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Women-Only Business Groups Fail to Empower? Not Here They Don’t!

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? 

Elaine wrote:

“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. 

the sowing club, realise your business, women in business, business and enterprise, funded courses, lancashire, cumbria

Sowing The Seeds for Business in Morecambe

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.

Handy information 

When?

From Wednesday 15 January (The Spring course begins on Tuesday 18 February 2020 at the Women and Enterprise Hub, White Cross Business Park, Lancaster.)

Where?

Stanley’s Community Centre, 78-83 Stanley Road, Heysham, Morecambe, LA3 1UT

Time?

10.00hrs-12.30hrs

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

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Growing Club Stories

Janet Hampson

janet hampson

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.”

Bay Casting

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 Biz

Learn How to Have​ a ‘Healthy You, Healthy Biz’ With The Growing Club!’

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. 

Why? 

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.”

Illness

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.

How?

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.

Sharanya Sekaram wrote

“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.

The first course started on Friday October 18th in Lancaster and is proving to be a huge success. The next course is in Morecambe and starts Monday January 13th. You can book on that course here.

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 jane@thegrowingclub.co.uk 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.

jane binnion, founder, the growing club

MEET THE FOUNDER: JANE BINNION

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 
bedsit. 

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?

  1. Find or create a good support network.
  2. Self-care is essential – not a luxury.
  3. When you feel like quitting, rest and re-group.
  4. You can NOT do it all yourself.
roots and shoots, graduation, business support, north west

PUTTING DOWN ROOTS AND SHOOTS: BUSINESS START-UP TRAINING FOR LANCASHIRE’S WOMEN

Roots and Shoots

We’re delighted to announce the new course intake dates for the second delivery of Roots and Shoots – a funded start-up course for women who would like to start and grow a sustainable business. Could that be you? 

Beginning in June, our Roots and Shoots course runs over 12-months and has been specially created for those women who have a business idea and want to get started with it.

What is it?

The aims of the course are to take women through a systematic programme of starting and growing a solid sustainable business. We’ll show you the skills you need to run a small and successful business.

We’ll be by your side for the whole course, and we’ll surround you with a strong peer support network and our dedicated women-in-business trainers.

This course is the second wave of the start-up training, run by ourselves at our social enterprise, The Growing Club. We’re a creative business training organisation for women and we’ve has running for over three years in Lancashire. Our courses have seen over 60 women from across the north-west graduate from the business growth course and upwards of 200 women complete additional courses from our enterprise.

Funding available

Thanks to our friends at The National Lottery Fund, we’re able to offer Roots and Shoots as a fully funded course for women in receipt of benefits. If any women are not claiming benefits, we’ll ask for a donation towards the course fees, on a sliding scale which is based on your household income. Here at The Growing Club, no one will be excluded from accessing the course due to limited income. 

What they said

Jo Bates, a recent graduate from Roots and Shoots, set up her own business in natural soap making, called Rhubarb. Jo said:

“I’ve learned a lot of things that I’d never have known anything about, particularly on the marketing side. Also about understanding the customer and what it is I want to achieve. I didn’t know where to start, so the course was really valuable to me. 

“It’s fantastic to know that you’ve got someone you can ask for support and advice anytime. It’s made a massive difference to my everyday wellbeing.”

Jane Binnion, one of The Growing Club’s business trainers, said:

“We set up The Growing Club because there wasn’t any specific business education for women. The government has an agenda where if we get more women start-ups, it will really boost the local and UK economy.

“It’s really important that if we want that to happen for the economy, if we want to get more women in business, we absolutely need to do more female-friendly business support.”

“The whole programme was about taking the women from a standing start – from just an idea – right through to navigating obstacles, building confidence and really understanding the issues for women in business, so that they are able to use their skills to earn their own living.”

Why not come to the introduction meeting? This is going to be held on Wednesday 12 June, at 10.00hrs until 12.00 midday. You’ll find us at The Women and Enterprise Hub, 6-0-5 Alston House, White Cross, Lancaster LA2 4XQ.

For more information on the The Growing Club, please contact Jane Binnion or Lisa Corkerry: admin@thegrowingclub.co.uk or call 07892 712417

We require an 80% course attendance rate. Find the course dates for Roots and Shoots below – all session times start at 10.00hrs and run until 12.30hrs:

  • 2 July, 23 July
  • 6 August, 27 August
  • 3 September, 24 September
  • 8 October, 22 October
  • 5 November, 26 November
  • 3 December, 12 December 
  • 14 January 2020
  • 11 February
  • 10 March
  • 14 April
  • 12 May (Course graduation)
katie birks, growing club trainer, bloom and grow, lancaster

Meet Your Trainer: Katie Birks

Introduce yourself, please!

My name is Katie Birks from Katie Birks Branding & Design. I spend my time doing all things creative, from website design, branding, book covers to hand lettering and map illustrations.

When I’m not perfecting one of my design projects, you might find me on the yoga mat, in front of the big screen (film and tv is one of my favourite ways to experience downtime or escape) or planning my next trip abroad.

With a background in photography and production, I’m often intrigued to visit local art or photography exhibitions, particularly if I’m out of town or on a business trip – it’s a great way to add some culture to my relaxation time.

Tell us a fascinating fact about yourself.

If it counts as being fascinating, I’ve ridden an ostrich?! Although, however much of an amazing experience it was, I wouldn’t do it again and would rather make sure these animals are looked after properly and in fair conditions, because you never know how they’re treated on the other side, away from the public.

What inspires you?

As usual with creatives, inspiration comes and goes. In fact, I often find it pops up where I least expect it… and it comes in a variety of forms. It’s often from other creatives or entrepreneurs, whether they are professional artists, online inspirations or local business women – they all offer different types of inspiration to me – sometimes in the form of advice, or sometimes from the outside looking in – you can gather and learn new ideas this way too. 

What I’m reminded at in these times is to always look ahead – to broaden my horizons, experiment with something new or different (however big or small) and remember, there is no such thing as failure, only feedback.

What made you decide to be a trainer for The Growing Club?

Building a successful business can be a very empowering experience – but it can also take over your life. Being able to sustain, develop and make a business into anything you want it to be and do it in a way that contributes or aligns with your personal life, is a different journey all of its own.

Building a sustainable business requires time, commitment and perseverance and often a subject that you are truly passionate about.

I believe that anyone who has the dream to build a business, deserves the opportunity to be supported through the process of building it – to be part of a community, a network and a support system, which helps them achieve their goals.

For me, The Growing Club gave me the space, community and support that a sustainable business venture needs to blossom – and I’d like to offer that to any other person who could benefit from such an experience.

What are some of the pitfalls for women in business that you’ve experienced?

One of the most common pitfalls or problems for women in business can be that the majority of start-ups founded by women are done without a team or support network, which creates a very lonely and often scary environment to start building a business from.

The Growing Club offers a range of courses for women at all stages of their business and with varying levels of commitment. All of which includes an excellent peer-support system, a place for women in business to talk, problem solve and learn from one another.

Having a community of like-minded women to bounce ideas off, ask for guidance or even just meet up with for a coffee, can make a massive difference in keeping their business, goals and mindset on track. 

How can The Growing Club help women to grow their businesses sustainably?

One of the biggest things I gained from The Growing Club was confidence. Confidence in myself, whether that was in realising I was the only one in control of my business, making decisions or knowing my ability both professionally and creatively was ‘good enough’. 

There is a certain phrase that you have to be ‘good enough’ to run your own business – but good enough compared to what?! Because there’s no point in comparing yourself to others when they’re not you. You are your only self, with your goals and your business – no one else can be you, so gaining the confidence to own my business in its truest sense couldn’t have benefited me or my business more. 

In addition to the mindset, there are some key skills and training that support creating a sustainable business – from finance to sales, to automation processes. After making some minor adjustments to my day-to-day, I gained big benefits, including a deeper awareness of how to use my time (both literally and in how much my time is worth), a clearer concept of how to meet my goals and what was important to me. I also developed a fuller awareness of what I did and didn’t want my business to look like.

All of these things have provided me with ongoing skills to maintain a sustainable business and grow at the rate I want to, on my own terms.

If you could offer one time-saving tip to a woman running her own business, what would it be?

My one tip is that: you can’t control other people, you can only control what you do, what you say and how you do it. There are times when we all have to work around other people, or make sacrifices for the greater good of the business – but running a business should always be pro-active and not reactive. Don’t let other people rule how you work and spend your time, or you’ll find that you don’t run your business, they run it.

Tell me about your training course in Lancaster? 

Along with my co-trainer, Nicola Garrett, we start the Lancaster, 12-month Growth Programme in 2 weeks on May 21st 9:30-12:00. The last few spaces are currently available, so contact me directly: business@katiebirks.co.uk or get in touch with The Growing Club: admin@thegrowingclub.co.uk or call 07892 712417

Anything else?

Just that I can’t wait to get started with a new group of wonderful business women and watch them smash their goals!