Paula Eales is plus-sized clothes designer and maker, based in Lancaster, Lancashire. She has taken part in the Roots and Shoots business training course with The Growing Club and also works for the organisation as an administrator.
Soaad Patel is the owner of Ayesha’s Attire, an independent boutique providing high-quality clothing that helps busy women dress well to feel good. Here she shares her story about how her business started, and how The Growing Club has helped her gain confidence and create solid business foundations. Soaad took part in the 12-month Roots and Shoots course – The Growing Club’s start-up course.
I’m Soaad, and my business is called Ayesha’s Attire. It’s named after my five-year-old daughter. As a single mum, she is my inspiration. What drives me is to give us both a better life. Before having her, I was very into fashion and loved buying clothes. But when I became a single parent I had to rethink my finances.
So I thought of the concept of buying pieces that I can wear over and over again, which are versatile and can be worn at home, or out with friends and so on. I also heard a lot of other women saying the same thing, so that’s why I started my business to help women buy affordable pieces which will go a long way. My pieces are modern, stylish and require minimal effort, you can dress them up with a belt or a scarf, but you don’t have to. Whether you’re a mum or a busy woman, these pieces help you look good. And when you look good, you feel good, and you have the confidence to tackle the day’s challenges.
Obviously, in this pandemic we’re spending a lot of time at home and want to be comfortable, but if you’re on a Zoom call you also have to be presentable. And this is what my business is all about, providing what women need in their new lifestyle, with high quality pieces you can keep for a long time, which are also comfortable.
I started my business last year before my daughter started school, but as she’s a child with a lot of energy, like most children that age, it was hard to concentrate on the business until she started in reception full time.
One of the reasons I started my own business was because I’ve always been a career-oriented person. I used to have five or six jobs at once, working in schools with children, and I loved it. When I became a mum, I felt like I’d lost that part of me, and I missed working, so I worked in retail for a while, but it didn’t have that problem-solving element which I enjoyed, so when a friend suggested I should start my own business, I started looking for suppliers, and it all went from there.
Obviously, I didn’t know how to run a business and I knew I needed support so that’s when I found out about The Growing Club. I had a chat with Jane Binnion and found out about all their courses and really liked the community feel of it. I also liked the fact that there are women at all stages in their business involved in The Growing Club, so whatever stage you’re at, people will relate to you and can help you.
My business is still fairly new, but I know a lot more than I did. For example, I didn’t know about getting the foundations of your business in place, and I went 10 steps ahead. But now thanks to The Growing Club, I know how important it is to do the right steps in order to be successful and to have a concrete business.
In 2021 I would like to continue to build up my customer base and grow my mailing list. When we’re allowed, I want to do pop-up shops as well, as they’re a great way to connect with people.
I’d recommend to other women that they get to know the ethos of The Growing Club, because they’re not like other organisations. It’s a community where women often go through the courses and then become involved in delivering them to others. I’m helping to facilitate the Sowing Club, for example, and I know other women have been through courses and gone on to volunteer and work with The Growing Club too, which is fantastic.
Overall, I’d say the main way that The Growing Club has helped me is with my confidence. I’m much more confident now than I was before I met Jane, and I’m really excited about the future of my business.
As the autumn creeps in with its beautiful colours and cooler temperatures, we are now in the second lockdown in the UK, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
However, our work at The Growing Club continues, albeit mostly virtually! You can find all of the workshops and courses that are on offer during November in our quick and handy round-up below.
4th, 11th, 18th & 25th November – The Sowing Club new cohort starts (and runs into December). This is a fully-funded, six-week skills training course for women who are unwaged or deemed to be socially disadvantaged. Read more about the course here.
9th November – Bloom and Grow – the second session of our 12-month business growth and sustainability programme. Find out more about this course, specifically designed for women already running their own business, at this link.
16th & 23th November – The Gratitude Gallery (with dates running into December) with photographer, Ginny Koppenhol. Ginny will facilitate a month-long phone photography gratitude practice, designed as a mood-boosting creative group activity, during these challenging times.
The course will be weekly online workshops spread over four weeks, where you’ll learn phone photography and editing skills and use these to notice and record the aspects of your daily life that you feel grateful for.
At the end of the course, Ginny will also create an online gallery of your images to share more widely representing your moments of appreciation, experienced and captured. There are 10 spaces available
Sessions are as follows (participants are asked to commit to all four): 1-2.30pm via Zoom. Click this link for more information and booking details.
20th November – Lancashire Women’s Peer Network begins. A funded programme from November to February is designed to provide a safe learning environment with trained facilitators. Women entrepreneurs and senior managers will be able to share the difficult issues their businesses are facing in the current COVID-19 pandemic. Find more information here.
26th November – Federation of Small Businesses, Mindful Management, with Dr Hazel Hardie. This session on Mindful Management will cover the 5 stages of mindful management. You will discover how to support the wellbeing of the people you work with, as well as creating an effective mindfulness practice for yourself. You will also learn about how to use mindfulness to improve your communication and relationships with others. Spaces are limited – to book online, click here.
30th November – Public Speaking Workshop: Find Your Voice, with theatre practitioner and facilitator, Emma Rucastle. The workshop will tackle the public speaking, which can be a worry for many small business owners, especially women, who have to present themselves and their businesses at a range of events – both formal and informal. In this interactive workshop, Emma will guide participants through a range of fun practical exercises, focusing on building confidence and finding your own voice. 10.00 – 12.30pm. Tickets are £10 and you can book online here.
Looking forward to December, there is a workshop is on creating and running effective Facebook adverts. Love it or hate it, people are using Facebook during this pandemic, because it is convenient for many businesses. If you have products or services to sell you might want to join in. Sarah Tinsley from Tech and Toast is recording a tutorial for you to view and keep. This will be available in the last week of November, with a live Q&A via Zoom on December 2nd. For more information and to book this workshop, please click here.
If you have any questions on any of the above courses or workshops, please drop Jane a message
Are you a woman running a small business which has been impacted by the pandemic?
Then we have some good news!
We don’t need to tell you that the pandemic has been hard on all of us who run small businesses and not-for-profit organisations.
Many of us had a crash-course in online tools and those who were able to, adapted to working online. Whilst it was not perfect, it had its positives and we learnt some good lessons.
One of the learning points for us was, by delivering our work via Zoom, we reached a much wider audience. We were delighted that women were able to join us from far and wide. In fact, many women have asked us to continue delivering some of our work online, as it saves travel time, and is just very convenient for some.
So, that got us thinking. Our inclusive, female-focussed, peer-based employment and enterprise training is pretty unusual. We are often asked to run our courses elsewhere in the country, but we simply have not had the resources to do it. By adapting our work the way we did during the lockdown, it helped us to realise that we could, in fact, deliver our programmes on a global basis. All without any of us leaving the comfort of our home or office.
Accessible business training
And so, our business growth and sustainability programme, Bloom and Grow, is launching as an online course in October.
Making courses like this available digitally is so important right now. It will help to support the recovery and resilience of female-led businesses, particularly because during lock-down, so many women took on the roles of homeschooling and caring duties. This meant that there was little time or energy left for their own business.
We’re very happy that running our Bloom and Grow course online makes it accessible to female business owners who are:
* unable to travel/reach Lancashire & Cumbria
* living outside of North West England and the UK
* looking to create sustainable growth post-COVID19
* looking to gain all the benefits without the travel
* enjoy the business benefits of a highly-subsidised business education programme!
While life is still so unpredictable it means we can provide:
* Sustainable post-COVID19 business education
* Peer support for business development and growth
All while working from where you are. And even better still, as part of our commitment to support economic recovery, we have significantly reduced the price.
This course helps you to focus on your business growth and sustainability as we navigate our way through this strange new time.
For full details and to apply for a place today on the online Bloom and Grow course, just click this link.
If you would like to read about the impact that our business growth course has had on other women running small businesses, please take a look at our blogs.
An opinion piece from our founding director, Jane Binnion.
Happy International Women’s day for March 8 2020! (To save you asking, International Men’s Day is November 19th.)
Did you know the first International Women’s Day took place in 1911, supported by over one million people? Understandably, some folk wonder why we still celebrate it, in a time when we apparently have gender equality. Well, I really look forward to the day when we do have equality for all but, both locally and globally, I’m afraid women still do not get a fair deal.
In January, Oxfam published a report stating women’s unpaid work is worth $10.8 trillion a year – three times more than the global tech sector. They calculated that every day, women and girls put in 12.5-billion hours of unpaid care work, whilst countless more carers are paid poverty wages. Here in the UK women still do 70% of domestic tasks, even when they work full time.
As a woman with a few miles on my clock, I have experienced my fair share of overt, subtle and organised sexism. You will have seen some of it yourself in the form of headlines about single mums, working mums, unemployed mums etc, with very little reference, in comparison, to single dads and working dads.
There was a recent headline that personally confused me: “Women only business groups marginalise and fail to empower members”. Now, this was a grand statement considering the researchers only interviewed 14 women in Northern Ireland. But, still it had the potential to undermine good work. So, as someone with a lifetime commitment to equality for all, and the MD of The Growing Club – a social enterprise providing employment and enterprise skills for women – I wanted to put the record straight as to why we run a women’s organisation.
Three main things motivated me to set up The Growing Club. Firstly, most female-led businesses are small businesses dealing directly with consumers (rather than business-to-business) and the criteria for mainstream business support here in Lancashire excludes these. Secondly, when over a 12-month period, three male business owners I knew died from heart attacks, I realised the traditional business education model, of work harder and longer hours, was bad for us. We needed a new and healthier business growth model, a model about sustainability. And thirdly, we had been hit hard by austerity in the North West and women carry the biggest burden of poverty.
In his 2003 International Women’s Day speech, Kofi Annan said:
“When women thrive, all of society benefits and succeeding generations are given a better start in life.”Kofi Annan
We believe investing in women is an effective way of building community wealth and wellbeing.
Obviously, I should not have to write this, and yet I seem to say it most days: women are not all the same! ‘Women in Business’ is a broad term that includes women like Deborah Meaden, Michelle Mone and Sue, who makes jewellery at home when her children are in bed.
One of the missions of IWD 2020 is: “To support women to earn and learn on their own terms and in their own way.” And this is what we do. We have worked with more than 300 women since starting in 2016, with a 95% success rate of women meeting their goals and 99% success rate of increased confidence and focus.
Do we marginalise and fail to empower women?
“Before I joined The Growing Club, I was just procrastinating. Procrastination is about emotions not productivity. You taught us to manage our emotions in a new way. To change the habit, you taught us to ‘dare’ to focus on the ‘bigger, better, picture’ you taught us self-compassion and to treat oneself with kindness. You have changed so many lives.”
And Pat wrote:
“I have, over the last two years since coming into contact with The Growing Club (and their courses), turned my life around, found hope for my future and realised that that potential and talent was always in me, but The Growing Club empowered me to reach it.”
So, I’m going to say the answer to the question of whether or not we marginalise or fail to empower women is no.
When I was new in business, just 10 years ago, there was nothing like this. As a social media trainer, I joined a business networking group, but as I walked in all I could see was a sea of grey suits. Try as I might to fit in, I knew it was not me. It was joining Pink Link, a women’s networking group that helped me build my confidence and a supportive network.
Women’s business support will not suit every woman and not all women are nice to each other, but we have created a growing network where women from all backgrounds come together as equals. Just last week, we started a film project for women aged 50+ to share their thinking on healthy ageing and being economically active. In the room, we had women from South Africa, India, Germany and across the UK. Women raised with privilege and those raised in hardship. All heard and respected each other’s experiences and I feel privileged to be a part of that, because it is uncommon.
If I had a wish, it would be that this International Women’s Day would be inspired by a conversation I had recently. I was explaining how a young woman was being sexually harassed at work and was considering quitting her job when another woman replied: “That’s just how it is” and recommended the young woman toughens up. It made me sad to realise some adult women think: “I coped, so why can’t they?”, rather than realising that no one should have to put up with such treatment.
So, my wish would be that as adult women and men, we use our experiences to reduce the impact of sexism for future generations, not simply accept it.
We are really excited to be offering once again, a fully-funded six-week skills training course for women in the Morecambe area, starting on the 15 January 2020.
‘The Sowing Club’ course has been funded by the European Union’s Social Fund. The course will benefit women who are currently searching for a job, in further education or self-employment and who fit into any of the following categories:
- in low-paid work
- in receipt of benefits
- suffer long-term ill-health
- a lone parent
- a carer
- leaving a domestic violence situation
Our training sessions are provided in small and supportive group settings – we know this method gets the best results for you. We will be covering confidence building, how to maximise your existing skills, benefiting from support systems, problem-solving and how to plan for future opportunities.
The founding Director of The Growing Club, Jane Binnion, says:
“We have just finished the first course which ran at the Women and Enterprise Hub in Lancaster, and the results amazed even us. Women have said their experience was life-changing and everyone felt much more confident and focused on their future. It is fantastic what just 15 hours of good attention in small groups can achieve.”Jane Binnion
A previous attendee of The Sowing Club said:
“The Sowing Club has been useful to meet women with a tremendous passion for life, brilliant creative ideas and an attitude that will shape a great future for every one of us. Gaining support, being positive and overcoming adversity has been the main themes, and I have benefited from the collective knowledge and input.
“I have particularly benefited from the moral support, and challenges to think and speak positively about the future; to be creative; to get on with it. To believe I can do it. I have benefited from being encouraged about my own ideas and from the positivity in the room.
“I think the continued surrounding support of The Sowing Club women will be vital to encourage and build my confidence.”
You can find the link to register for the upcoming course here.
From Wednesday 15 January (The Spring course begins on Tuesday 18 February 2020 at the Women and Enterprise Hub, White Cross Business Park, Lancaster.)
Stanley’s Community Centre, 78-83 Stanley Road, Heysham, Morecambe, LA3 1UT
Any other questions?
Contact us! Jane or Lisa at The Growing Club would love to help. Call 01524 383846, text 07892 712417 or email admin @thegrowingclub.co.uk
In the next in our series of blog posts introducing Growing Club women, we meet with Janet Hampson of JHPM to chat about taking the plunge into starting her own business and how The Growing Club has played a role in her success.
Janet first heard about The Growing Club online in Autumn 2018, when she saw an advert for ‘Crafty Women’; a course designed to support women who want to turn their art and craft skills into a viable business. “The big thing that caught my eye was that the training was being held in Morecambe, and not Lancaster,” Janet told us.
“Once I learned that Crafty Women was just one element of what The Growing Club offers, I started to look at what else might be a good fit for me. I moved away from the idea of craft pretty soon. I realised that the answer to what I should do next was right under my nose.”
Janet, whose background is in casting and who lives in Morecambe, was moved to start her extras agency, Bay Casting, when primetime ITV series ‘The Bay’ came to Morecambe for filming.
“The agency started by recruiting local people who wanted to be extras whilst I was still part of Crafty Women. The website went live in February 2019 and we got our first job – for Coronation Street – in May.”
Since then, Bay Casting has gone from strength to strength, and we are delighted that she has achieved the goal she originally set out with.
“We are now supplying extras to series 2 of The Bay. It’s now time to think about what happens next…”
As is the case for many women who run their own businesses, Janet has experienced the difficulties that working alone can bring, and shared with us how connecting with the Growing Club has helped her overcome some of these barriers.
“When you are self-employed – or intending to be self-employed – you can really miss having a sounding board. Having a place to say ideas out loud and get feedback has been fantastic. I found friendships, which are always a good thing.
“The main thing I’ve gained has been time to think and reflect. I’ve recognised my strengths, I can look at my skills with an outsider’s eyes,” Janet told us. “It gave me a big dollop of self belief.”
Janet’s journey started with a craft course but took a different route into representing extras for TV and film. We asked Janet if she had any advice for other women just setting out on their business journey. She said:
“For me, the realisation that the business training I was receiving was transferable to any business was an Aha! moment.”
“I’d say turn up for all the sessions. You might think ‘I don’t need to know x, y or z for my idea’ – but how do you really know that? And why turn your back on hearing from experts in their field? You never know what might spark an idea off.”
So what does the future hold for Janet and Bay Casting? Building on her initial success, Janet shared with us her plans for the future:
“I’ve recently opened another agency – this time purely for actors. Bay Casting was born out of wanting to do something locally, using the skills and contacts I already had.”
“The new agency, JHPM, gives me the opportunity to work with actors again – which is what I’ve done my whole working life. So far, it is working out really well and I’m feeling very positive about the future.”
Janet is continuing to work with The Growing Club, having signed up for our 12-month business growth course, Bloom & Grow, and we wish her the best of luck with her future projects!
Follow JHPM on Twitter @janethampson
JHPM on Instagram: @jhpmltd
JHPM website: www.janethampson.co.uk
Follow Bay Casting on Twitter @baycasting1
Bay Casting website: www.baycasting.co.uk
Healthy You, Healthy Biz
Last week, we received a grant from Sport England, to fund a brand-new project: fitness and relaxation for women running small businesses.
Women and fitness is not a new concept of course, and there are many examples of initiatives aimed at getting women and girls to take up sports.
But here at The Growing Club, we are focussing specifically on women business owners.
We help women to set up and grow sustainable businesses. We’ve worked with over 300 women so far, but time and time again, the thing that we see which blocks sustainability is the lack of self-care. Whilst for many women running smaller organisations self-care is seen as a bit of a luxury, the reality is self-care is essential, because if you are a sole trader, what happens to the business if you become unwell?
Recently, a question was put to women in business on a Facebook group, asking: what stops women taking care of themselves? The answers were sobering:
- Feeling guilty about taking a day off.
- Fear of failing, I push myself harder than I probably should, no downtime and rarely a day off.
- Lack of being able to switch off and totally relax.
- Fear of failure. Constant anxiety and a lot of my family are negative about my idea o feels an uphill battle.
- Switching off even on holidays and days off, it’s hard to ignore your phone. I have fibromyalgia, so every day is a challenge. I think I push myself too hard, so I can allow myself to give in to it.
All of these issues are down to women still doing the double shift: working full time and still carrying the biggest share of domestic tasks. This obviously impacts women who own micro-businesses more, as they are less likely to be able to afford help at home, such as a cleaner, nanny etc.
Not addressing this will mean we do not address the rate of failure amongst women small business owners. And this sums up why many women feel they have to quit business…“The reason I gave up was because I never had downtime. I never felt I could refuse a call.”
But it’s a bigger issue than that even. We have seen a very disturbing trend when it comes to women’s health, with a significant increase in strokes, heart attacks, diabetes and an all-time record high of burnout.
It was shocking to discover that each year, twice as many women die of a stroke than breast cancer – did you know that? And the risk of stroke is a third higher for women in stressful jobs, because we eat fast food, self-medicate, stop exercising and pile the weight on. Heart disease kills six times as many women than breast cancer every year. In the UK, an average of 65 women per day dies of heart disease.
The crazy thing about those statistics is that we could really reduce those figures with some simple lifestyle changes. And that is what our course, Healthy You, Healthy Biz is all about.
We all know the clichés: put your own oxygen mask on first; you can’t pour from an empty cup…and so on.
We know it, but we don’t act on it and in fact, self-care becomes just another stick to beat ourselves with, as we try to relax slumped and exhausted on the sofa with a glass of wine and bar of chocolate, mindlessly scrolling Facebook.
The aim of our initiative is to use The Growing Club ethos that women have come to trust: peer support, buddying and creating a safe space, to work together as a group on our eight-session course.
Healthy You, Healthy Biz is designed so that women are able to incorporate some form of exercise into their daily or weekly routine so we are making it accessible with no fancy equipment required…think cans of baked beans rather than dumbbells!
We’ll be using a pick-and-mix exercise programme, which includes dance, strength work, walking, yoga and Pilates. But because we have found women are unable to relax, we are also adding simple meditation and self-massage. We believe that if we can learn to relax, we are more likely to be able to jump off that never-ceasing hamster wheel and make time for ourselves generally.
“It was a courageous act that started with acknowledging that they had needs, that their needs were important, and that those needs deserved to be met.”Sharanya Sekaram
This is not an easy process, but our work is all about addressing the hard stuff.
There will then be two more courses at different locations with varying days and times, to make it as accessible to as many women running small enterprises as possible.
For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Jane on 07521 314926
The Growing Club CIC is a social enterprise based in Lancaster designing and delivering enterprise skills courses for women.
The co-founder of The Growing Club, Jane Binnion, is a finalist for a Lifetime Achievement Award from She Inspires.
Here, Jane tells us a little about herself, her background and how she came to create a successful social enterprise to help women in business on all levels.
Tell us about some of your struggles in your childhood.
“After a tonsillectomy went wrong when I was four-years-old, I was left with a lifetime of speech and hearing problems. And yet now I stand in front of groups and talk about things that are important to people, including doing business differently and defining success on our own terms. Despite years of being in and out of hospital and speech therapy, it seems I was always meant to do this.
“I also grew up experiencing domestic violence, in a poor working class family. I left home at 16. Somehow, I put myself through sixth form, despite living alone in a
What happened after after college?
“In an interview at Essex University, they saw something in me and offered me an unconditional place to study sociology. That was my escape and I then spent the summer volunteering on a kibbutz.
“From there, I did postgraduate youth and community training and was a youth worker for 20 years in the more difficult and socially deprived areas of Birmingham and Lancashire.
“At 34 I became a single mum and raised an amazing daughter who came on fantastic adventures with me, including volunteering in a remote village in central Ghana.
You’ve experienced being on benefits as a single parent – what happened with that?
“Whilst employed as an advocate in a young men’s prison, a shoulder injury left me and my daughter just £80 a week Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to live on. I thought we were going to lose the house as my injury left me unable to drive. So I set up a business from home which, other than having my daughter, was the best thing I’ve ever done.
You’ve authored two books up to now. How did you start writing?
“At the age of 10, my daughter was diagnosed with dyspraxia. We then discovered I also was dyspraxic. That led me to write the first ever children’s storybook about Dyspraxia – a beautiful book called You’re So Clumsy, Charley. The emails I get from parents about the difference that the book has made to their children’s self-esteem is a huge reward to me.
“My next book was The Heart of Sales, an ethical sales skills book, as so many business owners struggle with the concept of sales and selling as part of a business.
How was The Growing Club created?
The Growing Club was an experiment I started through my own business – Ethical Business Training, as I saw a real gap in business training and support for women running micro-businesses.
So back in 2016, myself and Rachel Holme invited women to work with us on a 12-month programme and the rest is history, as they say.
We now have a thriving social enterprise and have already had more than 250 women go through our courses from all over North West England.
What would you say is your biggest achievement?
“Despite my disabilities and start in life, through working as a youth and community worker, women’s self-defence trainer and business trainer, I have given hundreds and hundreds of women the confidence to stand their ground, develop their skills and follow their dreams.”
What tips would you offer to women in business?
- Find or create a good support network.
- Self-care is essential – not a luxury.
- When you feel like quitting, rest and re-group.
- You can NOT do it all yourself.