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      JOURNAL — A Woman's Work Q&A Series

      | A Woman's Work: A Q&A with Helen Fores of Spark Sensory |

      | A Woman's Work: A Q&A with Helen Fores of Spark Sensory |

      I met Helen through Baby Sparks baby sensory class - as she was the one leading it!

      The passion Helen has for neurological development through the senses and sensory play for babies really comes through in her classes and, due to her affable character, they easily became my favourite class to take Max along to. This was both for how much Max loved the activities and song, but also because of the catch ups and convos I could have with Helen and other parents.

      COVID has thrown a number of challenges Helen's way and her resilience and adaptability in the face of adversity has been an inspiration. Being a small business owner herself, she's been very supportive of LOMIE from the beginning and has been fantastic, particularly in, connecting us with local families and their babies for our product photography.

      Thanks so much Helen for taking the time to chat to us about your highs and lows. I hope that those reading will be equally inspired though learning about your story.

      Those who happen to be in the Nottinghamshire area can book Helen's classes here.

       

      Hi Helen! Please tell me a little about yourself and your background.

      Hello! I’m Helen, founder/owner of Spark Sensory and Baby Sparks sensory classes. Prior to launching my business I was a primary school teacher for 16 years across Nottingham. I’ve got two little boys; Charlie and Tommy, and a fur baby called Maxi. I think my obsession with creating the best baby and toddler sensory classes stems from a passion I have as an educationalist to support children from birth in their sensory and neurological development. I feel passionately that learning through play forms the building blocks for lifelong learning and it just feels an absolute privilege to spend time in that first precious year with new parents and their babies through their attendance at my classes.

      Helen Fores

       

      What is Sparks Sensory and Baby Sparks and what was the motivation behind setting them both up?

      Spark Sensory is the consultancy aspect of my business. My experience, knowledge and skills as a special needs teacher has enabled me to develop a consultancy role where I go into education settings, usually mainstream primaries, and offer training and ‘hands on’ work with staff and pupils on sensory integration practices for supporting pupils with additional needs. I also run conferences and provide remote support when required.

      Baby Sparks is quite literally, my baby! I deliver (with a small freelance team behind me) baby and toddler sensory classes across Nottingham. Every class is a full sensory workout for your baby and all that we do is based on up to date research and practice. The classes are fun, interactive, creative and developmentally appropriate at all levels for your little one. Prior to lockdown, we were delivering 15 classes across 4 days in West Bridgford, Keyworth, Beeston and Sherwood.

      Baby Sparks Nottingham

       

      Does ethics and sustainability come into play at all with what you do? 

      From an ethics perspective; yes absolutely. When I founded my business I wrote a set of values that I used as a guide for any business decisions I made. These focused on aspects such as ‘what did I want my customer to experience as a consistent service from me?’ ‘What values do I want to promote with education staff when I deliver training to them?’ and ‘how can I ensure that the customers experience is of such a standard that I am able to maintain high levels of customer retention.’ I created a values statement which included things such as ‘always presume competence’ and ‘above and beyond’ with regard to the service I provide. It’s helped me from an ethics perspective to focus on high customer service as a driver for profitability rather than simply focusing on profitability as a value.

      Sustainability is a more difficult one. In terms of the equipment I use, the majority is repeat use with very few items being single use only. I am mindful of disposing of any items with batteries (sensory balls) in a responsible manner and I often buy new equipment from charity shops (preferring wooden toys over plastic for obvious reasons). AS I branch out and continue to develop the retail aspect of the business, use of recycled packaging and organic, Fairtrade baby grows and t-shirts will be a priority.  

       

      Tell me about a particular highlight you’ve had within your career? What are you most proud of?

      I still suffer daily with imposter syndrome, COVID-19 has at times pushed me to the point of wanting to walk away entirely. However, I am so very proud of my resilience throughout the last 4 months and have promised myself I will look back on this time in the not too distant future and be able to say that I acted responsibly and with the best interests of all my customers at the heart of my decision making. In terms of other highlights, it sounds cheesy but I actually love it when a customer leaves me at the end of their maternity leave and we have a chat about their journey through motherhood and how the classes have impacted positively on that. Those conversations are the best. Then when working in schools, the feedback I get from staff about the positive impact and how their work with pupils has changed for the better, that is priceless because its real lives that are being impacted. There’s amazing job satisfaction in knowing that.

       

       

      Given the types of classes you offer, COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines have impacted quite dramatically on your business. You've been very creative in developing a new way of working going forward? Please tell us about this.

      Yes, dramatic impact is definitely a good way to describe it. Throughout the height of lockdown (March – June), my turnover dropped by 90%. The school-based work had to be placed on the back burner, mainly because schools closed! However, I used this time to increase my consultancy impact in other ways. I took on a freelance contract writing course material (on autism, sensory needs and the primary classroom) for a large online education CPD provider. This has proven to open further doors as I have now also agreed to become an assessor for the same company and am now assessing people as they train to become teaching assistants. It seems like a good role to adopt whilst the world adjusts to the new normal... however long that might take.

      In terms of the baby and toddler classes; we moved to online content and again, in line with my values I wanted to ensure this was accessible to all for as long as it was financially possible to do so. I created a ‘pay what you can’ approach and the turnover allowed me to work for 10 weeks generating a very small income to keep Baby Sparks afloat. Then after a short 3 week furlough period, to allow me time away from the business to reflect and learn lessons, I decided to move to a Zoom model in June and July, to enable a more interactive experience for myself and my customers. As the social distancing measures continued to relax, a face-to-face outdoor model for classes was developed. Throughout July and August, myself and one of my lovely freelancers, Kat, delivered a range of socially distanced outdoor classes. These were so incredibly well received, we had an absolute blast! Now as we move into Autumn and the weather becomes more inclement, we are planning on a move back to indoor classes. We are hoping this will happen around the 14th September. Our provision has drastically changed; fewer resources, no movement, safe social distances at all times. But, our values and vision remains the same and given that I feel I have maintained integrity throughout COVID, I am certain that our lovely customers will follow us back indoors and engage with the newly adapted, COVID secure Baby Sparks provision that we are super close to launching.

       

       What’s one piece of advice that you’d give for other women or mothers who are considering starting their own business?

        Don’t underestimate your own abilities. It’s hard work but no one works harder than a mum on 4 hours sleep and 3 cups of coffee! And research, research, research! You’ve got to know your market, your customer and yourself really. Focus on the end game; think big, start small - but do start!

         

        Photo credits to @lucyewarnerphotography

        | A Woman's Work - A Q&A with Author & Entrepreneur Annie Ridout |

        | A Woman's Work - A Q&A with Author & Entrepreneur Annie Ridout |

        Annie Ridout is a mother, journalist and author and has made quite the name for herself as an inspirational female entrepreneur. After creating the digital parenting and lifestyle platform, The Early Hour, Annie went on to launchannieridout.com selling online courses. Within a year she’d created a six-figure business! 
        I had been following Annie online for a while and loved her fresh, straight-talking approach. So when she launched The Robora, an online business platform to assist the growth of small businesses, I eagerly signed up. Below I speak with Annie about her journey and the benefits of being a parent and your own boss. I particularly love that, given the rapid success of her business, her hubby Rich quit his day job to join her in maintaining its growth. They now work and parent as equals, sharing both roles.

         

        Hi Annie! Please tell me a little about yourself and your background.
        I'm a writer (of books, articles and online courses), a business consultant and mum to three young kids. We live in east London.

        You’ve gone from working for others to starting your own business, that your husband is now also involved in. Please tell us about this transition and the benefits of this new way of working?
        I spent five years freelancing from home, while raising the kids, and making ends meet as a writer. But then last year, I launched an online course (on how to do your own PR) and it quickly sold out. I launched another, on becoming your own boss, and that one did too. Soon, I'd accidentally built a business around these courses. When my husband saw how quickly the business was growing, he decided to join me on it full-time, as marketing manager.

        Work-wise, it's been the best year of my life. We had our third baby last August, and have co-parented (rather than Rich leaving home at 8am and returning at 6pm, Monday-Friday). Now, the baby goes to him as happily as he does me. It was a different story with the other two kids, when they were babies.

        On the whole, we work very well together. We decide what needs to be prioritised and the person who needs to do that works, while the other looks after the kids. We are blunt, and sometimes quite rude, to each other - but it means less tiptoeing around, trying to soften the blow. I can't imagine we'll ever work for other people again. We'll grow this online business, while also pursuing other projects. Rich makes films, I write books. And running this business together means that once childcare resumes, we'll have time for both.

        Annie Ridout The Robora

        Does ethics and sustainability come into play at all with what you do? 

        Yes, in terms of how I treat the people I work with. And putting back in through charity initiatives. 

        Tell me about a particular highlight you’ve had within your career? What are you most proud of?
        Getting a book deal with my dream publishers (4th Estate) was a big deal. Being published in the Guardian for the first time. Growing a business that earns us enough to put money into savings and live the life we want with our three kids. And more recently, working with a group of women through The Robora - supporting them with their businesses. It has taught me a lot. I've loved it, and feel really proud of what they've achieved. 

        Has COVID-19 impacted on your business / your way of working at all?

        We operate entirely online, and work from home, so in that respect - no. We had the same panics as most business-owners, as lockdown began, about whether anyone would be spending money on our products and services. But as we help people to start and grow the online side of their business, we have been fine. Business has kind of boomed, in fact. I feel a certain amount of guilt about it, but I've also been donating a lot of money to Refuge, from the sales of my 'Become your own Boss' course. 

        As a mother, what do you look for in baby and children’s clothing? 
        My main value in life is 'comfort'. That runs through everything I do. And certainly, with kids' clothes, that's what I look for first. Nothing fussy, or superfluous: soft cotton that fits them well, and that they can move easily in. 
        LOMIE Scarf Bib_Purr-ple_Annie Ridout
        What’s one piece of advice that you’d give for other women or mothers who are considering starting their own business?
        I'd say the biggest barrier for women looking to start a business is confidence. So my advice would be: 'feel the fear and do it anyway'. But don't quit the day job until it's financially safe to do that. Test your product/service out alongside your job - maybe go freelance or part-time, if that's an option - and once you can see there's a market, go for it. Give it a shot. It will probably be the best career decision you ever make. 

        | A Woman's Work - A Q&A with Julia of Julia Ferrari Web Design |

        | A Woman's Work - A Q&A with Julia of Julia Ferrari Web Design |

        Julia and I have never actually met in person. We became acquainted virtually through being members of the online business platform, The Robora. We can easily relate to one another as we both created new ventures during our respective maternity leaves. And accessing help to build our respective businesses, was the reason that we both joined the platform. Since meeting, despite being in very different fields, we have followed and supported each others progress with interest.

        In a recent Instagram post, Julia reflected on all that she's learnt and achieved in the year since her son was born. I found the summary so insightful, and inspirational, that in addition to the Q&A with her featured below, I feel I must also share the content of the post here:

        'I had no idea all the things I could learn in a year. Yesterday was my son's 1st birthday and the reason I talk about him is because he was my main motivation to start my own business, Julia Ferrari Web Design. He was the one who gave me the courage to get out of my comfort zone and discover new things.

        In one year I learnt a lot about babies, development, feeding, sleeping, crying and all that obvious things. But I also learnt about myself and my own emotions. 

        I learnt, and continue to keep learning, how to run my own business. I learnt how challenging it is to work as freelancer. I learnt to celebrate every little win.
        I also learnt how important is to take some time off, and yesterday I had a day off with my son.'

        Julia Ferrari Web Design LOMIE Cub & Pudding

        Hi Julia! Please tell me a little about yourself and your background
        .
        I’m an Argentinean who landed in London six years ago trying to work in what I love, web design. I love travelling and discovering new places and cultures. One of the things that I like most about living here is that it is much easier, and more affordable, to travel. My first year in London was really challenging, I had to improve my English, find a job in my field and make new friends. But I surpassed all the obstacles and made London my home. I have to say that I’m a summer girl and one of things that makes me suffer is the cold weather and the lack of sun.

         

        Becoming a mother was the motivation behind creating your own business. Please tell us a little about the transition to becoming your own boss and the benefits and challenges of this new way of working?

        Last year I become a mum to Agustin. My partner and I are among the many parents who don’t have any relatives close by who can help with childcare, so for me the best option was to go for more flexibility with my work. When my son was born and during my maternity leave I started to focus on freelance work and setting up my own business.

        When my son was just 3 weeks old I signed up for Annie Ridout’s online course “Become your own boss”. I have to say that the first months I was working very slowly, but at least there was the unexpected luck that my son was a good sleeper. In February of this year I decided to start pushing harder and started to work on a proper plan to grow my business. This was followed by a few intense months of hard work. A couple of weeks ago (during June 2020) I sent my resignation letter so now I am truly a freelancer.

        Having flexible hours, seeing as I have a baby to take care of, is a huge benefit and I don’t miss commuting to work at all. The first challenge was about mindset. I have always been very confident about my work and meeting my clients’ expectation, but I was not sure how to make my business more visible and have enough flow of work. I’m also a shy person so networking is something that really throws me outside from my comfort zone, however I have also realised that this is a common experience.

        Julia Ferrari Web Design

         

        Does ethics and sustainability come into play at all with what you do? 

        Ethics and sustainability are part of my personal values and they are mixed with what I do. I feel very lucky that I work with people who love what they do. I feel very comfortable working with them and we share the same values.

         

        Tell me about a particular highlight you’ve had with your work? What are you most proud of?

        That is a difficult one, but when I was in my previous job I developed a website in a new platform, Drupal, which required a lot of learning and work. In general, now I have started feeling proud about setting up my own business. I have learnt so many things, and have worked so hard, so I feel very proud when I see positive results.

         

        Has COVID-19 impacted on your business / your way of working at all?

        COVID has had a positive impact in my work in a way. Firstly, I have had more demand of work, because many people are now looking for an online alternative for their businesses. In addition to this, as my partner has started working from home it allows me to have more help with childcare and I can have more time to focus on my work. 

         

        As a mother, what do you look for in baby and children’s clothing? What other brands would you recommend for new mothers?

        I don’t buy many clothes for Agustin but when I do, I try to look for independent shops and small business brands. I love colourful patterns. Some brands that I can recommend, aside from LOMIE, are Little Green Radicals, Piccalilly and Cub & Pudding. Agustin is wearing Cub & Pudding leggings and romper, with LOMIE Scarf Bibs, in the images below.

        LOMIE Scarf Bibs 

        What’s one piece of advice that you’d give for other women, or mothers, who are tempted to start their own business?

        From my personal experience, I think is important to invest in some coaching to guide you on setting up your business, getting clients and setting the right mindset!

        Be patient. Sometimes it may feel like a rollercoaster, but you learn to celebrate every win.

        | A Woman's Work - A Q&A with Helen of Snugg Yoga |

        | A Woman's Work - A Q&A with Helen of Snugg Yoga |

        Helen and I met at baby yoga a couple of years back when our children were just teeny, and despite having an awkward first lunch date - where one went to The ‘Bakehouse’, the other went to The Little ‘Brickhouse’, both thinking we’d been stood up and ending up lunching solo - we’ve continued to be great friends. Above shows a snap of Helen with her daughter during a LOMIE Scarf Bib photoshoot. We are dying to get the kids together again after what seems like an eternity in lockdown.⠀

        The admiration I have for Helen is immense. Not only is she is a great mum, but whilst also working full time she has trained to become a yoga teacher, of which she now teaches as her side hustle Snugg Yoga (give her a follow of Insta at @snuggyoga). She has a very calm, yet witty, character and is such great company to be around. But it’s her incredible strength, resilience and desire to give back which I admire the most. 

        Helen story is emotional, but also extremely heartwarming. She’s truly an inspirational woman and has been helping people through lockdown relieve anxiety and build community though free, or PWYC (Pay What You Can) classes through lockdown. I was so happy when she kindly agreed to take part in the LOMIE ‘A Woman’s Work Q&A’ to share her journey. 

         

         

        Hi Helen! Please tell me a little about yourself and the motivation behind training to become a yoga instructor.
        My bio says I am a mummy, yoga and meditation teacher and I love being with my family, disco music, baking and the great outdoors, but there is much more to it than that. In the first couple of months of me giving birth, my mum, hero and best friend was diagnosed with cancer. Even though she suffered for a further six months, it was the day she told me that she had cancer that I lost her, her mind sort of went and it was only by teaching her meditation and gentle yoga, mindfulness and Qi Gong techniques that I was able to calm her and get her back for a few minutes. The meditation would include beautiful memories that we had from my childhood, such as a beach in Cornwall and gardens.

        The yoga helped her to move at a time when she was confined to her bed, and sometimes she would call me in the middle of the night asking for me to meditate with her, and, although I had been practicing yoga for twenty years it was this that gave me the drive to become a teacher. I wanted to use this skill to work with others and their families going through what my mum and our family went through. As always my mum was my inspiration and now my daughter is my inspiration. 


        As a mother, how are you finding balancing motherhood, work and yoga teaching?
        Haha, I love it but I am exhausted. I give myself little treats - an afternoon nap when my little one is asleep, and an evening glass of red wine with my husband when she has gone to bed! We also love going on adventures in the countryside and mummy-daughter baking to disco dj sets - we are both a big fan of Nile Rodgers and Chic and the kitchen is slowly starting to turn into our disco space - neon lights, diner chairs and a disco ball are planned! A lot of what we bake is foraged from our garden - raspberries, grapes, elderflowers, rosemary, mint, lavender, blueberries, strawberries - you name it we have grown it, picked it and baked and discoed with it.

        Whilst everyone is still asleep, I get up at 5am, go for a run, take part in a pre-recorded online yoga class - usually with a Yoga space in Bali, and plan my own yoga or meditation class - I always bring something new into each class and take inspiration from everything from Power Yoga, Yin Yoga and meditation to Capoeira, Qi Gong and mindfulness. 

        I schedule my own classes at a time when my husband isn’t working so he can take the fort or when my daughter is asleep (so lots of evening or pre-recorded classes). Work entails liaising with charities, fundraising, designing and putting out marketing and my website and creating more classes - all of that fits into the gaps!


        Does ethics and sustainability come into play at all with what you do? 
        Absolutely. Yoga has unfortunately gained a reputation of being expensive, exclusive and physically unattainable (“I can’t put my legs behind my head!”). When I set out to become a yoga and meditation teacher my primary goal was to provide free classes for people in palliative care. I am excited to be talking to a Refugee charity and a hospice about putting together free one to one classes for their service users. Teaching classes outside of that has just been a sweet bonus.

        The message behind Snugg Yoga is that it is: 

        • Affordable - free or PWYC (Pay What You Can) with donations going to a diverse range of charities.
        • Inclusive - everyone is welcome, working with charities has not only allowed me to raise much needed funds for charities in need, particularly during lockdown (Stonebridge City Farm, When You Wish Upon A Star, PASIC, Forever Stars, ) but it has also enabled me to invite the service users and staff of those charities to attend the classes free of charge (Refugee Roots, The Black LGBTQIA+ Therapy Fund, Nottingham Women’s Centre, Nottinghamshire Hospice, Macmillan Cancer, Notts Hospitals Charity and PANDAS) this has really helped Snugg Yoga to achieve a more diverse audience - this is something that will persist and I won’t rest until I have a class that has true representation.
        • Attainable, fun and soothing - I have always said that in a Snugg Yoga class it is highly likely that I’ll be one of the first to topple and that I am learning right alongside my students and will never stop learning, I offer modifications for those who want to go more or less challenging, the classes are great fun and not too serious and they offer a sense of calming and community to help to relieve anxiety.

        Sustainability is an interesting one, and a message that I want to focus on once I go back to teaching again in real life - in parks or a sustainable space with ethically sourced equipment and refreshments. I’m on it! 


        Tell me about a particular highlight you’ve had with Snugg Yoga? What are you most proud of?
        I have been really fortunate and had some incredible opportunities since being in isolation including working with Asylum seekers and refugees and providing lessons for charity festivals, a particular highlight was receiving a letter from someone who said that their Snugg Yoga class was a lifeline, offering them something to look forward to at a time when they felt highly anxious, upset and stressed. I also felt privileged to be able to offer free yoga and meditation for NHS staff and other key workers - they have given so much and just being able to help them in any way has been rewarding.

         

        Has COVID-19 impacted on your business / your way of working at all?
        Completely, I have gone from teaching in studios and to businesses in their workspaces to teaching wholly online. The people attending my classes have changed too. At the start the goal was fitness and general wellbeing, but once COVID-19 hit a lot of people wanted to join to not only ease their anxiety but also to be a part of a community at a time when many felt isolated. That is why it was important for me to offer classes for free for the first three months of lockdown and then on a PWYCan basis (with 10% going to a nominated charity each week) after those first three months.

        All the charities I have worked with have been affected during lockdown and the charity classes, which in the first three months, delivered free yoga with a donation encouraged to a different charity each week, have been really popular - my biggest class had 33 people sign up! It is through these charities that I have taken part in online festivals (Forever Stars) Refugee Week (Refugee Roots), delivered chair yoga and mindfulness for carehomes and private one to one online classes.

        As lockdown extends I'm continuing to offer classes on a PWYC basis as I cannot justify charging regular prices when so many people have been furloughed or let go and I wouldn’t want to. It is so much more important that people attend the classes than be missed because they couldn’t afford the class. Everyone is welcome regardless.

        Credit: Angela Shepherd (@angela_luci_shepherd)


        What advice would you give for other mothers who are considering starting their own business?
        I haven’t met a mother yet who doesn’t realise how special she really is. So I would say value yourself. This is advice that is, of course, easier said than done, but there are ways in which you may be able do this:

        • Find free courses to enhance your education, to give you the confidence to speak up (Open University has lots of great online courses such as starting your own business). 
        • Don’t apologise for wanting to speak up, try and avoid starting an email with ‘no worries if not but…’, and don’t undersell yourself for fear of asking seeming too cheeky.
        • Make diversity a value for your company, don’t be afraid to change your opinion when faced with new information and finally value and support community. When I first started to grow, my outreach goal was growing my social media channels, but my most loyal customers are those on my own doorstep, people from local businesses and charities that I have worked with who now join my classes every week.