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.
“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.”
As the autumn creeps in with its beautiful colours and cooler temperatures, we are now in the second lockdown in the UK, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
However, our work at The Growing Club continues, albeit mostly virtually! You can find all of the workshops and courses that are on offer during November in our quick and handy round-up below.
4th, 11th, 18th & 25th November – The Sowing Club new cohort starts (and runs into December). This is a fully-funded, six-week skills training course for women who are unwaged or deemed to be socially disadvantaged. Read more about the course here.
9th November – Bloom and Grow – the second session of our 12-month business growth and sustainability programme. Find out more about this course, specifically designed for women already running their own business, at this link.
16th & 23th November – The Gratitude Gallery (with dates running into December) with photographer, Ginny Koppenhol. Ginny will facilitate a month-long phone photography gratitude practice, designed as a mood-boosting creative group activity, during these challenging times.
The course will be weekly online workshops spread over four weeks, where you’ll learn phone photography and editing skills and use these to notice and record the aspects of your daily life that you feel grateful for.
At the end of the course, Ginny will also create an online gallery of your images to share more widely representing your moments of appreciation, experienced and captured. There are 10 spaces available Sessions are as follows (participants are asked to commit to all four): 1-2.30pm via Zoom. Click this link for more information and booking details.
20th November – Lancashire Women’s Peer Network begins. A funded programme from November to February is designed to provide a safe learning environment with trained facilitators. Women entrepreneurs and senior managers will be able to share the difficult issues their businesses are facing in the current COVID-19 pandemic. Find more information here.
26th November – Federation of Small Businesses, Mindful Management, with Dr Hazel Hardie. This session on Mindful Management will cover the 5 stages of mindful management. You will discover how to support the wellbeing of the people you work with, as well as creating an effective mindfulness practice for yourself. You will also learn about how to use mindfulness to improve your communication and relationships with others. Spaces are limited – to book online, click here.
30th November – Public Speaking Workshop: Find Your Voice, with theatre practitioner and facilitator, Emma Rucastle. The workshop will tackle the public speaking, which can be a worry for many small business owners, especially women, who have to present themselves and their businesses at a range of events – both formal and informal. In this interactive workshop, Emma will guide participants through a range of fun practical exercises, focusing on building confidence and finding your own voice. 10.00 – 12.30pm. Tickets are £10 and you can book online here.
Looking forward to December,there is a workshop is on creating and running effective Facebook adverts. Love it or hate it, people are using Facebook during this pandemic, because it is convenient for many businesses. If you have products or services to sell you might want to join in. Sarah Tinsley from Tech and Toast is recording a tutorial for you to view and keep. This will be available in the last week of November, with a live Q&A via Zoom on December 2nd. For more information and to book this workshop, please click here.
Are you a woman running a small business which has been impacted by the pandemic?
Then we have some good news!
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.
In September 2019, The Growing Club became a regional business support delivery partner for the NatWest Back Her Business Initiative.
It has been a big concern for us that women starting a business can’t get seed funding, and if someone is starting a business from being on state benefits, which quite a few Growing Club start-ups are, finding money for simple items such as business cards is a big deal, let alone a website, laptop or other essential equipment.
For us, Back her Business is a great initiative for women start-ups because crowdfunding brings in much-needed support and NatWest match the fund – up to 50% of the target. In addition, it’s a fantastic marketing exercise.
But it isn’t easy. It takes time and energy and it can be scary. After all, it involves asking for help and money: two things that don’t always come easily.
In this video, Jane Binnion interviews two women – Helen Dixon and Elaine Remy – who ran successful crowdfunder campaigns during the COVID-19 lockdown. The interview shows what it’s really like to crowdfund, answering questions posed by women interested in running their own crowdfunding campaign, as well as Helen and Elaine’s top tips for success.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
“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.
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.
We are really excited to be offering once again, a fully-funded six-week skills training course for women in the Morecambe area, starting on the 15 January 2020.
‘The Sowing Club’ course has been funded by the European Union’s Social Fund. The course will benefit women who are currently searching for a job, in further education or self-employment and who fit into any of the following categories:
in low-paid work
in receipt of benefits
suffer long-term ill-health
a lone parent
leaving a domestic violence situation
Our training sessions are provided in small and supportive group settings – we know this method gets the best results for you. We will be covering confidence building, how to maximise your existing skills, benefiting from support systems, problem-solving and how to plan for future opportunities.
The founding Director of The Growing Club, Jane Binnion, says:
“We have just finished the first course which ran at the Women and Enterprise Hub in Lancaster, and the results amazed even us. Women have said their experience was life-changing and everyone felt much more confident and focused on their future. It is fantastic what just 15 hours of good attention in small groups can achieve.”
A previous attendee of The Sowing Club said:
“The Sowing Club has been useful to meet women with a tremendous passion for life, brilliant creative ideas and an attitude that will shape a great future for every one of us. Gaining support, being positive and overcoming adversity has been the main themes, and I have benefited from the collective knowledge and input.
“I have particularly benefited from the moral support, and challenges to think and speak positively about the future; to be creative; to get on with it. To believe I can do it. I have benefited from being encouraged about my own ideas and from the positivity in the room.
“I think the continued surrounding support of The Sowing Club women will be vital to encourage and build my confidence.”
You can find the link to register for the upcoming course here.
From Wednesday 15 January (The Spring course begins on Tuesday 18 February 2020 at the Women and Enterprise Hub, White Cross Business Park, Lancaster.)
Stanley’s Community Centre, 78-83 Stanley Road, Heysham, Morecambe, LA3 1UT
Any other questions?
Contact us! Jane or Lisa at The Growing Club would love to help. Call 01524 383846, text 07892 712417 or email admin @thegrowingclub.co.uk
“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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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 email@example.com 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.
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