"It’s never too late to do what you love,” says 69-year-old Sheffield businesswoman

Irene Ball doesn’t believe in taking it easy.

"I love to be busy, and I love a challenge,” smiled the 69-year-old, who has just launched her own clothes shop in the heart of Ecclesfield.

"At an age when most people are slowing down, I’m taking on new adventures, and saying ‘bring it on!’”

It’s been quite a year for the grandmother-of-four, who opened ‘Frocks’ on Yew Lane on February 1.

Irene Ball, who runs Frocks, in Ecclesfield

Four weeks after her shop opened, she was burgled; three weeks after that, the country went into lockdown.

"I told myself, ‘well at least things can’t get any worse, survive this, and you’ll be fine’,” laughs Irene, who – with her trendy clothing, and shoulder-length purple hair - certainly doesn’t look like a regular grandmother.

"Luckily this community has rallied around me, and I’ve had so much support, it’s defied all my expectations.

"The woman over the road at Mobri Bakery tells people to come and have a browse while she makes their sandwiches, and everybody who comes in is the friend, sister, neighbour, or colleague of somebody who’s been in before.

Irene Ball, who runs Frocks, in Ecclesfield

"It’s absolutely incredible.”

Irene, who lives in Stannington, is no stranger to the area, having worked in Ecclesfield for years, as a consultant for Blundells.

She also worked briefly for the shops’s previous owner, who was forced to let her lease go earlier in the year, and says she was delighted to be able to take it over.

Today, Irene says her shop is more like a community hall than a clothes shop, with people popping in all day long, to shop, or even just to sit and chat.

Frocks, in Ecclesfield

"I think lockdown has played a huge part in that,” she explains.

"People are so keen to see other people, to socialise with others in their communities, and keep in touch with what’s happening.

"I provide a safe environment here, for people to spend time, shop, chat, whatever they want.

"Anybody is welcome through my door.”

Frocks, in Ecclesfield

And above all, Irene is determined to offer people flexible service, during what is undoubtedly a difficult year for many.

"I had someone texting me this morning to find out what time I opened, so I made sure I was here a little early,” she says.

"I’ve also had people pop in who tell me they haven’t ventured into any shops since lockdown, and they’re understandably nervous.

"I tell them I’ll go in the back and leave them to browse alone.

"I’ve also told people that if they want to come after I’m closed, and bring some friends or family members who are in their ‘bubble,’ they can crack open a bottle of wine, and shop in peace.

"I just want people to feel safe, and still be able to come and buy beautiful clothes, and feel good about themselves."

Irene Ball, who runs Frocks, in Ecclesfield

As for the suggestion that she might consider retirement and slowing down in the near future, Irene dismisses this thought with a wave of her hand.

"Perhaps at my age, I should be sitting and knitting - but I can’t knit, and this is so much more fun!”

Frocks, in Ecclesfield