore because we could work from home or commute easily. Why stay in a small London flat with no garden?”

With homes in Folkestone and Hythe offering better value than in the capital, the family have been able to buy their first home and fully embrace life in the Garden of England.  Lee commutes twice a week to his lecturing post at London Metropolitan University, and spends the rest of his time working on a new business venture – Photo Co-Op.

The couple are launching Photo Co-Op this September. It’s a creative community hub for local photographers to develop their analogue and digital photography skills. Together Lee and Rosie have 30 years’ experience in photography and visual communication consulting so are well set up to teach and mentor others.

The shop-based space at 69 Tontine Street has a range of photograph apparatus for in-situ hire, and will also offer ‘snackable’ courses and programmes to help both amateur and experienced photographers develop skills and explore their creativity.

“I remember doing dark room skills as student,” said Lee. “Working in the evenings at college, all walks of life came together and we would talk about photography and our experiences. That’s the collaborative space I wanted to provide.”

Lee also credits Creative Folkestone for their ongoing support since he first made the move to the town.

“I’ve been involved with Creative Folkestone as a nominated artist in residence, and they supported me with space for an exhibition.  When we put the business plan for Photo Co-Op together during lockdown, they were really excited about supporting us.”

Looking to the future, Lee has been talking to local Universities about collaborations with media students, and is considering launching photo walks around Folkestone.

“There is no way we could have done this anywhere else – the space we have for the money is incredible value. It has allowed us to be really confident about investing in equipment and growing the business for the future.

“The high speed train was also a big factor – a slow train might not have worked for us at first. But now that working from home looks set to continue, Folkestone makes even more sense.”

And crucially for Lee, the family have found a vibrant and diverse community to thrive in.

“One of the things we love most about Folkestone is the diversity. There are different socio-economic backgrounds, it’s not a ‘white wash’. Shops have become more diverse, and more approachable – I really value the fact that we are not all the same.”

www.photocoopfolkestone.com

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