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Gimme Shelter!

PUBLISHED: 01:16 20 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:44 20 February 2013

Gimme Shelter!

Gimme Shelter!

When Diana Robbins was made redundant after 27 years of teaching, she seized the opportunity to create her own business, Dart Designs

When Diana Robbins was made redundant after 27 years of teaching, she seized the opportunity to create her own business, Dart Designs

The idea for Dart Designs came to Diana Robbins some 20 years ago while she was competing as an international windsurfer. She had been given some advertising banners made from sailcloth by one of her sponsors. I had the idea of stitching them together to make a windbreak, she says. My grandparents had an upholstery business, and my grandmother was a very clever seamstress. She made this first windbreak for me, and it has been much admired over the years. In fact I still use it today.
Today Dart Designs, based in Staverton, hand-builds high-quality windbreaks made from a combination of new and recycled sailcloth. With designs based on sail shapes, they are individually created from real yacht and windsurfing sails, so that no two are exactly the same.
Diana had noticed a gap in the market. There was a general lack of choice and poor quality of the majority of windbreaks currently available. I wanted to create high-quality, durable windbreaks as well as ones that were unique and beautiful.
The larger than usual, yet lightweight constructions come with sturdy steel-tipped and capped wooden poles.
Sailcloth is made to withstand the elements, so it is the ideal material. My windbreaks will probably last a lifetime and can even be personalised with chosen sail numbers (eg a birthday or wedding date). Lots of people have bought them as special presents.
Environmental and sustainability benefits were also a driving force, explains Diana. Sailcloth is petrol-based, and takes a long time to decompose when buried in the ground. Recycled sailcloth has a lot of life left in it, as it is extremely hardwearing. It also softens and takes on an attractive distressed, weathered patina with age, which only serves to add to its attractiveness and appeal.

I am happy to work lots of hours when the weather is miserable, but I go windsurfing when the sun comes out!

Diana runs the business from her home beside the River Dart where she lives with her partner, David, and 16-year-old son, Ben. David helped me convert our garage into a workshop. A good friend lent me an industrial sewing machine, and I was very lucky to have some good contacts in the sailing industry to source materials.
The business is run completely on-line. I can sell direct to customers anywhere. I think the Internet provides a fantastic opportunity for small home-based businesses like mine. Diana was delighted with the response she received in her first year, and she saw sales doubling in 2010. The product has won awards for design and innovation, which include a silver medal presented at The British Invention Show in 2009.
Diana works long hours, which running your own business inevitably involves, but loves the flexibility. I am happy to work lots of hours when the weather is miserable, but I go windsurfing when the sun comes out and the wind blows! I would recommend running your own business to anyone. If you are passionate about something go for it. It is never too late, and you are never too old! Some might think that it wasnt a good idea to start a business in a recession, but then again, if you can start a business in a recession and it works, hopefully it should continue to be a success. If you have a product people fall in love with, they will buy it!
Some of Dianas designs have clear windows in them ideal for keeping an eye on the children, or looking at the view. Often the wind on a beach is onshore, so the view is obscured by a windbreak. And they are easy to spot on a busy beach; they stand out from the crowd. The windbreaks also come with a part sailcloth and polyester weather-resistant carry bag the design for which was inspired by yacht racing buoys.
I noticed how people struggle on the beach trying to carry windbreaks with the poles sliding out, and the windbreaks unrolling, I have struggled with this myself! The bag has an adjustable shoulder strap making it easy to carry and feels very light when placed on the shoulder.
Diana has ideas for new products made of sailcloth, but only wishes she had more time to develop them. I have been much busier than I anticipated, so at the moment I am concentrating on my windbreak range. This year we have more colour choices, and a special limited edition Olympic windbreak in a combination of the patriotic colours of red, royal blue and white, and bears the sail number insignia GBR 2012.


Best walk: Beside the River Dart from Staverton to Dartington to Totnes.
Best day out: Windsurfing with my son at South Milton Sands, near Kingsbridge, followed by a fabulous beach barbecue with friends.
Best place to eat: Rosies caf at the Sharpham vineyard, Ashprington fabulous al fresco dining with amazing views of the River Dart.
Best View: Looking back at the Salcombe estuary from Bolt Head.


Diana Robbins has kindly offered 15% off the price of a windbreak (120) until 31 August 2011. Just mention"this Devon Life article when you call to order, or enter Devon Life in the online order form., 01803 762698


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