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Voices From The Frontline: A Film

Lancaster’s The Growing Club CIC has launched a short film as part of the Lancashire Innovation Festival. Voices from the Frontline is a thought-provoking film by women aged 50-plus – as business owners and employees – on their hidden skills and daily triumphs.

Just before lockdown hit, a group of women aged 50-plus came together to work with The Growing Club CIC for two days. This project was funded by Rosa, and aimed to share the women’s experiences, reflect on their life journey, skills and create a short film. The team comprised of Alison Cahn and Frances Bowen of Forgebank Films, photographer Ginny Koppenhol and group workers Jacqueline Harris and Jane Binnion.

Voices From The Frontline

The Growing Club CIC is a social enterprise based in Lancaster, designing and delivering employment and enterprise training and support, especially for women, from skills to startup, to sustainable business growth training.

Societal changes

The Pensions Act (2011) changed the age range for women receiving a pension from 60 to 66. This is a critical issue that has caused much debate, along with social and financial difficulties. Women have rich skills and experience, they feel more confident, and they want to be able to continue to work and share their knowledge and expertise. 

Conversely, societal attitudes towards older women have not changed. This means many more women have ended up unemployed, or are expected to take on low-paid insecure work. This has resulted with more women in poverty. The week before the film launch, Prospect Union shared research that showed there is a 37.9% difference in retirement pay between men and women. Much of this is due to the fact that many women become unpaid carers at some point in their life and career.

The women explored issues surrounding this age bracket, with the group identifying commonalities in themes. These centred around: caring responsibilities and support, being economically viable, the scant information available for women moving from being a stay-at-home parent into work and business, opportunities and networking being made available, easy and visible for women over 50.

Women’s experiences

Women who took part in the filming spoke on the issues they have faced:

 “If I applied for a job at my age, I wouldn’t get looked at because if you’re looking at IT jobs for women, they’re within a certain age band…I would like to contribute more to society. I do some voluntary work, but I just feel as though I’m not at the end of my working life yet.”

Shirley

“There’s such a wealth of knowledge, experience, that we can share with people who are younger than us.”

Jennifer

“I want to teach children because there’s a generation gap in education, especially in arts and crafts. There have been so many cuts and people just don’t learn anymore. I think it’s important. In my job, I organise workshops to try and pass on those lost skills.”

Gabriella

Lancashire Innovation Festival

Voices from The Frontline film was launched in October 2021 at The Dukes Cinema in Lancaster, during the Lancashire Innovation Festival. The festival aimed to showcase social innovation as the design and implementation of new solutions that demonstrate conceptual, process, product, or organisational change. Ultimately, this aims to improve the welfare and wellbeing of individuals and communities. 

 “We wanted to make the film to explore the issues of female eldership, which is valued in some societies and not others, and to highlight the issue of wasted skills and talent. This is even more relevant now with current skills shortages”

Jane Binnion, managing director of The Growing Club

At the film launch, Jacqueline Harris led a discussion in small groups, enabling all to take a new look at how the social issues raised could be addressed. Feedback from the film launch included emotive words such as “powerful,” “enlightening” and “humbling”.

People also were asked what they might do differently as a result of seeing the film and participating in the discussion. Examples of comments received were: “I will value older people’s back story”, and around learning to ask questions differently on the values and many roles that older women have played, and the resulting experience they can bring to the table. Members of the audience were alarmed at how so much skill and experience is simply wasted as a nation. And additionally, the lost opportunities there are when employers hold a limiting mindset as to what skills are valuable.

Many of the older women present at the launch reported that they felt more confident and hopeful. They stated they will approach things differently going forward, recognising what skills they have developed, rather than writing themselves off.

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.”

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.

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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!

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.