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After being made redundant in 2019, Mary wanted a change. Rather than staring at a
screen every day, she turned to something that brought her joy; people and coffee.
Inspired by the quaint coffee shop vibes of neighbouring Winchester, Mary sought to open
her own coffee shop. In no time at all, she opened Willows, the town centre’s first
dog-friendly coffee shop named after her own loveable pup, and supported fellow coffee
lovers and crafters throughout the pandemic.

“I grew up here, was schooled here, had a family and worked here and have seen many
changes. The town centre, especially the old part, has many memories, including our family
shopping trips on a Saturday that I hated as my parents made me dress up smart in case
we saw someone we knew. I was fascinated by the Tropical Fish Shop in Church Street, The
Haymarket water fountain, the old boys shouting their goods at the market, Sinclair Youngs
and their fancy speakers and music centre. It was full of character. So it seemed only fitting
that when 37 Church Street became available, with its wooden beams and bags of
potential, that it be the home of my new venture. The best part of having my own shop
meant I could also support other local businesses; plenty of local crafters now benefit from
selling their products alongside mine.”

Mary now enjoys being her own boss and having a better work/life balance. But said none
of it would be possible without her amazing staff.

“On the first day we opened, in walked Ollie, and what a breath of fresh air he was. He said
he wanted to work in the shop and we haven’t looked back; he’s now the manager of
Willow’s and I’m so glad the shop is in such good hands.

If I’ve learned anything over the last year or so, it’s that there is a real community feel
amongst the shop keepers, residents and customers; I love that Willows became a real
community hub. I’ve discovered just how much fun the people of Basingstoke can be and
how much we all need contact.”

When she’s not manning the shop, she’s out on the golf course. Mary’s been a member at
Test Valley Golf Club since 2016 and has recently started competing, despite not getting to
play as much as she’d hoped over the last 2 years.

“I always like the idea of running my own business and getting to play golf for leisure, but the
reality of running your own business isn’t exactly like that! I’ve played for a number of years
and currently have a handicap of 15...but only because I scored 50 points in a Stableford! I
should really play off 22. Perhaps it’s time I started more cards in?!”
Whilst we’re on the subject of sport, did you know that the athletics track at Down Grange
is named after Mary’s dad, Harold Allerston?

“My dad was a real community-focussed gentleman and he loved Basingstoke. Not only
was he the Chairman of Leisure and Recreation, The Sports Centre Trust and Basingstoke
Athletics club, he also opened the Ice Rink and was Governor at Queen Mary’s College and
the Kempshot Schools. He was also responsible for securing the first MRI scanner for
Basingstoke Hospital after he and my mum collected old keys and converted them to cash
to fund the purchase. He was an unassuming and passionate man that loved to give back
and so on his passing, it was decided to name the running track after him.”

Not only this, but Mary’s Dad was also the Mayor of Basingstoke between 1988 and 1989.
Having a Mayor for a Dad had its perks; she got to accompany him to plenty of fun events
and met many famous faces, including Major Ronald Furgeson, David Wiki and Robin

“It wasn’t all glitz and glam, though; we got barred from Tirrels fishmongers after a
misunderstanding between protesters and the council. And then there was the time we met
Jimmy Savill. I tripped him up (accidentally?! I can’t recall…), and she shouted at me!”

Mary has quite the decorated family history in fact. Her grandfather, Group Captain
Pinder Allerston OBE, served in WWII, earning his commendation for his services to the
British Empire.

“My grandfather specialised in radar equipment and operation for the RAF and ultimately
saved sensitive equipment from enemy hands during the end of WWII. He went on to
become private secretary for the well known Bomber Harris before retiring from the RAF in
the 1960s after serving many tours. His black military trunks decorate the basement area of
my coffee shop and are always a conversation starter! So much so that I have dedicated
wall space to his career and memory for others to read.”

Mary, September 2021