Tuesday, May 31, 2016

20 Year Reflections | Flo Clucas

2016 is a big year for The Women’s Organisation – it marks our 20th birthday and we have plenty of interesting and exciting things lined up throughout the year to celebrate this! And some fantastic interviews will be part of this! To mark our 20th birthday, throughout 2016 we will be interviewing some incredible women and sharing their stories with you. These women may have been long-time supporters of The Women’s Organisations, women who accessed our support during our very early years, women who have been instrumental in the development of the organisation and gender equality as a whole, or simply women who we think are frankly marvellous, and want to know more about!

We hope that you enjoy these interviews throughout 2016 and can celebrate with us the incredible lives and journeys of the women that we interview. This series of interviews will be called ’20 Year Reflections’ and we always want to hear your thoughts and views! Join in the conversation on twitter using the hashtag #WOWeAre20

This latest interview is with Flo Clucas, a long-time supporter of The Women’s Organisation, previously a Councillor in Liverpool and an individual who was crucial in the development of the Women’s International Centre for Economic Development.

Flo Clucas is a the definition of a Very Important Person here at The Women’s Organisation HQ, and what better way to acknowledge and honour her than interview Flo for our 20 Years Reflection Series. We had the chance to speak to Flo about her work with The Women’s Organisation, the journey that we have been on over the last twenty years and what Flo’s hopes are for the future…

Flo was previously one of Liverpool’s most prominent Liberal Democratic Councillors until her retirement in 2012 when she moved to Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Although she was there to take a break from politics she then became a Councillor in her town’s Swindon Village ward taking 66% of the vote!

In 2001, Flo proposed The Women’s Organisation, which was then known as Train 2000, for a Eurocities Award which we won, then leading on from this Flo took the opportunity to work more closely with the organisation; ‘I was asked if I would help to set up, and get backing for something like an international centre for women’s economic development, and I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.’

‘The first thing I did was put down a resolution to Council to say that we should back it and I managed to get that through, then I was asked if I would be the Champion of it, so I was able to work closely with Helen and Maggie. I was working on the European funding for Merseyside and in some measure for the North West, so as a result of this we were able to argue for the money and it became available to establish the building (54 St James Street).

54 St James Street is our Women’s International Centre for Economic Development and is at the heart of our support for women in business. This £5.3m flagship initiative helps us to measurably improve the rates and performances of women’s economic participation and female entrepreneurship.
It has helped us to continue the work that The Women’s Organisation has been doing for the last twenty years and means that as of 2016 we have provided intensive enterprise support to over 15,000 women and helped to establish more than 3,000 new businesses.  And 54 St James Street which was opened in 2011, since April 2012, has enjoyed continuous 100% occupation.

Flo with Patricia Greene at our International Panel of Experts event (2009)

In 1996 it was Maggie O’Carroll that noticed the lack of opportunities for women’s development in Merseyside and Train 2000 was born. Flo remembers that during that time, the prospects were entirely different for women in the area; ‘I think that part of the issue is that when you talk about women in business, people don’t think of women owning businesses, they think of women working in businesses, they think of women being a part-time workers, which was generally the situation on Merseyside. From that perspective there has been a huge change. Back at that stage there were lots of women not terribly highly skilled or working in the education, health and social wellbeing industries.

The idea of women as entrepreneurs was just not current, it didn’t feature. Because of Train 2000 we were able to put a number of things in place which were extremely useful. The change began that women were rather than just being employees, they were employers.’

Following on from the development of WICED, in March 2010, Flo was inaugurated at the first President of the centre, a role which she carried out for several years. ‘For me, this role was about being an Ambassador for the organisation, I felt able and confident to do that and to support the organisation wherever I could. I never considered myself a professional in the field, but I am someone who can carry the message and I think that’s useful.’

It is clear from talking to Flo that one of the greatest joys through her work with The Women’s Organisation has been the relationship that she has built with our CEO; Maggie O’Carroll and our CFOO; Helen Millne. Flo told us; ‘These are two of the greatest women go-getters I have ever met. Because they have an aim in mind, they have settled how they want to do that and how they are going to achieve it. They’ve come from being a tiny organisation to where they are now, it’s unbelievably good.’

So, what does Flo think is the future for women’s economic development and where do developments now need to be made? Speaking to Flo for this interview it was so incredibly clear to see how much her work has impacted, influenced and supported us over the last twenty or so years and how through her work and the work of our policy makers and academics these aims can become a reality…

  • ‘I believe that we now need to say to banks and financial organisations that they should release their statistics about the percentage of women owned businesses that they have lent money to or helped to start up. The United States implemented it back in 1986 – The 50/50 Act – and it had the effect of changing the lending ratio so that more women were given that opportunity. No bank wanted to be seen as misogynistic.
  • Secondly we need to look at the stability and affordability of childcare. Because if you want to start a business and that business begins to grow, and you have a young family then that become extremely difficult to maintain. 
  • ‘The third thing that I want to see is for organisations like The Women’s Organisation to grow and expand across the whole of the country and across Europe. For these to spread across the country in urban centres would be the aim. They would have the effect of stimulating economies wherever they were set up and enable and empower women.’

So as The Women’s Organisation continues to grow and progress over our next twenty years, it’s working towards aims like Flo’s that we wish for our region, the UK and even wider. The Women’s Organisation would like to thank Flo for her incredible support and influence over the past twenty years and hope her work continues to impact the lives of the women who need it in the future…

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