Lyn Thompson was born in Walton, Liverpool and, by her own admission, grew up with very little money. Leaving school at 16 and having three part-time jobs to make a living, she decided it was time for a change and moved away to join the Royal Navy at the tender age of 17. It was while she was based in Cornwall with work that she settled and had a small family.

Lyn, founder of Whistlefish, in one of her stores

Lyn always had a passion for art and would sit at her kitchen table hand-pressing dried flowers onto cards or hand-painting floral designs. In her spare time, she started taking these cards to local craft fairs. To her amazement, they always sold out.

After having two children Lyn left the Royal Navy and became a full-time artist, moving around from show to show and heading home every evening to make frames for her art in the garden shed. She soon outgrew her kitchen table and needed a permanent location to store and sell her artwork.

Lyn applied for a loan through our Enterprise programme at the end of 1996 which she used to print her first card run, six designs on a two-colour press. And, over the next 10 years, she went full-speed taking Whistlefish (then known as Milkwood Publishing) to craft and trade fairs far and wide. One of our advisors was always available at the end of the phone or email to provide business advice and support – they even found Whistlefish their first home – a small 750 square foot building in Helston.

Lyn says:

Starting and growing a business like I have done is down to lots of hard work and passion but it also comes down to support both financially and from those in the know. I could never have printed my first card collection or had my first space without the help from The Prince’s Trust. I really wouldn’t be where I am now without them.

Lyn wanted to ensure art could be for everyone and so Whistlefish has grown as a brand of exceptional quality at an affordable price.

Another nine shops popped up across the South-West including on the harbourfront in Padstow, Cathedral Lane in Truro and the high street in Falmouth. Whistlefish galleries have become a favourite destination for great-value greetings cards and art prints for visitors and locals alike.

Whistlfish seaside painting on desk launched in 2012 and in just five years has become responsible for over half of the business revenue, regularly ranking on page one in Google searches for greetings cards. Lyn continued to grow the brand using her own resources. She made sure she re-paid her loan and today works with them as a charity partner to thank The Prince's Trust for its support.

Since 2015, Whistlefish has donated part of the annual proceeds from Christmas card sales to suport young people into work, education and training. In 2016 this amounted to more than £16,000 and Whistlefish aims to double this in 2017 as we become their sole charity partner for Christmas cards.

Jack Lewis, Head of Corporate and Events at The Prince’s Trust in South West England, says:

It’s fantastic that Lyn and Whistlefish have kept a relationship with us for over 20 years and we’re very grateful for their charity donations, which have now far exceeded the initial investment The Prince’s Trust gave Lyn.

Lyn continues:With Whistlefish now sending out more than 46,000 orders (over a million products) each year online, Lyn has had a Head Office purposely built in Cornwall for the team. It incorporates a workshop, dispatch and design studio. Having cards, prints and frames handmade in Cornwall is such a vital part of the Whistlefish DNA and Lyn hopes she can continue to make things in this way forever.

Our unique position in the greetings card market is our art focus and coastal positioning. We work with over 60 independent artists and provide over a hundred jobs across the Cornwall region. With ambitious plans to grow the business, we expect to maintain this for years to come.

The brand will be at London’s Chelsea Flower Show for their 10th consecutive year in May, and an entire Chelsea Flower Show collection will also be available exclusively online

We’re making more lovely art products and card favourites for our shop visitors but where we’re really going to grow as a business is with our online exclusive collections and extending our stationery and gift offering. It’s a really exciting time!

If you’re a budding designer who thinks your artistic style would look at home in Whistlefish shops by the sea, get in touch via the artist submission form.