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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.