Resident in Focus: Anna Leckey, Founder of Tiny House Community NI

For this month's Resident in Focus feature we chatted with Anna Leckey, founder of Tiny House Community NI. We caught up with Anna to find out more about the story behind Tiny House Community NI along with her many other creative projects. Plus, she shares her biggest lessons of 2020, her hacks for maintaining a positive mindset and the inspiration behind Tiny House Community NI. So, without further ado, meet Anna...

I am the founder of Tiny House Community NI, Co-Founder of Still I Rise Diversity Storytelling, Founding Artistic Director of Three’s Theatre Company, a Hot Yoga Teacher and Kids Yoga Teacher. As you can probably already tell, I like to have multiple projects on the go at once. I am a creative dyslexic and I have really found a career path that works for me. Accepting that my brain works a little differently and discovering I need to be challenged in multiple ways allowed me to flourish. You don’t just have to be one thing, there are so many things to try out and sometimes you find that more than one can fit perfectly.

Tell us more about your role with Tiny House Community

I am the founder of Tiny House Community NI, and I am in the process of legally registering as a Social Enterprise. The Facebook group and website is where most people stay updated and connected to what is happening and the progress that we have made. I hold weekly zoom meetings for anyone interested in learning more about what we are doing and what we are trying to achieve.

Currently, I am mostly focusing on engaging with people in NI; politicians, and potential stakeholders. Last week I held a more joint up conversation for Tiny House Communities across the UK to discuss how far along other communities are in the process of becoming a reality.

In August of this year, I decided to take the leap and live my values, it was an opportunity to test out the belief that living small can be beneficial for your mental wellbeing as well as the environment. I bought a secondhand glamping pod and renovated it. I have been happily living in 14.5sqm ever since. Living tiny has allowed me to speak more honestly and openly about the benefits and sometimes the more challenging aspects of ‘tiny living’ – Pod life isn’t forever but it is working perfectly well for now and I am so glad I took the leap and so grateful to those who enabled me to do so.

What inspired you to start Tiny House Community?

I have been interested in Tiny Homes for a good few years now, but only really properly considered it as a reality in the last 2-3, before then it was a form of escapism for me – anytime I had too much on my plate or was close to burnout you can bet I was down a YouTube rabbit hole of Tiny House videos and multi-functional furniture design.

Living small is about so much more than the square footage of your home. Firstly, it’s about downsizing possessions; stepping away from consumerism and the idea that material goods bring happiness. I still have things I need to declutter and donate in my little home and it’s incredible that even when you live with as little things as I do,  somehow I still have four junk drawers… So, there is still work to be done on my part with working out what is essential and what is unnecessary clutter.

When I started talking to other people about Tiny Living it was amazing to see that so many others were interested but none of us really knew where to start. I collaborated a little with Belfast Housing Lab // The Holding Project in 2019 and that really pushed me to do something, to stop talking and just try my hardest to make things happen.

I am a really passionate person and I believe my work in the arts with Three’s Theatre Company has prepared me a lot for this work. I am good at rallying people together, showing off a dream and paving out the steps to making it happen. I am determined, to the point of being a little obsessive and I don’t give up easily.

Talking to other people has been of massive importance for me and this journey so far, I need to bounce ideas off people and get feedback. That is one of the reasons I joined Ormeau Baths Co-Working Space. I like connecting with others and hearing what other people are up to, it always inspires me.

What excites you most about Tiny House Community?

Connection, Independence, Choice.

The community aspects are something I am really looking forward to creating. I have managed to create my own new community through living in my pod (imaginatively named ‘Pod’), the people I see regularly – and especially during covid-19, it means a lot to me.

I am excited about people sharing the vision of the community, to create a multi-tenure space that is accessible to different types of people, so we can live in a multi-generational diverse space. Mostly I am excited about making it happen, seeing how the dream has grown and developed over the last couple of years and much more recently into a plan of action

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in 2020?

I am a teacher at Hot Yoga Belfast owned by Danielle D’Arcy – my best friend. HYB’s moto is Breathe, Move, Sweat, and I’d say those three little words mean an awful lot and can keep us healthy both physically and mentally.

I need to move – even more so living in the tiny home during lockdown 3.0 I have noticed that I need to move my body and take big breaths when things aren’t going my way.

When allowed, I love to go to The Movement Loft, it’s really close to the Ormeau Baths so I try and get a PT Session there in the mornings before I start my workday.

I am not a happy person unless I have been moving. I think as I move so regularly with my job teaching yoga and kids yoga, I didn’t realize how much I needed it until it was taken away – taking time for exercise is a priority now.

What habits have you adopted to stay positive during lockdown/throughout the pandemic?

Morning routines, taking things slower.

I started using the Full Focus Planner in April of this year and I would say it has helped me a lot to really structure my days. There is also an app called ‘Fabulous’ that encourages you to build healthy habits – during the stricter lockdowns I ensure that I use that to help me feel like I am starting my day motivated and focused.

Goals for the remainder of 2020/2021:

Get my productivity routine going, as next year is going to be a really busy year.

What’s one resource (book/podcast etc) that has had an impact on your approach to business/your career?

Oh, I don’t think I can pick just one. There are so many ideas I have learnt from books (mostly of the audio kind) that have really helped me.

Deep Work – Cal Newport. Great for productivity hacks and explaining the state of flow.

Lost Connections – Johann Hari. An incredible book on how connection can beat depression.

Own The Day, Own Your Life – by Aubrey Marcus. If you like routines this one is for you.

And the Minimalist Documentary on Netflix and their books on Audible really resonated with me.

In times of struggle/stress, what motivates you to keep working?

That I love what I do and having several businesses that I enjoy means that I can move between them. So when I am finding things difficult in one area, I can take time away from that but still be productive.

I also find talking to people is massively motivating, I have regular zoom calls with the Theatre Company team which are so important to our survival at this time when we can’t be creating the immersive work that we normally do. I have also set up weekly zooms for the Tiny House Community and bouncing ideas off several people always gives me more clarity and focus to go further – as they are the ones I am hoping will live in the community when we can create it, some hard work brings us one step closer to our joint dream.

What’s the biggest lesson lockdown taught you about running a business?

It’s okay to rest. I feel before March 2020 I was so concerned with being busy, my self-worth came from getting as much work done as possible. But now I can see that rest really allows me time to reflect, more and better ideas come to me when I rest. Especially with having so many projects on the go, rest between jumping from one thing to the next (even just a cup of coffee without my phone or laptop) makes a big difference. For my mental health, it's massively important too.

Also, the fact that ‘Zoom’ is part of our everyday language now has made people somehow more accessible. I have been able to have meetings with people over Zoom that would have been really hard to arrange in person. Tomorrow with Still I Rise Diversity Storytelling I have an author from Australia reading us her storybook across time zones at 9am.

If you could pick up a new skill in an instant what would it be?

Speaking fluent business jargon and knowing how-to backflip. Pretty different things, but both would be cool.

What advice would you give to small business owners right now?

A lot of things are out of your hands, restrictions, lockdowns, funding grants closing prematurely, when financial support is going to come in and such. So focus on what you can do, the things that are in your control. Be creative where you can be, find the joy in what you do – even if you can’t do it every day. “Hold on tightly and let go lightly” – that was something we learnt a lot when creating theatre at university, and it helps me. Knowing when to hold on to an idea that you aren’t willing to compromise on but being gracious when you aren’t overly attached or precious with other ideas.