‘I swapped hairdressing in UK for family window business in France’

Jane Robertshaw, explains how hairdressing kept her away from her sons. Their move to France brought a new family venture

Allan and Jane Robertshaw moved to France in 2005 and set up Brittany PVC in 2011

My husband Allan and I moved to France in 2005. I had been working seven days a week running a hair salon and didn’t feel I ever got to be mum to my two boys, Caleb, then 11, and Connor, seven.

In France, we could buy a house outright in Brittany, freeing up valuable time for family.

Early years in France

With money in the bank, Allan, who had worked as a mechanic, lorry driver, engineer and window installer over the years, took up a gardening job to bring in some extra cash.

I concentrated on learning French, enrolling on an intensive course, so I could support my children at school.

Read more: How to access French language lessons for fun or a CEFR certificate

We began to make friends with locals, both English and French, and each time the question of what I did in the UK would crop up.

When I told people I had been a hairdresser, they were keen to use my services.

In the end, I registered as a part-time hairdresser but kept my client list small and made sure I had plenty of free time for the kids.

Health issue brought couple together in business

A couple of years of cutting grass took its toll on Allan’s knees, and he was advised to find a role where he wasn’t pushing a lawnmower up and down. He decided to return to window-fitting.

We set up Brittany PVC in 2011, with Allan as the fitter and me managing the day-to-day admin and appointments. It brought in a healthy income, but we had no plans to expand further.

Son, Connor, worked hard to join business

In 2015, things changed. Connor, by then 21, had left education but could only find a part-time job. One day, we received a letter from Cpam saying he was not earning enough to keep his carte Vitale. We were shocked.

At the time, we had been debating whether to take on a member of staff at the window company – demand was high and Allan was struggling to manage on his own. We asked Connor if he would be interested.

Before we could offer him a contract, however, he needed to gain a qualification. He worked for several months with the company, carefully learning his trade. Then, when he had acquired the necessary skills, we arranged for him to return to the UK to Allan’s old company and be assessed for an NVQ.

Both he and Allan worked there for three weeks (Allan for free in return for the opportunity to have Connor’s skills assessed).

They returned to France, we went through the process of having the British qualification recognised, and in August 2016 finally managed to award Connor a CDI contract.

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Two-year apprenticeship for son, Caleb

Caleb remained in education, first qualifying with a Bac Pro, then enrolling at university in Portsmouth.

Sadly, he was unhappy there and returned home after 18 months unsure of his next steps.

We told him he could get a job in IT as he had already gained a good French qualification, or take 12 months doing a casual job to think about what he wanted to do.

A third option, if he wanted, was to join the family business. He chose the latter, and spent two years completing a full apprenticeship.

Now he, too, is working for us with a CDI. Having the CDI means both my boys – now aged 25 and 28 – have mortgages and live in their own homes.

The firm has gone from strength to strength.

Only British company in Brittany with ‘grant work’ accreditation

We initially sourced products in the UK, but when we expanded to fitting shutters too, we liaised with a French supplier and are now one of their main customers.

In 2021, we became RGE (Reconnu Garant de l’Environnement) registered, which means we can work with people who are being funded through government grants – the only British window-fitting company with this accreditation in Brittany.

Read more: Explained: How to apply for a renovation grant for your French home

All in all, there is no shortage of work and the company is thriving.

As for me, I am working hard but could not be happier. I work from home, liaising with customers and organising the boys’ schedules.

And even though both my sons now live independently, I get to see them every day through work.

Desire to be a ‘more present’ mum in France

Our company would have stayed small if Connor and Caleb had not joined it, but employing them means we have taken on more customers and the business has become well established.

Allan, now 61, hopes to take a step back sometime in the next few years and eventually we will pass the firm fully to the boys.

My move to France was prompted by a desire to be a ‘more present’ mum.

I never thought that as well as being there for my boys through their childhoods, moving here would let us give them steady employment and a bright future to boot.

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