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Obituary: Jane Oliphant – 1953-2020

Published: 13 August 2020 - Neil Mead

Jane Oliphant, the founder editor of Housewares Magazine and a former member of the DIY Week editorial team, died on August 3 2020, four years after being diagnosed with cancer, and being told to expect to live only another six months. She was 67.

 

Jane joined Benn Publications in Tonbridge in 1972 as an editorial assistant on Nurseryman & Garden Centre, reporting to the editor Bryan Farthing, and later deputising for him as acting editor when he suffered a lengthy illness. When he was promoted to editor of Hardware Trade Journal (later re-launched as DIY Week) he took Jane with him, first as features editor and subsequently assistant editor – although she returned to N&GC for while when its new editor was also absent.

Working on HTJ brought her into contact with housewares, which was then emerging as a buoyant market: aspirational cooking and entertaining was a growing cultural trend, and specialist cookshops were opening to cater for that demand. Under its publisher Christopher Leonard-Morgan, Hardware Trade Journal responded to the trend with the launch in 1982 of a specialist supplement named Housewares and Small Electrical Appliances, with Jane as editor. The response from readers and advertisers was immediate and enthusiastic, and only a year later the supplement became a standalone publication in its own right as Housewares.

Jane remained editor for five years, building the magazine into a powerful voice for the housewares industry, until in 1989 she decided to spread her wings and went freelance. She continued to write for various Benn magazines, and remained in close touch with the housewares market. In 1999 Benns sold its home-interest portfolio to Faversham House Group, and in 2005 the divisional publisher Colin Petty invited her back; Housewares Focus, another FHG title, had suffered a serious setback in the hands of an inexperienced editor. Jane stepped in, and calmly and competently put the magazine back on its feet.

FHG reorganised the portfolio in 2007, merging Housewares and Housewares Focus into a single print title, and launching the UK’s first online housewares industry presence under the title Housewares Live. Jane drove Housewares Live from day one, achieving impressive visitor numbers and page impressions, and was also part of the team that launched the Housewares Conference in 2008, reinforcing FHG’s position as the business-to-business market leader for the housewares industry. 

She became a core member of the Faversham House home improvement team, contributing to DIY Week and Hardware & Garden Review as well as Housewares Live, and producing one-off housewares supplements, like the Kitchen Knife Handbook. When the editor of Builders Merchants Journal was away on maternity leave, Jane stepped in and ran the magazine for a year. “She was unflappable,” said Colin Petty. “Whenever the need arose, she just calmly got on with it, and produced consistently professional results.”

Jane joined the DIY Week team as consultant editor in 2012, supporting editor Fiona Hodge (now Garcia) and contributing to both print and online, as well as the magazine’s annual Leaders supplements. She moved with the publication when Faversham House sold its home improvement portfolio to Datateam Business Media the following year, and continued in her role as a key part of the editorial team.

Jane donned her editor hat once more in February 2016 when Fiona Garcia went on maternity leave. However, she received her cancer diagnosis shortly afterwards and, upon learning that her illness was terminal, took the decision to step away from the magazine.

“It was an absolute pleasure to know and work with Jane,” said Mrs Garcia. “She was a dedicated and passionate member of the DIY Week team, who happily shared her vast experience with us all and would always take new reporters under her wing. She had a keen nose for a news story – something we often joked about – and, somehow, she always kept a cool head, no matter how tight the deadline. More than anything, though, she was a lot of fun to be around and a wonderful friend.

“Jane built and nurtured a great number of relationships with people across the housewares and home improvement industry over the years and I am in no doubt that she will be greatly missed.”

The funeral is at Hastings crematorium on August 19. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, it is expected that family and close friends will take up the 30 allocated places.

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