Paper Mate






In Waltham Forest, Patty Gurman’s colourful piñatas are famous party centrepieces that are helping the community talk about mental health. Here’s how she credits James West’s stepping stone tips to helping her business go with a bang.

Sweet Paper Creations is Guatemalan-born Patty Gurman’s not-for-profit family business, run with 27-year-old daughter Ali. It was set up by Patty after seeing the positive effect making a piñata of Olaf from Frozen had when Ali was battling with their mental health.

Fast forward two years and Sweet Paper Creations is a thriving venture making a difference. This week Patty has already made 40 piñatas at a craft workshop for families affected by poor mental health and is about to start on a dinosaur – many of her piñata orders are one-off commissions so she’s made paintbrushes, logos and flower-covered hearts. Even more importantly, running the business and piñata workshops has helped Ali’s mental health – as well as families in Hackney, Redbridge and Waltham Forest.

But when Patty first met James on Zoom, she was an explosion of ideas about how to run a piñata café and worried about university student Ali’s state of mind.

JW: Now all my meetings are on Zoom, but I remember this as being a very odd time because of the pandemic.

PG: I had 101 ideas floating everywhere and I didn’t know where to concentrate.

JW: You were leaping from one iteration of the model to another. I often describe that as a state of mind that lots of creative entrepreneurs get stuck between push and pull – it’s like being Dr Who stood in the Tardis with 101 buttons and combination no idea which to pull and press in which order – it is a mind boggling moment.

PG (laughing): And I had 101 piñatas hanging around the house. It was colourful and crazy! At home I’d take my stress and frustrations out on the covid piñata – I destroyed and made so many! It was not just covid, it was feeling that as a parent I felt frustrated not able to get my baby out of that depressive state of mind. Doctors wouldn’t talk to me, there was no support in the area for families, but they kept telling Ali they would have to wait – it was awful. My covid piñata did release my stress. With the workshop the idea was to write all those frustrations and emotions on the outside of the piñata base, decorate it and then use all your force (to smash it) – so those feelings no longer inside. That is the aim of our workshops now, to help people take a control of how you feel and not let those emotions destroy you.

James makes you feel safe – it was like having your older brother guiding you.

Patty Gurman


PG: We only had three sessions, but it felt like it was more, because you were accessible in the emails if I had questions. You were never a person who forgot about me. You used to give me homework, so I booked that in my calendar too. At that first session that I was able to tell you everything. Also, the main purpose to develop our piñata cafe. You really helped me put all those ideas on a piece of paper. I keep that piece of paper still, and when I feel I’m moving away from it, I go back and look. The timing was powerful. Because I met you in the beginning, I didn’t develop bad habits: instead, I plan, reflect, plan again…

JW: For creative entrepreneurs, as opposed to accountants, there’s so much emotionally of you in the product. That creates advantages but also difficulty. The café idea was fantastic, but I said let’s go broader, look at everything, then the café idea could emerge. …a healthy balance.

PG: The biggest challenge was to deal with our own mental health and the mental health of my child. Because of what you said, all these different ideas I was looking into, developing one, moving to next and developing. And taking what I learnt. And as consequence I was able to deliver workshops in schools, and with children with special needs – or with young people where a member of the family had died. Working with young people and then going to the community was part of the plan. We want families to learn how to talk.

JW: You had a personal motivation to involve Ali and share with other people and use that wider vision. Ali was saying you need to have it a bit more planned and organised. They had spotted that problem.

PG: Yes, before I was trying to do everything! The opportunity came at a horrendous time. At the beginning I was running and falling, not paying attention to where I was going. With James I learnt to walk and know what I wanted to achieve. With James it was nice to understand the time to stop, check, move, reflect. Key elements that I have in my mind now. Ali is a completely different person too. I’m in charge of products and looking for funding and contracts. They do everything else – website, social media and designs.

JW: People are often clear about milestones they want to hit. For you one was to open a piñata workshop cafe. But it’s often mapping out the stepping stones that are more important. When you’ve got a plan for growth, you can then stop worrying about milestones, and start looking at first stepping stone, get that right and move. It gives space, so you don’t have to worry about hitting all the milestones at once which often means your motivation drops.

PG: This gave us time to reflect and be able to breathe. That has helped both of us: Ali will say I think we need time now, let’s stop. And we do, stop and reflect.


PG: James makes you feel safe – it was like having your older brother guiding you. I was lost with so many good ideas, but he was listening to me and understands what I’m trying to say, without judging. And then when he gives you something to do, you trust it’s for your own good and when you do it, he gives guidance. The piñatas and workshops have become a famous thing. There is lovely feedback from families. If I’d started on my own and tried to be successful like this on my own it wouldn’t have worked.

JW: There was a wonderful intensity to Patty’s sessions because she brings so much enthusiasm and commitment to doing things round the edge. These sessions work because we work it out together. I try something, if it doesn’t quite fly, then we can adjust it. It’s your commitment to the journey that made those hours seem more powerful. The two-way collaboration was key.

PG: I think we are a good team.


Guide to writing a business plan

James West is a sector specialist Creative Industries Business Adviser and has worked with 400+ creative, cultural and heritage organisations across the UK.

James works predominately on government funded Business Advice programmes, where his expertise is focused on achieving targeted outcomes.

This article is part of a series of he has created recognising his first decade in business.