Life – a four letter word which means so much and is so different for every one of us. Fliss Lewis talks about the challenges life has thrown at her and how she has overcome them to build WOOL SHrED, a sustainable eco friendly sheep wool business.
A life-threatening cancer diagnosis, the death of a parent and beloved dog and the random purchase of six sheep set my life on a completely different path from the one I’d planned.
In just over three years, I went from being an experienced police officer adept at dealing with people from all walks of life to being a sheep flock owner battling cancer and figuring out what would come next.
To say it’s been a rollercoaster is an understatement, but I’ve always believed you make the most of the hand life has dealt you and I’m determined to make a success of my business WOOL SHrED.
It wasn’t always like that though – when I was younger, I had no idea what I wanted to do. The youngest of four children, I had a happy family life growing up, enjoying sports, playing outdoors and spending time with my family. I wasn’t a massive fan of school but went onto Sixth form College to top up on qualifications.
A series of Saturday jobs followed – cleaning in a nursing home, working behind the counter in Boots and Woolworths as well as a stint as a voluntary special constable – you name it I did it. Inevitably, it wasn’t long before my dad pulled me to one side told me bluntly, I couldn’t work in Boots forever!
But I had no idea what I wanted to do, no career path lit up before me, nothing leapt out and fired my imagination.
By chance, Sussex Police was recruiting so, with my dad’s words ringing in my ears, I threw my hat into the ring and applied to become a police officer. I was only 20, headstrong and determined, and genuinely thought I’d be there for a few years, maybe six at most, pack it in and do something else. Yet life takes funny turns, and I had a 30-year successful career – a lifetime of dealing with other people’s problems and helping some of the most vulnerable and criminal individuals you could ever meet.
Much as I loved my time with Sussex Police the entrepreneurial spark had always burned brightly inside me. I decided to retire, get myself a life where I was accountable to me and spend time with my beloved Labrador Frankie. Once more life had other plans…
Just before retiring Frankie passed away, succumbing to cancer. I was devastated but worse was to follow – just months later I was diagnosed with breast cancer and soon after that my wonderful dad died.
In just a few short months, things had changed beyond all recognition.
The unexpected path to sheep farming
A few years back I’d randomly bought six pedigree Southdown sheep. You might wonder what on earth a busy police officer was doing being a part-time farmer, but a friend’s grandfather was retiring from sheep keeping and it seemed like a good idea at the time.
In between police shifts, I set about learning everything I could on sheep rearing, attending lambing and small holding courses and joining a shepherds’ club. It’s a hobby that has brought me much joy, new friendships and the feeling of bringing new life into the world and helping it to thrive is indescribable.
So it was, that after my breast cancer diagnosis I sat in the lambing shed surrounded by pregnant ewes and wondered what on earth had happened to my life. So much had changed in such a short space of time. I felt adrift, unsettled and not sure which way to turn.
But I am nothing if not a fighter. I wasn’t about to give up and crumble.
Surgery would have to wait until after lambing and we would find a way to make things work. My husband and friends rallied round watching the lambs, feeding the mums and bottle feeding any animals that might need it. Stuck at home recovering from a lumpectomy, I was devastated not to be able to cuddle my lambs but was so thankful to everyone who was so supportive. And it was during this time that something else amazing happened.
I don’t like to sit still but with no choice but to convalesce I turned to the internet to pass the time. Historically, I’d always given our sheep’s wool to a duvet business in exchange for the loan of her ram at breeding time, but things had changed, and we needed to find new use for the wool. Trawling the web, I contacted people around the world and within two weeks WOOL SHrED was born, producing sustainable and environmentally friendly wool products for gardeners and crafters.
I launched a year after the pandemic and haven’t looked back since. The Ukraine war caused some unexpected challenges and I’m still perfecting my work/life balance, but I wouldn’t change things for the world. Whatever life throws at me I know I’ll cope and come back fighting – it’s one big adventure and I’m in it for the long haul.
Written by Fliss Lewis woolshred.co.uk