Women @ Work

PUBLISHED: 13:33 18 March 2011 | UPDATED: 16:06 20 February 2013

Susan Christian

Susan Christian

Sarah Hart meets some of the ladies who launch... their own businesses thanks to WiRE

got the good idea and the motivation but lack the knowledge and the confidence of how to go about it.
But never has it been so good for women in rural counties, like Shropshire and Herefordshire, seeking to set themselves up in business.

The region's own inspirational success story, Women In Rural Enterprise (WiRE), Britain's only rural enterprise support organisation, has been at the forefront of helping women to turn their good ideas into businesses. Since launching 13 years ago at Harper Adams University College, Shropshire, it has helped 6,000 women by providing them with a full complement of business services, training courses and networking groups.

Today demand for its expertise has never been greater as more and more women choose to start a second career in mid life.

From life coaches, writers and food producers to clothing designers, soap makers and marketing consultants, WiRE has a broad spectrum of members across the UK. Here, some local WiRE members tell their stories.

WiRE: Harper Adams University College, Edgmond, Newport, Shropshire, TF10 8NB. Tel: 01952 815338

Jackie Crick
Gardeners' Delight, Shrewsbury

Jackie Crick, a former university lecturer and current chairperson of the Shropshire Cottage Garden Society, set up Gardeners' Delight taking people on day tours to beautiful gardens and other places of interest

"The idea developed after a disastrous 'gardening trip' I went on to Spain with my husband John. The courier was an ex-maths teacher whose horticultural knowledge was nil, and there was no prior information about the few gardens we visited. I decided I could do better and set up Gardeners' Delight in April 2006.

The business is growing all the time and if anything the credit crunch has increased it enormously. A lot of people have said that they'll do more of my trips instead of going on holiday.

This year I'm running 18 trips. Tours vary enormously running from March, when we follow the Vale of Evesham Spring Blossom Trail, to October, visiting gardens and arboretums particularly noted for their autumn colours.
As well as National Trust gardens we visit a host of private gardens, some of which the public rarely get a chance to see and gardens that are well off the beaten track.
One of the highlights this summer is a visit to Stockton Bury, near Leominster. We will be seeing the gardens outside of normal public opening times and finishing off with dinner on the terrace. Another is a visit to the wonderful Abbey House Gardens at Malmesbury, Wiltshire, the home of The Naked Gardeners.

I always recce places before taking visitors and do my research so I can give them plenty of information beforehand.

WiRE has played a big part in helping me to get going. I've been on courses for marketing and accounting and the networking has been invaluable.
I love this job because I'm just mad about gardens and plants.

I can't believe how lucky I am."

Tel: 01743 871279 www.gardeners-delight.org

Julia Bouston
Clutter Control, Bromyard, near Leominster

Julia Bouston is a professional de-clutterer who is called in to clear people's homes, offices, garages and gardens of hoarded 'stuff' that they no longer use. And as she's clearing out their cupboards they discover what a liberating experience it is

"We live in this consumer-led society where we buy too many things and don't get round to getting rid of the stuff we don't use or need anymore. But we can recycle it, donate it to charity or sell it.

I started to look round my own home seeing all these possessions. I didn't need 15 vases, half of which I didn't like. I gave most away to charity or friends.

One day I heard a podcast on Radio 4 of a very inspirational lady, Julie Morgenstern, an organisation and time management expert from the United States, who was reorganising people's homes. I read her book and realised there was a need for something like that here.

For many years I worked as a personal assistant so I'm very organised and efficient, and I'm impartial to other people's clutter.

I set up Clutter Control in October 2008 and joined WiRE around the same time. I wanted to be with like-minded people and mix in an inspirational environment. I also joined the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers.

My clients have ranged from a solicitor with a mountain of paperwork and a desperate need for a filing system to a house where every room was packed to the gills.

I've decluttered a kitchen for a man after divorce from a wife who hoarded kitchen gadgets; cleared a third bedroom for people selling a house; sorted out children's rooms and helped a woman whose wardrobe was bursting with outfits that she'd buy in three different sizes.

People hold on to stuff for lots of reasons but it holds them back in their life because they've got to clean it, move it, step over it. We always think we're going to sort out the clutter when we're not so busy but we never get round to it.

Often it's the big life-changing events like bereavement, divorce, moving home or children leaving home that lead to people feeling they need assistance. I'm not a minimalist, I help them sort through what's not important to the special things worth keeping, and I can show them how to reorganise their storage more appropriately.

We regain our life and space when we finally let go of things we no longer need or love. It's a cathartic experience. It feels wonderful."

Tel: 079886 92766
Email: julia@bouston.demon.co.uk

Pen Harrison
Colly Brook Fine Furnishings, Eastham, Tenbury Wells

Pen has been a WiRE member since its inception. She has built a highly successful soft furnishings business. But in February last year her commercial premises were hit by fire and she lost everything. She has battled back and opened a stunning new workshop and showroom in idyllic country surroundings

"I've being doing what I love for 15 years now. Before I set up my own business I was a computer support specialist. I was made redundant three times in quick succession so I decided to do what I always wanted to do which was to work for myself.

I had always loved sewing so took myself off on a City and Guilds course in soft furnishings and began to work from home. Things snowballed and I needed more space. We bought a barn and old agricultural buildings to convert into a home and workshop and in the meantime I rented commercial premises. But in February last year it burned down. We lost everything, 70,000 worth of stock and customer orders. But soon we were working out of new temporary premises in Ludlow and in September officially opened our fabulous new workshop and showroom here at Eastham.

I'm passionate about fabrics, colour and interiors. We offer a bespoke service for making loose covers, curtains and bed furnishings. We have an online mail order catalogue stocking everything people need to make their own curtains and blinds and we also run courses for curtain making, tailored loose covers and scatter cushions.

I joined WiRE to learn how to run a business. I did a lot of their training courses which I found a marvellous help with things like book-keeping, marketing and employing people. I also joined to network, to meet other people, to be inspired by and learn from them.

I currently employ one assistant but things are going so well I hope to take on another five staff by the end of next year."

Tel: 01584 781255 www.collybrook.co.uk

Sarah Yates
Mynd Art & Toys, High Street, Church Stretton

Sarah was a teacher for most of her working life but she had a long-held dream of opening a shop

"I suppose you could describe it as a bit of a mid life crisis. I wanted to prove I could do something different other than teaching. For a long time I had this notion that I wanted to open my own shop, an art shop that also sold traditional toys.

I joined WiRE while I was in the process of thinking what I wanted to do and they gave me the added confidence. I joined the Opening Doors project which taught me how to set up and run a business.

An opportunity arose to buy a toy shop in Church Stretton as a going concern so Mynd Art & Toys came into being 18 months ago.

There are four aspects to the business. I sell beautiful wooden toys from specialist suppliers as well as a range of fine art materials. I also took the step of offering a professional bespoke picture framing service that keeps me busy and I love to showcase work by local artists.
I felt the shop needed different elements to help it survive in a rural location."

Tel: 01694 723055 www.myndart.co.uk

Margaret Holmes
Ledbury's Bag Lady, Ledbury

Margaret was a "frustrated craftsperson" for most of her life until she finally took the plunge and set up her own business specialising in crocheted and hand-knitted bags

"I had worked in libraries and offices most of the time but l had always been interested in knitting, sewing and crochet work. It was always the last thing I was prepared to give up when life got too busy. I made things for my children and when they grew up I made things for myself.
We moved from the North East to Ledbury 15 years ago and for the first 10 years I had a full-time office job. All I could fit in was a bit of crocheting. But a few years ago I left work to look after a sick relative, and it was as if the tap had been turned on again. I could suddenly make my own designs, rather than follow patterns. I made a few bags for myself and friends. I made more and started selling them at craft fairs.

I joined WiRE four years ago, before I was a fully fledged business. It was a great support and a great source of ideas. Most of all it was the buzz of being around other people who were setting up businesses. I found it enormously invigorating and went on a number of courses. It gave me the extra motivation that you cannot give yourself when you're sitting at home.

I do a number of craft fairs including the regular fairs at Hellens Manor, Much Marcle, near Ledbury. I set up a website last year and also sell through that. My husband Mike, a former bus driver, has been making latch hooked rugs and cushions so we'll soon start selling those.
For the future I'm looking at selling design patterns and developing workshops for knitting bags. I'm keen on sourcing locally produced yarns and plan to start spinning my own."

Tel: 01531 634047 www.ledburysbaglady.com

Susan Christian
Trefonen, Oswestry

Susan Christian was a police officer serving in Liverpool for 15 years before she took early retirement on medical grounds. She moved to Shropshire in 1993

"I've always been interested in textiles, knitting, sewing. In 1995 I visited an exhibition at a gallery in Shrewsbury and saw some hand spinning. I hadn't realised that people still did that. I was fascinated and wanted to learn myself so I took a course and joined a handweavers' guild.

One thing led to another and I launched my business a few years ago. I have a large Swedish loom that is a fabulous piece of wooden engineering. I love the way it looks and the way it works. I love putting a warp on the loom and watching what I have envisaged on paper develop into a fabric.

I work with natural fibres, mainly silk, wool, linen and cotton creating one-off hand-woven textiles. My collections include scarves, pashmina-style shawls, throws, cushions, bags, table linens and bespoke towels.

I'm particularly inspired by Swedish domestic textiles. I adore their fresh checks and stripes and crisp linen fabrics. I can make individually designed towels to go with a new kitchen or bathroom.

I sell at high-end craft fairs in different parts of the country and I'm beginning to approach galleries and shops.
I joined WiRE two years ago and went on a lot of their business start-up courses. I've found them so extremely valuable."

Tel: 01691 671024

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