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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. 

Photo AT smiling

Growing Club Stories

Hello, my name is Amanda and my business is called Amanda Topps Consultancy. I run a health and social care consultancy, which means my day-to-day work involves research, evaluation and working with clients in person. 

I’ve been involved in the Growing Club since 2017 when I discovered the Sowing Club was starting up at the Cornerstone in Lancaster. I had recently left a 26-year career in health and social care working for a local authority. I was seeking what to do for paid work whilst I developed ideas for creating a unique, inclusive holiday retreat and community.

I knew I needed to learn about setting up a business as I’d never done this before, and I felt The Growing Club would be a safe place to learn with other women and gain confidence. The Sowing Club finished and I was invited to do a pitch at Angel’s Den, where local business people offered support for your idea to help you grow. I was actually very blessed, securing three business angels, all of whom have been fundamental to the development of my ideas and attitudes to business.  

Then I went on to do take part in Roots and Shoots – a year-long course involving more in-depth study about business start-up, including topics like finance, branding and self-care. As a result of this course, I gained an amazing mentor for three years – a relationship which is providing many foundational ‘A-ha’ moments, for example, learning about the fundamental importance of self-care. I also gained supportive friends from the course who particularly helped me with personal growth and building my confidence. 

Currently, I’m taking part in the Bloom and Grow course. We are allocated a buddy to share ideas and plans with and I find the monthly contact with Growing Club women and trainers of vital importance to help me develop in my business and working life. I often work from home, which means I can sometimes feel isolated, but The Growing Club enables me to feel connected and I know I can go to the weekly drop-in to co-work and connect. 

The courses have given me information and knowledge; people who I know will be in my corner and believe in my business and support me. The women have given me focus, inspiration and motivation when I was struggling; ideas and encouragement as well as a host of learning about different ways to set my business up – finance, branding, networking and ways to manage my time.  

My business and how I feel about it has evolved from being uncertain and limited, to becoming more confident, based upon my skills and passions in the social care sector. I’m doing some fabulous work with a national charity about employment and I am just starting some exciting life-changing work with people with learning disabilities. 

I definitely feel more confident: I know I have the knowledge I need or know where to find it if I don’t. Finding new work, contracts and money are definitely a challenge but I’ve learnt that I don’t have to know everything all at once and that I can cross that bridge when I come to it and get help at The Growing Club. I have learnt to quietly trust and be patient. 

Learning to delegate the things I am not so good at or will be a drain of my time, is a key piece of learning. I’ve learnt so many things, including taking opportunities when they come along, like Angel’s Den. I’ve learnt to ask for help and take the help that’s available; think about my contacts and how they may be able to help me; use networks like LinkedIn; meet new people at events and conferences; keep curious and open-minded when developing my business ideas and most importantly for me, follow my heart and values, my instinct and intuition when making decisions about my work, finance and lifestyle. 

As a person, I’ve become more open and able to be more vulnerable to discuss problems or challenges. I’ve also learnt to value my skills, knowledge and abilities. These changes may not have occurred if I hadn’t been in the safe, supportive environment of The Growing Club. 

Following networking at conferences, in 2020 I am developing some new opportunities, collaborating with people with whom I share values and aspirations for my work in health and social care. I am excited to do more collaborative work again and will enjoy learning from new opportunities and colleagues. I’ve developed an inclusive holiday with a national charity Through the Roof and we’ll be sharing time together at Sherwood Center Parcs this June.

Find me on LinkedIn.

Email me: Amanda@amandatoppsconsultancy.co.uk

Read more about Together Holidays at Center Parcs for people with and without disabilities here.

Read an article about the inclusive holidays that I wrote, here.

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

kate manders, GC2, graduation, growing club stories, bloom and grow

Growing Club Stories

Kate Manders

Hi, I’m Kate Manders and I own and run the Wagtail Deli Café in Arnside and the Wagtail Kitchen at Lakeland Food Park, Plumgarths, nr Kendal in partnership with my husband Steve.

Kate Manders

I’ve known Jane Binnion for a few years now.  We initially met around 2014 when my husband and I did some Facebook for Business training with her and I loved the way she delivered her training.  She was full of practical advice; I knew I’d found someone who could really help me.  I signed up for the newsletters! In 2016 Jane mentioned she had designed a course for women in business who wanted help, not just to achieve their goals, but to fit it round real life.  The Growing Club was the outcome, and the timing was perfect for me to sign up for the second cohort (GC2).  I’d just sold a previous business and was going into full-time catering with my husband.  We knew we wanted to make big changes but didn’t really have a clue where to start.

Being in the Growing Club was life changing.  I know you’ll be rolling your eyes right now, thinking I am some sort of over-enthusiastic groupie.  But honestly, I can’t think of how else to describe it.  I spent 12 months with a group of other like-minded women, all at different stages and from very different backgrounds.  But from our year together, we all have so much clarity in our business, and understanding of how better to balance work with the rest of your life, and a fantastic support network of people who are all rooting for each other.  This is what the Growing Club does.  It gives you the confidence to, well, to grow.

Since graduating from GC2, I regularly attend the Growing Club Graduates meet ups, and I have an ongoing business buddy.  That chance to receive and offer support to and from other amazing souls is worth more than anything for me.  We opened the Wagtail Deli Café in 2018 and have just started developing our Wagtail Kitchen brand.  I don’t think I would have the guts to do any of this without the Growing Club. 

I would always be happy to talk to anyone who is considering a Growing Club programme.  When something is this good, you’ve just got to share it. 

Visit: www.wagtailcatering.co.uk

You can read more of our fabulous Growing Club Stories here on our blog.

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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

Ginny Koppenhol

Growing Club Stories

Ginny Koppenhol

For me, The Growing Club came along at the perfect time. A few months before I started the very first Growing Club course as a member of ‘cohort 1’, I had taken a huge leap. I had worked for the NHS in mental health service for 14 years and decided to finally start work as a photographer and creative workshop facilitator (a long-held dream of mine).

One of the biggest struggles was leaving a close-knit team environment, to going solo. I had never run a business before either and so the offer of a course to help me get to grips with business basics was invaluable. Being part of The Growing Club course helped me gain clarity regarding my business focus.

I decided to follow my passion for portrait photography and started saying ‘no’ to the jobs I disliked. The support from my GC crew had the biggest impact. To travel this road with a group of fabulous businesswomen, all looking out for each other was so important (and remains so). 

Once the course was over, I joined The Growing Club Graduates scheme and still meet regularly with members of my cohort and those who have been through the course since.

I then took an opportunity to join Jane in co-running the start-up programme, Roots and Shoots. We are now on the second group and it’s another valuable addition to the ever-growing options for women needing business support and guidance.

I have created many images for The Growing Club’s promotion too. I love how women stay involved in the organisation, for years after their initial courses have ended. 

The regular reminders to create a vision and set intentions have become so important to me and my business. One recent and powerful example began when Jane and I sat down over 12 months ago to discuss my goals as part of a mentoring session. I identified my passion for creative portraiture and that I would like to have my first photography exhibition in a year’s time from that point. One year later, I was stood in front of 70 people who had come to the launch of my ‘Ablaze!’ exhibition in Morecambe. It was wonderful and surreal. 

I have taken away so many nuggets that I try to remember on a regular basis. My favourites include: 

“Your customers are looking for you, so make yourself as visible as you can be.”

 “Don’t compare yourself to others, just focus on YOU!”

 “Look after yourself! If you’re not healthy, your business isn’t either”

“Women are awesome at supporting one another!” 

If you’re a woman in business, I encourage you to get involved in The Growing Club. You will gain so much, but additionally, you also have so much to offer, whether your business is currently an idea or you’re well-established. 

Ginny’s website: www.gkoppenholphotography.com 

FB page: www.facebook.com/ginnykoppenholphotos/

Instagram: www.instagram.com/ginnykopp/

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.