When Freddie Matthews’ mountaineer dad died last year, overwhelming grief took hold, but now she has made lasting ties with him by launching an unusual accessories business. Lucy Richardson reports

AS she struggled with grief after the death of her beloved father, Freddie Matthews could never have imagined she’d become an entrepreneur.

But after being unemployed for three years, not only does she have a part-time job as an instructor at the same outdoor centre in Northumberland where her father used to work, but she created a thriving enterprise inspired by his passion for climbing.

Using old climbing ropes, she hand-makes everything from beautiful necklaces, bracelets and earrings to woven mats, coiled rope bowls and mug cosies. Her business is called Hanging by a Fred and the upcycled rope goods are sold online, at craft fairs and climbing shops across the region.

“My dad was a climber, a lifelong, committed, dedicated and rather talented climber and mountaineer. I grew up watching him and his passion for this sport, but was never quite brave enough to join him until sadly it was too late,” says the 38-year-old.

“It was his lifeblood, his true love and his source of happiness. Climbing embodied everything about him. He even requested his favourite mug, which said “I’d rather be climbing”, and book of routes in Northumberland, where we live, should be placed on his coffin and cremated with him.”

Freddie was struggling to find employment since taking voluntary redundancy from her post in the museums service when her beloved dad was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. She cared for him until his death six months later, in February 2015.

“After he died, I suffered a deep period of grief,” she says.

“I had already suffered a great loss and was trying to deal with that, then I lost my dad, my friend, my confidante. I had been so strong for so long, trying to look after my mum and sort out all of the legalities. I felt so alone and utterly bereft. The grief took hold and I became a shell of my former self. Friends said I’d lost my sparkle and looked dead behind the eyes.”

Isolated in her bedroom at home in Northumberland, a friend suggested they spend a day together at a craft workshop, but the £50 pricetag was out of reach.

Freddie’s “eureka” moment happened when they discussed what craft materials they already owned - the friend had a stash of wool and she had her dad’s climbing ropes, lots of them.

“We never did have that craft day, but by the end of the week I had put together a PowerPoint presentation with ideas, competition assessment, sources of equipment, materials needed, outlets for sales and much more,” she explains.

“My idea was to upcycle retired climbing rope into beautiful and useful good 'For him, for her and for the home', to quote my business strapline. I took this to my unemployment advisor, who referred me to the Pinetree Trust, which supports new business start-ups and those who have experienced particular difficulties.

"The trust’s Paul Redpath came into my life, saw my ideas and the few products I had made and the information I had gathered. Straightaway, he loved the unique idea and my journey really began."

After using up all of her dad’s ropes, Freddie appealed to the climbers and groups who knew him who replenished her stock, but she is always grateful for donations of retired ropes.

Hanging by a Fred is now sold on Etsy, at craft fairs and retailers including Maison Royale in Darlington, Keeper’s Cafe in Stanley and Elements in Rothbury.

Freddie also collaborated with SamSpaces, a mentoring service offering support to patients as they near the end of their cancer treatment, by designing it a bracelet as a positive reminder of strength through adversity. She also supports the charity Climbers Against Cancer.

“I feel closer to my dad than ever now. Not only have I handled the same ropes that he did, but I have now got a job in the same outdoor centre where he used to work,” she says.

"I cried a little bit when I sold the last piece of his rope, which was made into a coiled rope bowl, and I told the woman who bought it to take extra special care of it. I’m sure I’ve made him proud, he’ll be looking down and chuckling to himself.”

Website: hangingbyafred.co.uk