IMG_8475

SIMRA, Social Innovation & The Growing Club

SIMRA

For the last three years, The Growing Club has taken part in the Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas programme, or SIMRA, for short.

The project is an EU-funded scheme under the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme. The description of the Horizon fund is:

“Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020) – in addition to the private investment that this money will attract. It promises more breakthroughs, discoveries and world-firsts by taking great ideas from the lab to the market.”

European Commission, Horizon 2020

The aims of the SIMRA project are to examine social innovations in agriculture, forestry and marginalised rural areas across Europe and the Mediterranean region in particular. 

As The Growing Club, we have been supported by Lancaster University, which is a SIMRA partner. Since 2017, Dr Sophie Alkhaled at the Department of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at the Management School has been observing and working closely with our co-founder, Jane Binnion as the English case study for SIMRA’s Innovation Actions. Jane has guest-lectured on Sophie’s modules on numerous occasions, inspiring undergraduate students with her experiences and resilience as a social entrepreneur and innovator. 

On the 26 September, we took part in a SIMRA – Social Innovation Action – workshop at Lancaster University, led by Dr Sophie Alkhaled, where we were given the opportunity to meet other Social Innovation projects like the Sewing Café Lancaster. We heard from the café’s Kiki Callihan, where she talked passionately about the aims of the project – improving sustainability while encouraging community wellbeing and cohesion through skill-sharing. The workshop was a supportive space to share our work so far with Lancaster City, Lancashire County and Cumbria County, along with the Federation for Small Business, Boost Lancashire – as stakeholders.

SIMRA

Through engaging in partnerships with agencies like the above – along with business networks – we’ve reached policymakers, allowing us to advocate for the voices of the many women within our organisation.

Jane Binnion, founder and director of The Growing Club, said: 

“It’s been an absolute honour to be the English case study for SIMRA. I have personally felt incredibly supported by Dr Sophie Alkhaled – she’s been someone I can talk ideas and thoughts through with. Through SIMRA, we’ve been lucky to fund Katie Birks, a Growing Club graduate, to design and build us a fantastic new website has been such a boost to our organisation, reaching a wider audience. 

“I recently went to a social innovation think tank in Aberdeen. I was made to feel very welcome there and it felt good to be a part of an international initiative. I had never thought of The Growing Club as a social innovation prior to this, but knowing that we are being placed in that category, feels as though we are achieving our goals on a bigger level.”

Jane Binnion of The Growing Club

Social innovations across the world

Another excellent project which is of great interest to The Growing Club and is under SIMRA, is the Economic Empowerment of Women in Deir El Ahmar, 75 kilometres from Beirut.

The project is centred around homemade food, which has been turned into a business opportunity for local women from the village of Deir el Ahmar. 

Through selling items like jam, pickles, dried fruits and delicacies, the women are supported financially with a sustainable business model which impacts community cohesion and partnership. It also serves to enhance the confidence and skills of the women, which helps with wellbeing and economic independence for them and their families.

This is a really powerful example of a how investing in women brings a good business return on many levels and links well to a quote spoken on International Women’s Day in 2003, by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan:

“When women thrive, all of society benefits, and succeeding generations are given a better start in life.” 

Kofi Annan, 2003

We have retained that quote within The Growing Club as a strong principle in our messaging.

How we help female-led businesses

The Growing Club’s work comes under SIMRA’s ‘marginalised rural areas’ section, with our social enterprise’s mission to support women in business – particularly women who are side-lined from success by a variety of reasons, including through disabilities, lack of funding, in receipt of benefits or low pay and also, not having the correct support infrastructure to have a sustainable business.

Through the delivery of our unique training programme, which was created to address the gaps in small business training and education for women, our peer-support network of other women business owners has been transformative.

We’ve been running successfully as a not-for-profit organisation for three years, with over 80 women from across the north-west of England joining our business training course, Bloom and Grow, where women learn the business skills required to build their business to a sustainable level.

But we’re not just interested in women who are already running their own businesses. Our organisation is rapidly making a difference to other groups of Lancashire women. 

Our pre-start-up programme is called The Sowing Club, where we help women who are deemed to be socially disadvantaged. Our course initially ran across Lancaster and Morecambe, inspiring 40 women who were in receipt of benefits or in low-paid work, to re-engage with their skills and dreams to create a better life for themselves and their children. The women had incredibly varied backgrounds, all ages from the mid-20s to early 60s, with women taking part who had disabilities, women refugees and women who have escaped domestic violence. A new cohort of this programme is currently running, funded by the European Social Fund.

Roots and Shoots is our start-up course, which follows on from The Sowing Club, where women will be ready to start their own business. This course is a 12-month funded programme, focussing on how to start and grow a business that is sustainable.

Our organisation has worked with nearly 300 women so far.

Women’s economic empowerment 

In 2013, the MP for Basingstoke, Maria Miller, wrote

“To secure the recovery, we need to do more to maximise our competitiveness and harness female talent, both for the benefit of the UK economy and for the financial security of women and their families.” 

Maria Miller MP, 2013

Similar findings were identified in a 2016 Deloitte report, which showed that an increase in the rate of female-led new business to 10% would contribute £180bn to the UK economy by 2025.

A March 2019, a parliamentary briefing looking at women in business and their participation in the UK labour market found that 19% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK with employees were led by women in 2017.

It also showed that women were less likely than men to be involved in entrepreneurial activity, which includes owning or running a business less than 3.5 years old.

Encouragingly, figures from June 2018 showed that 29% of directors of FTSE100 companies were women. In the FTSE250 (the next largest 250 listed companies outside the FTSE100), 24% of directors were women. 

This is great progress, but we must not forget socially disadvantaged women who also have so much to offer. 

How do we help female-led businesses?


We support women in business and women who want to start a business, bridging the gaps in business education and supporting those women who have been left behind.

We use a peer-based support model, using mentors and role models, which is where so many women feel isolated in business due to the lack of support in this way. Our training programmes help women to grow in confidence whilst reconnecting with their existing skills and goals. 

An example of how we supported women to reclaim their personal worth is through a recent course that we facilitated at The Growing Club. Sunflowers was a training programme especially for women aged 50+ who are unemployed, unwaged or facing redundancy. Redundancy is a huge challenge in this age bracket for women, due to a variety of barriers they come up against securing further employment.

One of the biggest blocks for us currently, is the Universal Credit system. We work closely with local Jobcentres, however, Universal Credit is still so new and grave mistakes are being made that impact women, including some not being referred to the New Enterprise Allowance scheme, when they are absolutely entitled to be. Helping women with no capital to start businesses is hard enough and this has had the biggest impact on the morale of our course attendees and additionally, on our outcomes. 

A crucial aspect for women in business that is often forgotten about is wellbeing. We’ve just launched a new project called Healthy Biz, Healthy You, funded by Sport England. The course focuses on the health and wellbeing of women in business, which is a downfall for so many women. 

We researched some of the reasons why women in business neglect their self-care. Responses were varied, but sobering, from women stating they feared failure, couldn’t switch off and feeling guilty for not being constantly available work-wise. This is often because women are still doing the double-shift: working full time and still carrying the biggest share of domestic tasks. This impacts upon health and wellbeing greatly. We address that through a bespoke exercise and meditation programme, teaching women to incorporate our methods throughout their routines.

Social innovation

We’re genuinely grateful to have been part of the SIMRA project. It’s changed our perspective of how we see ourselves. Through continuing our work as The Growing Club – a social innovation – we will ensure that we bridge the gaps in business education for all women who attend our courses, through providing powerful mentorship and quality peer-support. These factors are crucial for women to build and grow sustainable businesses

Ginny Koppenhol

Growing Club Stories

Ginny Koppenhol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Women are awesome at supporting one another!” 

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

Ginny’s website: www.gkoppenholphotography.com 

FB page: www.facebook.com/ginnykoppenholphotos/

Instagram: www.instagram.com/ginnykopp/

Healthy Biz

Learn How to Have​ a ‘Healthy You, Healthy Biz’ With The Growing Club!’

Healthy You, Healthy Biz

Last week, we received a grant from Sport England, to fund a brand-new project: fitness and relaxation for women running small businesses. 

Women and fitness is not a new concept of course, and there are many examples of initiatives aimed at getting women and girls to take up sports.

But here at The Growing Club, we are focussing specifically on women business owners. 

Why? 

We help women to set up and grow sustainable businesses. We’ve worked with over 300 women so far, but time and time again, the thing that we see which blocks sustainability is the lack of self-care. Whilst for many women running smaller organisations self-care is seen as a bit of a luxury, the reality is self-care is essential, because if you are a sole trader, what happens to the business if you become unwell?

Recently, a question was put to women in business on a Facebook group, asking: what stops women taking care of themselves? The answers were sobering:

  • Feeling guilty about taking a day off.
  • Fear of failing, I push myself harder than I probably should, no downtime and rarely a day off.
  • Lack of being able to switch off and totally relax.
  • Fear of failure. Constant anxiety and a lot of my family are negative about my idea o feels an uphill battle.
  • Switching off even on holidays and days off, it’s hard to ignore your phone. I have fibromyalgia, so every day is a challenge. I think I push myself too hard, so I can allow myself to give in to it.

All of these issues are down to women still doing the double shift: working full time and still carrying the biggest share of domestic tasks. This obviously impacts women who own micro-businesses more, as they are less likely to be able to afford help at home, such as a cleaner, nanny etc.

Not addressing this will mean we do not address the rate of failure amongst women small business owners.  And this sums up why many women feel they have to quit business…“The reason I gave up was because I never had downtime. I never felt I could refuse a call.”

Illness

But it’s a bigger issue than that even. We have seen a very disturbing trend when it comes to women’s health, with a significant increase in strokes, heart attacks, diabetes and an all-time record high of burnout. 

It was shocking to discover that each year, twice as many women die of a stroke than breast cancer – did you know that? And the risk of stroke is a third higher for women in stressful jobs, because we eat fast food, self-medicate, stop exercising and pile the weight on. Heart disease kills six times as many women than breast cancer every year. In the UK, an average of 65 women per day dies of heart disease.

The crazy thing about those statistics is that we could really reduce those figures with some simple lifestyle changes. And that is what our course, Healthy You, Healthy Biz is all about. 

We all know the clichés: put your own oxygen mask on first; you can’t pour from an empty cup…and so on.

We know it, but we don’t act on it and in fact, self-care becomes just another stick to beat ourselves with, as we try to relax slumped and exhausted on the sofa with a glass of wine and bar of chocolate, mindlessly scrolling Facebook.

How?

The aim of our initiative is to use The Growing Club ethos that women have come to trust: peer support, buddying and creating a safe space, to work together as a group on our eight-session course. 

Healthy You, Healthy Biz is designed so that women are able to incorporate some form of exercise into their daily or weekly routine so we are making it accessible with no fancy equipment required…think cans of baked beans rather than dumbbells!

We’ll be using a pick-and-mix exercise programme, which includes dance, strength work, walking, yoga and Pilates. But because we have found women are unable to relax, we are also adding simple meditation and self-massage. We believe that if we can learn to relax, we are more likely to be able to jump off that never-ceasing hamster wheel and make time for ourselves generally.

Sharanya Sekaram wrote

“It was a courageous act that started with acknowledging that they had needs, that their needs were important, and that those needs deserved to be met.” 

Sharanya Sekaram

This is not an easy process, but our work is all about addressing the hard stuff.

The first course started on Friday October 18th in Lancaster and is proving to be a huge success. The next course is in Morecambe and starts Monday January 13th. You can book on that course here.

There will then be two more courses at different locations with varying days and times, to make it as accessible to as many women running small enterprises as possible.

For more information, please email jane@thegrowingclub.co.uk or call Jane on 07521 314926

The Growing Club CIC is a social enterprise based in Lancaster designing and delivering enterprise skills courses for women.

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)