Everyone knows Judy Sawyer – if not personally, then by reputation –which perhaps is not so unusual in a town the size of Stroud.

But once she starts to explain what she has achieved in her life, it becomes very clear that she is well-known not because she was brought up here, but because she has earned her reputation as a successful businesswoman.

Stroud News and Journal:

Judy Sawyer outside the estate agency she set up over 20 years ago

“I’ve never really thought about what I’ve done,” 73-year-old Judy says humbly. “But I’m beginning to realise what I have achieved.”

Judy was born in 1946 and spent her childhood in picturesque Bisley, near Stroud.

Most people will know her as the woman who set up Sawyers Estate Agents in the early 1990s, but her remarkable journey to opening the business shows incredible determination, and a strong-will that has earned her the reputation as a force to be reckoned with.

Stroud News and Journal:

An early photo of Judy as a little girl

“Bisley has been a big part of my life: I went to school there, I got married in the church there, it’s where so many of my memories are,” she explained.

“When you grow up in a village like that, it’s like having dozens of brothers and sisters.

“The house I grew up in was fairly typical of the time – with no heating, a tin bath – but even though we had nothing we were so carefree.”

Stroud News and Journal:

Judy as a schoolgirl in the 1950s

As a pupil at Brimscombe Polytechnic, Judy began to realise that she had the ability to succeed if she worked hard enough.

“The school motto was ‘Strive to Succeed’ and that’s always stuck with me,” Judy said. “They taught us to survive, all my classmates did well in life.”

Stroud News and Journal:

Judy in the school netball team

As was the case for many young people in the 1960s, Judy had to leave school without taking exams in order to work and, after a short stint at a shoe shop in the High Street, her first job was at the coal merchants in London Road. She was paid £3 per week.

Stroud News and Journal:

Some of Judy's classmates at the polytechnic

“I learned how to run an office. Every morning it was my job to make sure that the coal fires were burning too”.

When Judy got engaged soon after, she and her fiancé would work each night in the coal yard too, packing bags of coal for extra money to pay for their wedding and a new home.

Stroud News and Journal:

Judy aged 16 at the coal merchants where she worked

Stroud News and Journal:

Judy visits the site of the coal merchants in London Road, Stroud

“My fiancé shovelled, I held the bag,” she explained. “The night before my wedding I had to be home at my parents’ house by 10pm.

“I did everything for the wedding: I baked the wedding cake and at the same time I made sure that our new home was ready for us to move into in Stonehouse.”

Stroud News and Journal:

Judy Sawyer in the 1950s

After the wedding the couple set about saving to buy their first house and before long they had enough for a £200 deposit on a two-bedroom bungalow.

“We worked so hard, and at the time they wouldn’t take a wife’s income into account to see if you could afford a mortgage.

“There was no carpet, everything was second hand, it was so different from what people might expect today.”

Stroud News and Journal:

Judy now, in front of Bisley church where she was married and her two son's were christened

Unable to settle Judy set about saving so the couple could move back into Stroud, and with two young children under the age of five she sold Tupperware and second hand clothes before becoming an ‘Avon Lady’.

“It was a glamorous job, but I had two young children which made it more difficult,” Judy explained.

“I’d stick the boys in the pushchair with bags of cosmetics and perfumes hanging off the handles. Then I’d visit my 100 or so customers in turn.”

Stroud News and Journal:

Judy in the late 1950s or early 1960s

By the time Judy was 21 she and her husband had bought their second house in Rodborough and had three children, but not long after Judy was to find herself a single mum.

“The marriage just didn’t work out, no one was to blame, but although my ex-husband continued to pay the mortgage on the house I had three children to support - and there was no welfare state then.”

Stroud News and Journal:

Judy at an exhibition after setting up a property call centre in Bristol in the 1970s

So Judy used her entrepreneurial skills and within a year she was working for a children’s clothing company and had built up a sales team of 12 other women.

“My boss took me out to lunch at the Bear at Rodborough to thank me for my hard work – I remember it was the first time I’d eaten an avocado.”

But it was after meeting an estate agent from Wotton under Edge that Judy turned her sales skills to the world of property.

Stroud News and Journal:

Judy's father in Bisley

“It must have been the mid-seventies but buying or selling a house back then was so different back then,” Judy explained.

“You had to make an appointment to see the estate agent, and houses that were on the market didn’t have sales boards outside.”

Along with her business partner Judy seized the opportunity and set up the first call centre in 1976 for people to look to buy and sell houses in Bristol.

Stroud News and Journal:

When Sawyers Estate Agents first opened it was based in London Road

“We worked 12 hour days, 7 days a week, it was incredible,” Judy said. “We had 500 houses on our books in no time.

“I made up ‘for sale’ posters for people to stick in the window of their houses, on the other side it said ‘sold’.”

Soon after Judy was offered a job with Seekers, the first no commission estate agent, and travelled all over the country setting up branches of the innovative business.

“For three years it was a good life, I helped set up 99 offices all over the country,” Judy said.

Stroud News and Journal:

Judy visits the site the first office for Sawyers Estate Agents

“But then the recession hit in the early nighties and I knew that I needed to set up my own business to make any money.”

And that was how, in 1995, Judy came to set up the first Sawyers office in London Road, Stroud.

For over 20 years Judy and her team have sold thousands of properties across the five valleys, helping people find new homes.

“It’s wonderful to have been part of so many people’s lives, every year under the Christmas tree in our office there were dozens of presents from families who we’d helped find a home,” Judy said.

Stroud News and Journal:

Judy outside the current location of Sawyers which is now run by her son

Then, just three years ago, Judy was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I went for a mammogram in August 2016 and they told me I needed an operation – quickly,” she said.

Despite undergoing the surgery, chemotherapy and radiography, Judy says she feels ‘lucky’.

“I had to go through weeks of chemo, it was exhausting, I lost my hair but I’ve been given the all-clear, which is such a relief. I was lucky, I survived.”

Stroud News and Journal:

Judy loved growing up in Bisley, and although she says her life has been lonely at times she's ready to embrace the next chapter

Now, having handed the business over to her son Stephen, a newly retired Judy is looking forward to facing new challenges ahead of her.

“I’ve been married to my business for so many years, it’s been lonely,” she said.

“But I feel I have so much more to give, I want to tell my story and help raise money for the cancer charities.”

The final words of advice for anyone looking to follow their dreams from this inspirational woman who has achieved so much: “Do what you know is right, and don’t let anyone get in your way.”

  • To book Judy Sawyer to speak at an event and hear more of her story email judysawyer16@outlook.com or call 07815 891004