We have to collaborate to survive

Words: Lucy Foster

Not many of us expected a global pandemic and even fewer foresaw the impact it would have on hard-won gains of working women. But as the nation pivots to adapt to the new economic landscape, one business hero is clear on how it should look.

“Facing the floods is one thing; you get on with it and you know what measures you have in place to deal with it. You get through it. But this situation is just something else. I have no idea.” Alison Bartram, 57, owner of Hebden Bridge’s Heart Gallery is musing on the impact of COVID-19 and the West Yorkshire town’s chances of survival as a shopping destination. Catastrophic floods in 2015 temporarily closed many local businesses – Alison, herself, had to shut down for six months to deal with five feet of waste water in her gallery that sells artisan jewellery, ceramics and contemporary art – but as yet, the legacy of this year’s nationwide lockdown is still to be revealed.

Alison Bartram, Heart Gallery

And no one, it seems, can give a definite answer on how it will all play out. But current forecasts don’t make for comforting reading – particularly for women. According to research from The Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UCL Institute of Education, nearly 50% of mothers are more likely to have lost their jobs, quit or been furloughed. There are warning cries that we are heading back to the 1950s, such is the expectation that women will pick up the bulk of the care and domestic work. And when the furlough scheme ends and the inevitable widespread redundancies come, it will be women – the ones who have taken the back seat, who have been absent from the Zoom calls in order to pick up the slack of home schooling, cleaning and feeding – who will find themselves facing the workplace guillotine.

Not only that, hospitality and retail – sectors which both employ a disproportionate number of females – are the two industries that have been hardest hit. A recent report by global business consultancy McKinsey has stated that while grocery and online retail has, not surprisingly, increased during lockdown, this increased expenditure has not managed to outweigh the number of closures in non-food retail – clothes shops, homeware, or galleries, like Alison’s. Accommodation and catering are next in the firing line, services vulnerable because it’s difficult to see how they can be performed remotely or with strict social distancing in place.

Rethinking the future

Anyone skimming such reports would be forgiven for thinking the worst. But unprecedented times can give way to unprecedented thinking and one figure who has been a vocal advocate of a fresh approach to business is Kate Hardcastle MBE, known also as television’s Customer Whisperer. Kate, 43, founded business consultancy Insight With Passion (IWP) in 2009 after a stellar career in marketing, which saw her turn around the fortunes of bed manufacturer Silentnight during her time as its head of marketing (“I developed a leading international online retail business in 2004, so still very early in that respect, and that gave me a lot of knowledge about how to help businesses transform,” she explains), train in strategic alliances at global business school INSEAD and win a seat at the boardroom table by the age of 30.  

Her time working across Asia in global sourcing – sometimes being the first Caucasian woman many of the factories had seen – and learning both about international business, but also more functional skills such as manufacturing techniques, has meant that she can overlay the operational with the commercial and find common ground. It has proved to be an extremely fruitful mix. “What’s unique about IWP is that I can use my experience in operations, international trade and buying, for instance, and then apply them with the customer-facing side so we find a bridge,” Kate explains. 

Kate Hardcastle MBE, Insight with Passion

IWP is, in essence, a transformation business that works with clients across the globe to restructure their current set-up. By reimagining the relationship with the customer (and by walking the shop or factory floor in addition to driving strategic changes), Kate and her team pride themselves on getting to know each organisation they work with and its supply chain and customers, finding creative, workable, and ultimately successful, solutions. 

Insight with Passion also looks to transform businesses by also using Kate’s training in strategic alliance and partnerships – often bringing together complementing businesses with similar target audiences to help ideas and projects thrive. “The idea of working together collaboratively has always been our direction when many others would do the opposite,” she says. “We do things differently and it works.”

The facts support this statement. Kate has won countless awards and accolades (including Yorkshire Business Woman of the Year in 2018, the same year she was honoured by the Queen for her services to business) and IWP’s in-built corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, Access For All, which requires her employees to give 20% of their working hours to start-ups and charities free of charge, is also making waves.

Access For All means that micro-businesses and not-for-profits – often founded by women – get exposed to expertise allowing them to grow and develop, which might otherwise cost them thousands – perhaps best framed as a B2B mentoring scheme. We hear a lot about sending the ladder back down and anyone having heard Kate’s keynote speeches or seen her talk knows she’s a champion for women in business. Access For All is her walking the walk, not just paying it lip service.

Of course, it’s notoriously hard to measure the monetary value of guidance and mentorship but Savannah Roqaa, 24, knows first-hand how useful a guiding hand can be. The Leeds-based make-up artist and part-time nanny found herself stripped of half her revenue stream as social distancing became paramount and to fill the time, began baking, leaving brownies or the ubiquitous lockdown favourite, banana bread, on her friends’ doorsteps.

What happened next takes some believing, but to cut a long story short, Savannah, with the help of various friends’ kitchens, fortuitous sharing on some Leeds United players’ Instagram accounts, and all-night cake-making sessions, has found herself sole founder of a highly successful baking business – The Savvy Baker – all within two months. But it hasn’t been without pitfalls.

Savannah Roqaa, The Savvy Baker

“Leeds Council called me and asked if I’d registered the business at Companies House. And I was like, ‘Companies what?’” recalls Savannah. “Tax. Packaging. Premises. I’ve literally no idea.” So when Sara Hassan, 33, Kate’s protege messaged Savannah offering help to start mapping out a long-term business strategy, it couldn’t have been more welcome. “I was just bobbing along so when Sara came out of nowhere… no one has ever done that before, just offered help free of charge. Not unless there’s been an underlying agenda. And it’s so welcome because I think you can have a brilliant idea and a successful business, but make one mistake and it can quickly go south.”

Similarly, Kate – a proud Yorkshire woman who lives outside Wakefield with her husband and three children – has previously given an enormous amount of her time to Welcome to Yorkshire, the county’s regional tourist board. Working with her during that time was Laura Kirk, 34, former Head of Membership, whose job it was to put together free events and workshops for her members to add value to their annual subscription fee. Kate’s sessions focusing on the customer experience – given free of charge as part of Access For All and delivered the sole intent of helping businesses improve their customer offer – were attended by marketing managers of Yorkshire’s big attractions along with proprietors of the smallest seaside B&Bs. 

“When Kate spoke you could see people ferociously making notes and action points,” says Laura. “A lot of the businesses simply wouldn’t have had access to that sort of support otherwise – free help for which they’d normally have to pay hundreds of pounds. And Kate broke it down into achievable points, so attendees could go away and implement a couple of changes, then perhaps a couple more. It was practical and inspirational. Kate’s guidance was invaluable.”

 Access For All

Corporate social responsibility is often regarded as something only the largest of organisations can accommodate and even then, the amount of time given over to socially conscious programmes is often minuscule compared to IWP’s remarkable pledge of 20%. It’s common to find that employees are given three days a year to volunteer or that a certain amount of monthly revenue goes to a local charity.

Laura Kirk

“For micro-businesses and start-ups, there really is a need for pro-bono help,” explains Laura, who has seen first-hand how tourism and hospitality ventures can thrive with the right advice. “I’m not sure how all businesses would be able to afford the 20% that Kate has built into her Access For All model but she makes it work.”

Kate and her team have spent a lot of their Access For All quota in places like Hebden Bridge, assisting small independents find their feet again after the floods. “I’ve definitely followed Kate’s mantra and implemented things that she’s said in the past,” says Alison. “She talks about passion a lot and I fully believe that the businesses that survive are the ones where the owners are passionate about what they do. She’s always had that passion and always been really positive.” 

Kate, again, has shown she’s ahead of the curve here because for a long time, CSR was merely considered a nicely polished trophy on the corporate mantlepiece. However, increasing amounts of research are pointing towards it being a vital component of customer trust and relationship-building, and equally a surefire way of attracting young, ambitious talent. In 2011, a survey by Deloitte found that 70% of millennials listed their company’s commitment to the community as an influence on their decision to work there. For Sara Hassan and Laura Kirk, and their peer group, giving something back to the communities in which they live and work is as important a part of their job as is their monthly wage. 

And let’s not forget that despite the hardships of the last few months, there has been a renewed and welcome onus of the power of community; shopping locally or just checking in on neighbours, offering services and sharing goods, be it a bag of self-raising flour or a dozen hard-to-come-by eggs. And while many are keen to cherish and nurture this focus on community action, it remains to be seen if it can transcend the everyday and move into business, with organisations incorporating the community in their plans, collaborating and partnering with like-minded ventures to share skills and resources.

Sara Hassan + Kate Hardcastle MBE

Certainly, Alison, who as well as running the gallery in Hebden Bridge is chair of the Hebden Bridge Business Committee, is adamant that everyone contributing to improving the town freely and willingly and therefore encouraging a greater trade, is the only way small independents – and therefore high streets – rejuvenate after COVID. 

“We’ve got to work together to survive. By that I mean not just the business community but also the community in general,” she explains. “In the past, businesses were happy in their own bubble but now our survival – and the survival of the town – depends on us collaborating and partnering up. And people staying loyal to local, as they have in lockdown.”

And it’s this approach – the strategic alliance approach that Kate was advocating 15 years ago, the sharing of skills and data and budget – that might just prove the most successful and sustainable way out of the COVID slump. And hopefully her attitude to giving back, and helping the little businesses survive and thrive, will spread too. As Sara so succinctly says: “Working alongside Kate to deliver great work and good deeds is really inspiring. And she proves on a daily basis that success always leaves room for kindness.”

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Getting to know Clemency Jones: Designer & Maker, Formes

Featured in Issue Two of NRTH LASS, Formes is a modern and artistic brand with a focus on the wearable everyday white tee. The brand’s Leeds-based Founder, Designer and Maker, Clemency Jones doesn’t believe in fast fashion; instead, she concludes that clothes should take time to make and be timeless to wear. From an environmentally progressive supplier and solvent free ink to zero waste, Formes is in-house, local and kind to our planet. It’s also extremely kind to our bodies – the iconic tees are comfortable to boot.

Sharing those initial steps in the pursuit of an ethical brand, from the conception and design, to the development she hopes to journey on for her brand, Clemency Jones proves why she’s one to watch, and one to get behind.

NRTH LASS: Why did you decide to set up your own business?

Clemency: It actually started from the products – I was drawing on t-shirts for myself before I thought of it as a business. I only started selling them because there was an art fair coming up that my friends run in Leeds – A Print Fair Called Skint Fair. They’d put me down to have a stall, so I needed something to sell! I made a batch of 12 t-shirts, all hand-drawn with fabric markers, and they sold pretty well. This gave me the confidence to try and pursue it a bit more properly; I decided to create a whole brand around the t-shirts, started screen-printing, and it grew from there. In a more personal respect, this all started while I was off work due to stress and family issues. Having a creative outlet was vital for me; a project that was totally mine and that I could work on steadily was immensely beneficial to my mental health during a really difficult period.

NRTH LASS: What was your background before Formes?

Clemency: At university I studied History of Art with Museum Studies, but had also worked as a stylist and in the wardrobe department for TV and commercials, I really loved both but couldn’t see myself pursuing either long term. Post-Uni I had the common ‘what now?!’ crisis, and I worked in retail for a bit. I think this mix of experiences was quite educational; even though at the time I felt a bit lost and unable to stick to one thing, in hindsight I’ve been able to see how both large businesses are run and how independent creatives make a name for themselves.

NRTH LASS: Why have you chosen to focus on plain white t-shirts?

Clemency: White t-shirts can be worn by anyone – I think they’re the antithesis of elitist clothing. They are practical and easy to wear, for many different people in many different contexts. For me, there seemed to be no point in creating something that was aesthetically pleasing but that people wouldn’t wear again and again. It’s also about using a known favourite to create something different, infusing an artistic element into an everyday item. I was fed up with high-street fashion, but can’t deny its widespread appeal and popularity. I wanted to harness the adaptability of high-street fashion, the fact that items are easy to wear and designed for the everyday, but also create something with a bit more personality and individuality. But unlike most high-street items I intended to make something sustainable, ethical and long-lasting.

It also boils down to practicality for me as the maker; plain white t-shirts are a great canvas to work on, perfect for screen-printing, and it’s now easy enough to source good quality organic cotton t-shirts that are ethically produced.

The combination of an artistic sensibility and a commitment to functionality is at the heart of Formes; I consider my products to be creative workwear.

NRTH LASS: Where do you draw inspiration from when creating your designs?

Clemency: My love of modern art feeds into Formes a lot. Originally my designs were inspired solely by the works of Matisse – I think his ability to create astoundingly evocative images with such simplicity is incredible. Now my designs are inspired by modern artists of the 20th century more broadly, in both concept and formal result. For example, I looked at the sculptural forms of Barbara Hepworth and her use of negative space, which resulted in my Empty Spaces t-shirt, while the inspiration for my Brushstrokes tee was the creative process itself, and the irony of replicating the unique marks of a brush through the repetitive medium of screen-printing.

I am constantly referring back to art history books for inspiration, but tend to sit down with nothing in front of me and try to fill pages of a sketch book with rough drawings. Influences come through organically, and often it is only once I have picked out my favourite rough designs and refined them that I realise what has particularly inspired me.

NRTH LASS: Who is your favourite designer and how have they inspired you?

Clemency: I don’t think I have one favourite designer, my wardrobe has always been mostly made up of second-hand items – I think it’s the God of Jumble Sales that I look up to most! Second-hand clothing has definitely influenced my brand as I’m used to adapting pieces and fitting them into my everyday – which is essentially what Formes does with the plain white t-shirt.

NRTH LASS: How would you like Formes to progress in the future?

Clemency: I want it to grow organically; Formes is very much a slow-fashion brand and I really take it at my own pace. Sustainability and ethics are at the heart of Formes and any progression needs to be based around that. I’ve recently branched out from t-shirts to produce some multi-purpose pouches with our signature Eyes motif screen-printed on, and with these I’ve also experimented a bit with colour, using techniques like a split fountain and some neon inks. I mainly chose to do this because I found some gorgeous natural organic cotton pouches from a great supplier, and there were some interesting pots of neon ink leftover in the studio. Using stuff that would otherwise be thrown away and combining it with high-quality, sustainable goods really appeals to me.

I’m thinking of doing some long-sleeved t-shirts next, and maybe some other colours. I’m also hoping to have a couple of new stockists in the UK and abroad soon, which would be really exciting.

NRTH LASS: Why have you chosen to stay local to develop your business?

Clemency: Keeping everything local has been an incidental consequence of doing almost everything myself and needing to keep costs down. I became a member of Leeds Print Workshop when I wanted to get back into screen-printing, and the support I found there was brilliant. I now print all of my products at my mate Joe’s studio in Hope House. He runs No Brand, an independent screen-printing service from his studio, as well as a brilliant t-shirt shop in the Corn Exchange. He’s taught me so much.

Leeds has an amazing sense of community, and it has been integral to the starting of my business – I owe a lot to the city and all the creatives in it!

NRTH LASS: What’s the best advice you’ve received during the setting up and running of your business?

Clemency: It’s not so much advice, but I have frequent reminders from the people closest to me that this is my own project and I can take it at whatever pace I want. I’m working to my own deadlines and there is absolutely no reason to get stressed about things. As soon as I start to feel stressed I take a step back and remind myself why I started Formes and what it means to me. I’m the boss and if things take a little longer than planned, that’s ok.

NRTH LASS: What would your advice be for anyone looking to set up a similar venture?

Clemency: To just start creating and test out ideas on your friends and family, listen to their feedback and start small – at first I had ideas of doing a crazy amount of designs and products, but honing my ideas down to one collection of four designs really helped me to forge my brand’s identity. Similarly, right at the beginning I filled a page with words associated with the brand I wanted to create, before doing anything else. This made me feel really confident in knowing what Formes is and what it stands for.

Also, lead with your strengths and work on everything else in due course; I love designing and making, and that’s what fills me with joy and excitement. The business side of things has always been a bit daunting, and if I’d focused on that I would have stopped before I’d even started. I made sure I was proud of my products first, and now the rest of it doesn’t feel like such hard work. I’m currently taking an online business course so that I can do myself and my products justice.

Image credit: Jo Crawford and Bean Studios

Pizza for the People: we all want pizza!

Written by Sophie Kelsall

On Friday 24th May, Leeds will once again host the Indie Banquet: a spectacular mash-up of street food and live music founded by Leeds-based live music promotor, Pizza for the People. The aim of Pizza for the People is to provide a platform for upcoming and newly established talent. Now on their 13th Indie Banquet, held at Wharf Chambers in Leeds, this well-established event has showcased a large number of local bands and has been a useful stepping stone for putting these bands on the musical map. These events offer a unique opportunity to enjoy the chilled atmosphere of a festival, without the need for wellies and a tent.

Ryan and Julia

Some of the bands up on the roster this year include: Trudy and the Romance, Ugly, L.A Peach and Celestial Green. VFC and OWT will also be on site to provide some tempting treats to suit all tastes, along with a number of other local vendors. These events are an incredible opportunity for the local community to come together and support homegrown talent.  

After the first Indie Banquet in 2016, the events have only gotten bigger and better, with large numbers of bands now wanting to get involved. Julia King is one half of the brains behind Pizza for the People. With over two and a half years’ worth of experience in co-ordinating gigs alongside promoting street food vendors, Julia was able to share some of her knowledge and insight on event organising with us.

How did the idea for Pizza for the People come about?

The concept of Pizza for the People arose from a mutual love of live music, festivals and food between me and my partner Ryan (the other half of Pizza for the People) and a lightbulb moment in early 2016 when we realised that there wasn’t an existing forum in Leeds and surrounding areas where you can watch live music whilst stuffing your face, like you tend to do at a festival. Our name (Pizza for the People) naturally formed from our love for pizza (!) but equally an appetite for blending our two passions: music and food and giving audiences, bands, independent venues and street food traders an opportunity to come together.

Trudy and the Romance

How has your role changed since the conception of the event?

Prior to forming Pizza for the People, my partner and I had attended countless gigs and festivals but had never managed an event before, so we knew it’d be a learning curve. We researched the market, listened and learned from fellow promotors and immersed ourselves in learning about the music and gigging industry, ahead of putting our first Indie Banquet gig on in October 2016. I’d say our roles have not necessarily changed but have evolved over the past two and half years as we’ve become more experienced and confident of what works and what doesn’t. Equally, we’ve become clearer over time as to what skills we bring to planning, designing, curating and delivering our Indie Banquet shows.

How much has the event grown over the years?

Now on our 13th Indie Banquet, the event has developed a really core audience over time and one that we really appreciate. We’ve worked with a large number of bands, some of which have come back to play for us again. In terms of growth, we’ve worked with a number of different independent venues such as Wharf Chambers, Hyde Park Book Club, Duke Studios and Brudenell Social Club and equally with a number of incredible street food traders such as Pizza Fella, Goldenballs, Dilla Deli, Little Bao Boy, VFC and cannot wait to welcome OWT to our Indie Banquet on Friday 24th May, serving up a seasonal mystery menu.

How important are events like these for getting Northern talent noticed?

I think events like these are incredibly important for getting Northern talent noticed and on the map. The music industry is an incredibly challenging one these days to make a living from, despite it being more accessible, so we think it’s important to not only showcase the really raw and incredible talent across the North but also make sure that bands are paid, treated well and given the praise they deserve at our gigs. Ethics and integrity are absolutely key to Pizza for the People. We’ve seen some really successful stories since our inception, having watched folks like The Orielles (who played our 2nd Indie Banquet) and Drahla (who played our 1st Indie Banquet birthday) blossom. It’s such a lovely feeling to watch all of their journeys.

What is your favourite part of organising these events?

That’s a really good but tricky question! For me, I think it’s two-fold. (A) Designing the line-up and finding new and super exciting artists to work with and (B) The gig itself. Watching everything come together on the night is a wonderful feeling.  

Who can attend PFTP?

Indie Banquets are open to all (over the age of 18). Those who are avid gig-goers, those who love discovering new street food traders, those who like music but are open to discovering new music and new bands. Everyone’s a winner!

What can new attendees expect on the night?

New attendees can expect a tasty, tailored menu of scrummy food washed down with a cocktail of superb bands in a quirky, intimate venue.

How can bands and food traders get involved?

Bands and street food traders can contact us via info@pizzaforthepeople.co.uk or via social media (#weallwantpizza) if they’re interested in playing or serving up delights at future Indie Banquets.

For those eager to attend this unmissable event, tickets are available for £9 via Crash, Jumbo, Ticket Arena, See Tickets and Dice. Bring your dancing shoes and an empty stomach!

Keep kind and Fettle on: a blog series by Fi Mason – Northern Fettle – Part 1: lending a hand to the local independents

This week marks the beginning of a new blog series by Fi Mason, one half of Northern Fettle – a small business support service that offers a holistic and modern approach to helping independent businesses. Fi will be exploring some of the inspirational minds behind the best independent businesses, sharing her own experiences, while also urging us to remember that running your own business requires not only grit, but support from those around you. In her first post, Fi asks the question, is being an independent business just a little too independent?

Continue reading “Keep kind and Fettle on: a blog series by Fi Mason – Northern Fettle – Part 1: lending a hand to the local independents”