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.

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

Growing Club Stories: Kate Manders

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

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

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.

jane binnion, founder, the growing club

MEET THE FOUNDER: JANE BINNION

The co-founder of The Growing Club, Jane Binnion, is a finalist for a Lifetime Achievement Award from She Inspires.

Here, Jane tells us a little about herself, her background and how she came to create a successful social enterprise to help women in business on all levels.

Tell us about some of your struggles in your childhood.

“After a tonsillectomy went wrong when I was four-years-old, I was left with a lifetime of speech and hearing problems. And yet now I stand in front of groups and talk about things that are important to people, including doing business differently and defining success on our own terms. Despite years of being in and out of hospital and speech therapy, it seems I was always meant to do this.


“I also grew up experiencing domestic violence, in a poor working class family. I left home at 16. Somehow, I put myself through sixth form, despite living alone in a 
bedsit. 

What happened after after college?

“In an interview at Essex University, they saw something in me and offered me an unconditional place to study sociology. That was my escape and I then spent the summer volunteering on a kibbutz.


“From there, I did postgraduate youth and community training and was a youth worker for 20 years in the more difficult and socially deprived areas of Birmingham and Lancashire.


“At 34 I became a single mum and raised an amazing daughter who came on fantastic adventures with me, including volunteering in a remote village in central Ghana.

You’ve experienced being on benefits as a single parent – what happened with that?


“Whilst employed as an advocate in a young men’s prison, a shoulder injury left me and my daughter just £80 a week Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to live on. I thought we were going to lose the house as my injury left me unable to drive. So I set up a business from home which, other than having my daughter, was the best thing I’ve ever done.

You’ve authored two books up to now. How did you start writing?

“At the age of 10, my daughter was diagnosed with dyspraxia. We then discovered I also was dyspraxic. That led me to write the first ever children’s storybook about Dyspraxia – a beautiful book called You’re So Clumsy, Charley. The emails I get from parents about the difference that the book has made to their children’s self-esteem is a huge reward to me.

“My next book was The Heart of Sales, an ethical sales skills book, as so many business owners struggle with the concept of sales and selling as part of a business.

How was The Growing Club created?

The Growing Club was an experiment I started through my own business – Ethical Business Training, as I saw a real gap in business training and support for women running micro-businesses. 

So back in 2016, myself and Rachel Holme invited women to work with us on a 12-month programme and the rest is history, as they say. 

We now have a thriving social enterprise and have already had more than 250 women go through our courses from all over North West England.

What would you say is your biggest achievement?

“Despite my disabilities and start in life, through working as a youth and community worker, women’s self-defence trainer and business trainer, I have given hundreds and hundreds of women the confidence to stand their ground, develop their skills and follow their dreams.”

What tips would you offer to women in business?

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

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

Roots and Shoots

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

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

What is it?

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

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

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

Funding available

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

What they said

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Your Trainer: Katie Birks

Introduce yourself, please!

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

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

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

Tell us a fascinating fact about yourself.

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

What inspires you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me about your training course in Lancaster? 

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

Anything else?

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