Christmas Party

Christmas Cheer, Anyone?!

What a year it has been! With the COVID-19 pandemic dominating our year and lives, socialising properly in person has been all but a distant memory. So we may not be able to meet in person all together like we usually would, but we can still party on Zoom!

Join us online for a Christmas get-together? Let’s spread some seasonal cheer, celebrate friendship and close-off 2020 in style while looking forward to what we hope is a happier, healthier 2021 for us all.

When?

Thursday December 10, 2020. 12:30pm – 2:00pm, GMT.

Where?

In the Zoom Room! You can book via this link here.

Dress Code

Dress to impress if you like – a sparkly tiara and fancy-pants outfits are more than welcome! Or even your cosy Christmas onesie if you prefer. Bring your favourite tipple and nibbles.

There will be a prize for the best festive outfit!

Treat Yourself

We usually do a Secret Santa at our Christmas party, where everyone spends £5 or under on a gift for another Growing Club woman, so this year, why not treat yourself instead?

Using the magical connection of Zoom, we can spend this time together and allow us to create small group spaces for connecting in breakout rooms.

We’d love to see you there! You can book your place via this link.

Jane Binnion

WISE Woman of Lancaster: Jane Binnion!

We’re delighted to announce that our founding director, Jane Binnion, has been nominated for the Women of Inspiration list: The WISE List 2020, where 100 leading women have been nationally recognised for their contribution to UK social enterprise and impact investing during the COVID-19 pandemic, in partnership with social enterprise publication Pioneers Post and NatWest.

Jane has worked throughout the pandemic, supporting women in business and those who were just starting enterprises when the first UK lockdown occurred. She has prioritised mental and physical wellbeing in the network of women within The Growing Club, formulating a strategy around support and techniques to stay focussed and motivated with peer sessions and one-to-one coaching.

Face-to-face courses were quickly transformed to online experiences and offered wider than the Lancashire venues as previously existed. Weekly virtual drop-in Zoom sessions were used as goal-setting and check-in opportunities. 

Jane said:

“I am delighted to have been nominated for the WISE List, and thrilled to see so many women making an impact in social enterprise settings.

“COVID has been the most challenging situations we have found ourselves in, with the follow-on effects being devastating on so many people’s business and working situations, let alone the health impacts.

“The Growing Club CIC made it a priority to support and assist our network of women however we possibly could, and from the early days of the pandemic sweeping across the country, we discovered that women would be the worst hit on a business level. Our ethos has and always will be, that women need a level playing field in business, more than ever in a COVID and post-COVID economy. The UN3said that the lack of equality between men and women was still imbalanced before the pandemic, but when COVID hit, it was “layered on top of existing inequalities”. 

“Our work at The Growing Club helps us to strive to correct inequality through providing skills and entrepreneurial training, bespoke for women, so that they can thrive and progress sustainably.”

Tim West, founding editor of social enterprise publication, Pioneers Post, said: 

“Social entrepreneurs are by no means the only people who have had to face big pressures and make hard decisions during these unprecedented times – but what stands out in so many of these stories from our WISE network is that while battling to keep their own social enterprises from the jaws of the pandemic, their focus has remained on the mission, and their first thoughts have always been for the people and communities they were set up to serve.

“This year’s WISE Women are clearly showing Covid who’s boss. We’re so pleased that our partners at NatWest Social & Community Capital were keen to highlight these stories through our WISE programme this year, and are overwhelmed by the number of exceptional women who have been nominated.”

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Lancashire Women’s Peer Network

The Growing Club CIC is delighted to be part of the government initiative, Peer Networks, which brings together a diverse group of business owners and senior leaders as a group in a safe space, to discuss business challenges and how they can be overcome.

The initiative will be delivered through group sessions that are action-led and reflective, using peer feedback to create practical solutions for business blocks.

Build Back Better

Our expert facilitators, Jane Binnion and Lorraine Birch, will create the safe and supportive network needed to help build and strengthen your business. From finance and HR, crisis management, to sales and marketing challenges, the peer network will be a supportive arm to help you improve the overall performance of your business.

Why a Women’s Cohort? 

Even in the best of times, we know that women leaders of SMEs and not-for-profit organisations carry a large workload and worry on their own. It is clearly stated that women entrepreneurs have been heavily economically disadvantaged by the COVID19 pandemic. Female-led businesses, often in sectors vulnerable to economic shocks, have experienced a higher rate of closure during the lockdown, and many more are struggling with the unprecedented situation. 

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have allocated funding for a Peer Networks Programme to support organisations through this difficult time. Knowing the specific challenges faced by women in business, The Growing Club, via Boost Lancashire, has secured a portion of this funding to run a cohort specifically for women in Lancashire. 

So what are Peer Networks? 

It is a known fact that accountability to our peers is a powerful motivator. 

The aim of this funded programme is to provide a safe learning environment with trained facilitators, where local women entrepreneurs and senior managers can share the difficult issues their businesses are facing in the current pandemic. 

Using action-learning methodology, any issues can be discussed within a supportive group framework, with the intention to create change.

Subject-specific trainers will also be available to offer assistance with any areas needed, such as finance, marketing, HR and recruitment. 

Course participants will receive: 

  • A total of 18 hours of action-learning group work, through 2.5 hour Zoom sessions each fortnight (with a break for Christmas). 
  • Two sessions of two hours, of one to one coaching. 

There are ten places available (only one place can be allocated per organisation)

The cohort starts on Friday 20th November 2020

Dates and Times

Sessions will run on a Friday morning, from 10am – 12.30pm

November 20th

December 4th

December 18th

January 8th

January 22nd

February 5th

February 19th (We are hopeful that this final group session might be a socially-distanced, face-to-face celebration)

Is this programme for you? 

Eligibility

– Women applying for the course will be the owner of a business, or a senior decision-maker within an organisation. 
– The business (including not-for-profit organisations) must be Lancashire-based.
– The organisation must have been operating for at least one year. 
– The business must be small to medium-sized (SME) with between 5 & 249 employers (associates count as employees for creative industries ).
– Business turnover must be £100,000+, pre-COVID19. 
– Participants will be women who value peer-support, collaboration and are open to learning.

How to apply

Fill in your details via this Eventbrite link here and we will send you an application form.

Once the completed application form has been submitted, the applicant will receive a telephone call to confirm eligibility and take some details. 

Participants will complete a detailed survey at the start, mid-point and end each the course, and also, at the end of each session, to enable quality monitoring and to capture the impact that the programme has upon the participating businesses. All information given will remain confidential and in accordance with GDPR. 

Women who accept a place on the course are expected to commit to the full length of the programme.

The Facilitators

Jane Binnion is a qualified and experienced adult trainer and group work facilitator. She is the owner of Ethical Business Training, author of The Heart of Sales and founder and MD of The Growing Club CIC, an employment and enterprise training organisation for women.

Lorraine Birch has been a business owner since 1996 and says she has: “latterly matured to become an experiential mentor/trainer, with an unending desire to see women in leadership roles build resilience, create long-term success by investing in themselves and identifying and confirming their inner skills.”

Any questions? Please email Jane@thegrowingclub.co.uk

To find out more about the Peer Networks initiative, click here.

To find out more about The Growing Club please visit our website here

Women in business

Support for Women-in-Business – in Lancaster, Lancashire & Beyond

Something for every woman-in-business in Lancaster, Lancashire and beyond. Affordable and funded support for you, and your business 

We know this is the hardest of times and so many of us are weary, but if you have started to turn your attention towards your business or employment possibilities again, then we have a huge selection of courses and opportunities coming up this term for you. And while we don’t normally blog about what’s on, we feel that right now, it would be really helpful to bring it all together in one place for a nice, easy read.

So here goes, in date order…

October

We have very carefully started face-to-face delivery again this week, as we ran the first session of the new cohort of our start-up programme. It was equally odd and wonderful to meet together after seven long months of delivering courses via Zoom. 

Growth & Sustainability

While we adapted our work and course to online delivery via Zoom, we saw that women joined us from all over the UK and beyond, so we are still offering online courses. In fact, we are very excited to be offering our popular growth and sustainability programme as an online course for the first time, starting this month. So if you are interested in this course but don’t want to travel to Lancaster, this might be the perfect solution for you. It’s incredibly affordable*, convenient and we have condensed the curriculum into a six-month programme. You can find all of the details and how to book, here

Peer Mentoring

Our Peer Mentoring programme for women running businesses in Lancaster is going so well, we are opening a second cohort on October 14th. This is a fabulous initiative where you train as a mentor – a great life skill – and you also get your own trained mentor for 12-months. Working in partnership with Lancaster City Council on the COVID-19 Recovery & Resilience Initiative, this comprehensive training programme is fully funded for women who have been in business for at least three years. If this interests you, you can apply here.

November

Employment & Enterprise Skills Training

With high rates of unemployment right now, we are pleased to be able to restart our Employment and Enterprise Skills Training courses for women who are unwaged and looking for their ‘What next?’ opportunity.


Working in collaboration with the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA), we can offer this fully-funded, small group course to you if you are in Lancashire, deemed to be economically inactive and want support to help you take the next steps. 

The next course is face-to-face, starting on 4th November and is based in Lancaster. You can book your place via this link here

Medium-sized businesses?

We have also been awarded a contract to deliver a brand-new UK government initiative of peer-to-peer action learning for women running businesses or not-for-profits in Lancashire, who, up to the pandemic, had £100k+ turnover. 

This programme consists of 18-hours of action learning plus four-hours of one-to-one coaching. The training is fully-funded and it will run every two weeks, on a Friday morning, starting mid-November. Please note this course is limited to just 10 places. If you would like to apply for a place, please email Jane@thegrowingclub.co.uk for an application form.

In addition, we are running our monthly skills workshops and weekly drop-in sessions via Zoom. Follow our Facebook page to stay up to date

 If you have questions about any of the above, please email jane@thegrowingclub.co.uk

*If you are a woman running a business in Lancashire who wants to join this programme but have a cash-flow problem right now, Boost Lancashire has agreed to pay your fees as a Pay-It Forward grant. That means that you get the support you need now, and when you’re back on your feet, you pay for other women to do the same.

Bloom and Grow - Online growth and sustainability course (6 months)

Bloom and Grow Goes Global!

Are you a woman running a small business which has been impacted by the pandemic? 

Then we have some good news!

Pandemic problems

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
* Accountability 

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.

The Growing Club CIC

Back Her Business

In September 2019, The Growing Club became a regional business support delivery partner for the NatWest Back Her Business Initiative.

It has been a big concern for us that women starting a business can’t get seed funding, and if someone is starting a business from being on state benefits, which quite a few Growing Club start-ups are, finding money for simple items such as business cards is a big deal, let alone a website, laptop or other essential equipment.

For us, Back her Business is a great initiative for women start-ups because crowdfunding brings in much-needed support and NatWest match the fund – up to 50% of the target. In addition, it’s a fantastic marketing exercise.

But it isn’t easy. It takes time and energy and it can be scary. After all, it involves asking for help and money: two things that don’t always come easily.

In this video, Jane Binnion interviews two women – Helen Dixon and Elaine Remy – who ran successful crowdfunder campaigns during the COVID-19 lockdown.  The interview shows what it’s really like to crowdfund, answering questions posed by women interested in running their own crowdfunding campaign, as well as Helen and Elaine’s top tips for success.

If you are interested in using Back Her Business to kick-start your start-up, you will find full details here, or email Jane@thegrowingclub.co.uk to discuss your idea and see how we can support you. 

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The Growing Club Stories: Wendy Jones

My name is Wendy Jones and I run WJ Cleaning Company.  My journey started in 2013 when I suddenly and unexpectedly became a single mum.  At the time, I was a stay-at-home mum who volunteered in my son’s school.  It was a very traumatic time for both myself and my son and the will to survive kicked in. So, I got a job as a teaching assistant and set up an ironing service which meant I could work at home and care for my son.

My ironing customers started asking for cleaning services as they knew my standards were high. As my son got older, I took on more cleaning work. I loved working in school but soon realised I could not progress, so I looked at taking on a staff member to help with the cleaning and the rapidly-increasing number of customers. 

I put a note up on Facebook asking who could help me grow and employ staff and up popped Jane Binnion! Before I knew it, I was pitching my business ideas (along with nine other startups) to a group of 10 business people in front of an audience who had paid to watch. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to work with a business coach and marketing coach for six months, which gave me the confidence to leave my ‘proper’ job and run the business full time.

I also undertook the Bloom and Grow programme with Jane and The Growing Club, which gave me the foundations and confidence I needed to grow. Since then, my business has grown, albeit in an up-and-down kind of way, but Jane and The Growing Club have been there when I needed them, whether that is just to let off steam in the drop-in or do one of the many workshops around subjects like social media and marketing etc. I was able to sell my house to buy somewhere larger with my mum so she can help with childcare and I can help her which further strengthened my foundations to concentrate on the business.

At the beginning of this year, we had just started cleaning for a large business in Carnforth, as well as all the residential properties we still did.  I had a team of around four people who I could offer regular employment to, alongside a couple of self-employed cleaners who helped out when needed.  

Like millions of others, I was then halted in my tracks by the global pandemic. My overwhelming thoughts were with my staff. As a result of the timings I was not able to furlough any of them, which was a disaster. I had one cleaner stranded in Kartoum and another who had to shield. 

Residential cleaning was not viable and we could not work from home.   Again, all through this, The Growing Club and mentor were there for advice and support, having quickly made all their services available online.

My son has additional needs and was being home-schooled and my mum was in the clinically extremely vulnerable group. Left with no alternative, I paused the business. 

However, I had had a taste of what things could be like running a business and managing and training a team, and I am confident I will do it again. Customers are coming back but unfortunately, the large commercial clean has stopped for the foreseeable future. 

I have spent time training and getting to understand exactly how this pandemic will change the cleaning industry. I feel passionate about providing good employment and training to a workforce who have largely been seen as ‘unskilled.’ Effective commercial cleaning is going to be a vital part of the economy’s recovery. It has made me all the more determined to provide a high-quality, effective cleaning service alongside great employment opportunities for staff.  

The cleaning industry is very supportive of one another and I have formed relationships with wonderful people and businesses across the world.  This pandemic has made us all think and prioritise what is important for us and our businesses.  The Growing Club is one of those things that I would have been lost without, both before and during this unprecedented time.

I am looking forward to recruiting more staff, training and supporting businesses as they open up to this new world – none of which would have been achievable without The Growing Club and the wonderful people I have met through it. We will shortly become a limited company, ready for growth again. We are very lucky in Lancashire to have this invaluable resource!

Coronavirus

Coronavirus: Have Women Fallen Off The Business Agenda Again?

The Growing Club runs employment and enterprise training for women in North West England.

When coronavirus hit, we were unable to continue with our training programme in our usual face-to-face delivery, in small groups. However, we have continued to work from our homes and we adapted quickly to the lockdown situation, delivering all of our programmes online within a week, with additional programmes added to our offering. As we received the government small business grant, we prioritised to keep going, paying the team and ensuring we were around to support the many women we work with.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) conducted their Quarterly Labour Force Survey and found that women and young people (under 25s) were more likely to be disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with long-term economic consequences for these groups. This, they believe, is due to the groups being more likely to hold employment in areas that have been forced to close down due to the pandemic and social distancing requirements, like restaurants and hotels for example. 

And the UN has also issued a warning of the global COVID-19 crisis increasing inequalities for women. The UN’s senior gender adviser, Nahla Valji, said:

“There is no single society where we’ve achieved equality between men and women, and so this pandemic is being layered on top of existing inequalities, and it’s exacerbating those inequalities.”

We surveyed women within our network, on the impacts of COVID-19 has had on their own businesses. Some of the themes that have arisen include:

Businesses

The responses received showed that the majority of women have been affected by the pandemic, with many businesses needing to close. One respondent stated: 

“My business has ‘fallen off the edge of a cliff’ and I have furloughed myself.” 

Finances

The impacts for women whose businesses have suffered under the pandemic are varied, with several women stating that their income has been dramatically reduced and they’re unsure what the future holds. 

One respondent stated:

“I had to stop working mid-March. It has been tough, not just financially, but emotionally too.  I have had to apply for Universal Credit which is upsetting as I was getting to the point that I was reaching the point where I wasn’t needing benefits for much longer.”

Home-schooling

Many women have assumed full caring responsibilities for young children, along with having to teach them from home. Several of those children have additional needs, resulting in the women being unable to work on their own business, if it is still active.

The pressures of taking on a domestic role, with often the male partner working full time from home.

One respondent stated:

“[My business has] totally stalled since I am now trying to home-school children. I’m not making anything…I don’t have the energy to work on online selling.”

Wellbeing

Many women report feelings of overwhelm, with tiredness and worry impacting them on a day-to-day basis. Lots have reported being proactive in dealing with these feelings, and trying to prioritise self-care, through yoga, meditation and other methods.

Maintaining support for our women

Our plan for prioritising the women from our network has worked well so far – the women appreciate that we have stayed around to help them stay focussed and motivated during a tough time. The weekly virtual drop-in sessions have become weekly goal-setting and check-in sessions. Keeping in touch and helping to keep women buoyant has become our priority. 

We have even added new programmes: a daily 10-minute neck and shoulder exercise session live on our Facebook page; weekly Monday morning workshops to help women start the week well, prioritise and stay focussed; and we have even launched a women and leadership course.

Urgent concerns

However, we are also very concerned by what we are seeing and hearing from some of the women who use our services.

We already know women are hit hardest by poverty.

There is still an assumption that this country is one of happy, nuclear families.

The reality is some women and children are now in lockdown with abusive and violent partners and some women are having to live on next to no income. One woman who has been self-employed for just over a year, not only has to wait until June for her self-employment support payment, but also expects to only get £95 a month. She is a single mum.

The hardest thing for us to see is women unable to participate. Women with young children on our  employment skills course had to immediately drop-out.

And women running businesses are unable to give attention to their enterprise when they have  caring responsibilities. We fully understand that keeping safe is priority and we are totally reinforcing that message. But what it means in real terms, is that small businesses led by women with caring responsibilities will fall behind those run by men, and that women are carrying that responsibility even when they have a male partner at home furloughed, or also self-employed.

We talk a lot about women doing the double shift – running a business and a home. But this situation has really demonstrated that domestic responsibilities are not shared equally, even when they can be. 

The outcome of that is women cannot attend to their business, or take part in the many business support sessions being delivered via Zoom.

We are guilty of that too. We have a number of sessions running at 12.30 . It’s normally not a problem, but in these times of all children being home-schooled, it’s now the children’s lunch break. We are aware now and have made changes, but this situation is not being heard at all by business support leaders – because it’s just another ‘women’s issue’. 

What are the consequences of ignoring this? 

While the business support world is all about getting the economy restarted, post-COVID19. There is no sense of how many businesses are run by women. The impact on local economies and individual families who once again find themselves struggling on low incomes is going to be huge. We would like to see national statistics on the business impacts on women from COVID-19, but it’s unlikely there will be any.

Post-lockdown, we absolutely must place great weight on creating a level playing field for women. Extra financial support should be prioritised for women running small businesses, on a local and national recovery agenda, because these women have had the critical jobs of caring for and educating our children, caring for the elderly and running homes at the expense of their own businesses. 

It’s heart-breaking. So many women were just getting into their stride, building businesses on their own terms, using their skills and gaining confidence.

We can no longer say we are planning for economic recovery without planning for economic equality.

We will recover, but once again, it will be done with women having one hand tied behind them.

Tinbox Angel

Growing Club Stories: Amanda Gallagher

My experience of being a woman in business during Covid-19 pandemic

My name is Amanda Gallagher and I am the owner of Tinbox Angel, which is a micro-manufacturer of handbags and accessories. 

Tinbox Angel workshop

In January 2016, I joined the first cohort of women who had applied for a place in The Growing Club. The Growing Club is a CIC organisation helping women run and grow their businesses to their full potential. It was an exciting time for my business, and I underestimated the impact that joining this group would have on my future success.

After attending a seminar where Jane Binnion (founder of the GC) presented the pros and cons of social media at my son’s high school, I was suitably impressed and decided to look her up and booked her for some Facebook training for my business. After knowing more about my business, Jane suggested I attend the taster session for a new support group she was hoping to create, for women in small businesses. 

I was a little reluctant to go and thought ‘not another networking event’ but something resonated with me. I went along, nervously to the taster session. I was warmly greeted and met other women, some with ideas for new businesses and some with businesses more established than my own. All the women were so friendly and helpful and for once, I didn’t like a fish out of water, there was no competitiveness or underlying aim to this group, it was simply to help women like me achieve their potential.

It has been over four years since I attended this initial meeting, and subsequent monthly training group which developed from that first session, and as a result, my business is so different to how it was then. I regularly attend other training through The Growing Club, and there is always something of interest on offer. Also, I meet my peer group and trainer from the original cohort regularly to discuss any issues we have with our businesses. Jane regularly mentors me, especially when she can see my focus is slipping. This peer group has been invaluable to me and I have a deep affection for every single one of these women, and I have no doubt that without the support The Growing Glub gave us in the early stages, many of these wonderful businesses would not be around today.

After about three months of joining The Growing Club, the realisation hit me like a thunderbolt that my business didn’t need to be a passive income and it could actually support my family and potentially provide employment for other people. The Growing Club had started to give me the tools and the ambition to think big and took me completely out of my comfort zone. It also supported me to ensure these thoughts were achievable and not just dreams.  

Suddenly my mindset changed. I had to look at why my business wasn’t creating me any income, never mind any profit, and at this point, I had to change the entire way I was operating. 

The hardest thing and still is today is having to say no to people. I found early on in my journey, that making one-off designs for people was never going to work and neither was some of the products I had enjoyed making for so long. I had to look at simplifying my whole business. 

I invested heavily in someone to help me with my marketing and a website, bought some industrial equipment, stopped doing the one-off designs, and concentrated on my range of products that I could produce quickly and effectively. My business was no longer a small cottage industry, selling at school fairs: I was sending products across the country and further afield.

The changes I have had to make haven’t always proved popular with my customers, and I have lost quite of few of them from my early years; many who liked to set me challenges for little or no reward, and I am glad that I have freed myself from the hold of that this kind of business had over me. They were stopping me developing my business any further.  

I  decided never to discuss my business with anyone other than my ‘cheerleaders’. All of my Growing Club peers are my  ‘cheerleaders’: we are travelling the same paths. I have learnt so much from being too open, people always have an opinion or an idea, so I politely listen and smile and usually say, oh I must try that when I am quiet. 

I have learnt to believe in myself and love what I do. Now and then, I say to myself, “Wow you are so good at this!”.  This is not something I would ever have done a few years ago, not even 12 months ago. The imposter in me still rears her ugly head now and then, but I know when she does, I simply create a new design or read my reviews. It knocks her right off her perch! 

I know people look at me, and think ‘who does she think she is?’ or ‘she wouldn’t have got where she was without her early customers’, but in my heart of hearts, I know I deserve to be here and it has been sheer hard work that has got me here today.

I would say I am still on a huge learning curve and if my business was a mountain, I’m probably only half the way up the steep incline, but I can see the summit and what it is going to look like when I get there. I have no doubt that without the support from The Growing Club I would not be at this stage and probably still making aprons for school fairs. I have had some really tough times personally and professionally over the past few years, and since having The Growing Club in my life, I know I have a lifeline, and I boy have used it, especially recently during the Covid-19 pandemic.

My business experienced amazing growth over the past three years and since moving to Lancaster City Centre in September, orders have been consistent and I was starting to considering how I could take it to the next level and possibly look at employing someone to help me. I was so busy and my business was consuming my every waking moment of my life.  

My turnover had tripled from the previous year and I was trying my best to control the growth and also ensure I could still provide the level service people had come to expect from me. January sales came and went, and February is notoriously a quiet month, and I was looking forward to time to breathe before Spring orders came along. 

This year, however, it didn’t happen. The internet orders didn’t arrive, Lancaster town centre was deadly quiet and customers were no longer popping in. It was a different story less than three weeks previously, where some days I had not managed to produce any products for people calling in placing orders. 

I had no orders. I kept saying, it’ll come next week, but it didn’t. People were watching the news and the reports about Covid-19 and were worried witless about their livelihoods and wellbeing. The lockdown, although we knew it was coming, was such a shock.   

The night of the announcement, I travelled to my workshop and loaded up my car with materials and equipment. This wasn’t going to be a problem for me, I had worked from home until six months previously – I would just have to turn the clock back, but this proved impossible. My large workbenches and heavy industrial equipment could not be taken home. My suppliers were closing down, one-by-one, the orders weren’t coming in, so I decided to give in to the lockdown, stay home and listen for guidance from the government. 

All the time we are listening daily to the death rate going up, this virus was coming and no one was immune. Who can blame anyone for not feeling like a leather handbag was what they needed? My finances had been shot to pieces too. I couldn’t expect people to behave differently than myself.

After a difficult six months – the closure of my husband’s business coincided with my business moving into premises – my anxiety was at an all-time high and our finances were so stretched. This was sure to put the nail in the coffin on all my hopes and dreams. 

Important announcements were made early on, that was going to change our situation, and for that, I am so grateful.  They were allowing self-employed people to register for Universal Credits and also removing the minimum income floor for people, which was a huge relief for my family.  Without this, I have no doubt I could not feed my family.  

The government also insisted mortgage companies allowed three months’ holiday for people, another massive help for our household.  In addition to this, because my business had rates relief on the business premises, I was eligible for the £10,000 grant. I applied for it, and never for one minute thought I would get it. Who had ever heard of the government giving this kind of money away? It was just unthinkable. It was at that point that I started to worry, but the £10,000 landed. I am grateful to the local council for being so proactive distributing this.

I have been so grateful for so much online assistance providing help in the form of training, mentoring, meditation, wellbeing, motivational help and peer groups. The Growing Club has been exceptional in the support they have offered. Isolation would have been a lonely place without all this help available and I will never forget the organisations and people who are providing these services I am using daily to help me get through it. 

My son was doing his A-Levels and things may have changed for his future regarding awarded grades due to cancelled exams, which could affect his university choice. My daughter is in year 10 – another key year. I’m grateful my children are older, therefore the home-schooling hasn’t been a problem. We have a nice garden too, so isolation hasn’t been an issue, and we live next to the coast, so exercise has been a pleasure. We have enjoyed our time together. I feel blessed.

I know I will come back stronger than ever after having this time to concentrate on the engine room of my business and I am so grateful for the financial assistance I have been awarded. It’s only a short-term fix and I will have to work so hard to get back to where I was before the virus struck. I fear this will take years rather than months, but I know I have been one of the lucky ones.

Half of businesses are just one payroll away from cashflow disaster and it has made me realise that it’s so important to have a contingency plan in place. We have already lost some great British companies before Covid-19 and I know we will lose more before we come out of this.  

We are all human and we all need help sometimes. In this instance, most of us have needed help and for once, I think we will be better people for it. If only so many people hadn’t had to lose their lives during this crisis.

2020 is a year never to be forgotten.

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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: Amanda Topps

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