Thursday, February 27, 2020

Cooking Up a Storm: Food Sorcery's Journey to Success

Food Sorcery Cookery School was born out of a passion to get people cooking. After delivering big plans during their start-up phase, owners Helen Jacks and Mark Seymour Mead needed advice on how to grow, and receive recognition for their achievements at the prestigious Cookery School of the Year Awards.

Food Sorcery offers cookery classes for all abilities

Founded in 2016 in the peaceful suburbs of Didsbury, Food Sorcery Cookery School provides a fun-filled, hands-on approach to cooking.  As well as giving students the opportunity to cook up a storm, the school also offers top-quality barista training, holiday camps, and bespoke training for all dietary requirements. In addition, Food Sorcery is available to hire as a venue space, and makes a valuable contribution to Manchester’s buzzing nightlife.

Helen recognised the need for her business to stand out, especially as Food Sorcery provides an unparalleled service with high-quality standards. As well as having two resident chefs who have worked in fine dining and lectured globally, the company also welcomes renowned guest chefs, and incorporates nutrition and wellbeing with an on-site nutritionist for a holistic, wrap-around approach to food.

Food Sorcery were runners up in the Cookery School of the Year Awards in 2018, which galvanised Helen to reach for the top prize the following year. However, with the pressures and lack of time due to being a working mother, plus her sizeable business operations to oversee, Helen struggled with translating her visions into an award-winning bid. At this point, she approached Excelerate Labs for some advice and support.

Working with our business adviser, Ameena Ahmed, for a 12-week period of funded support, Helen addressed the key ingredients of her business, with Ameena providing a sounding board and expert advice on how to write a winning bid. Helen submitted her application, and won the coveted Cookery School of the Year Award 2019, going on to then win The Food Awards England 2019 soon after. A successful year all in all!

Helen and Mark at The Food Awards

Since the support of Excelerate Labs, Food Sorcery has seen their turnover steadily increase, and has created 2.5 new jobs. This growth is only expected to continue as the company goes from strength to strength.

Looking to the future, Food Sorcery is building towards becoming more sustainable, eliminating single use plastics, using local produce and donating spare food to charities and hotels. They are also promoting healthy lifestyles and tackling childhood obesity by working with schools and parents, showing that healthy food is easy to make and needn’t break the bank.

If you would like to benefit from the support received under the Excelerate Labs programme, then please contact:

Friday, February 21, 2020

International Women’s Day: Liverpool City Region events round-up

International Women's Day 2020 is just around the corner, so our intern Deborah has penned a blog to bring you the ultimate round-up of what's on across the Liverpool City Region!

Taking place on Sunday 8th March International Women's Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

For those who don't know, it all started back in 1910 when a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named Clara Zetkin tabled the idea of an International Women's Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day, a Women's Day aimed to press for their demands.

Since then, the celebration has grown. It now connects women from all around the world ranging from political rallies, business conferences, government activities and networking events. Below are some of inspiring events happening in the North West to celebrate International Women’s Day 2020.

Women’s Leader’s Association, International Women’s Day Conference
Thursday 5th March, 9.30am, Crewe

The WLA Conference is for those women who are ready to step into the best version of themselves. WLA prides itself as a fantastic community, and the Conference is focused on why it is always better together. A community that inspires one another, supports each other and is there when the going gets tough. At this event you will get the chance to meet Business Leaders, members of the WLA and Inspiring Leaders.

Click here for Tickets:

Playing to Win for Women
Monday 9 March 2020, 1.15 – 2.15pm, University of Liverpool

Visit University of Liverpool to mark International Women's Day and hear from Professor of Public Policy and former Wales football team captain, Laura McAllister in conversation with Professor Sue Bridgewater. The event will be informal, and you are welcome to ask questions to the speakers.

Click here for Tickets:

Ahmadiyya Muslim Women's Association 
Sunday 1st March, 2.00  – 4.30 PM, Liverpool

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Women's Association Liverpool invites you to attend our International Women's Day 2020 Celebration. Join them on 1st March from 2pm for a series of panel and workshop style discussions, exhibitions, stalls, followed by audience Q&A , networking and Refreshments after.

Click here for Tickets:

Uncover Liverpool, Wicked Women
Wednesday 11th March, 12.00pm - 5.00pm, Unity Theatre Liverpool

Take a day  trip to the Theatre from 12pm to 5pm on the 11th March to celebrate extraordinary women from history that changed the world. A moving and uplifting physical performance that explores the lives of heroines from Elizabeth I to Malala Yousafzai.

Click here for Tickets:

Cut Out Collage
Saturday, 7 March 18:30 – 21:00pm, Chapters of Us, Liverpool

Cut Out Collage have teamed up with Chapters of Us to bring a luxurious evening of creative heaven. The workshop theme is creating your own stories, with a range of exercises to get you started and more advanced techniques demonstrated as the evening progresses. Cut Out Collage artist Catherine Rogers will be your guide, enabling you to create amazing compositions and develop skills in both fine line drawing and collage.

Click here for Tickets:

International Women’s Day Showcase at Blackburne House
Friday 6th March, 7pm - 11pm, at Blackburne House Group Liverpool.

WE WANT WOMEN is a three year old voluntary lead activist project lead by Liverpool born singer songwriter and performance artist Nicola Hardman. The project focuses on getting women's voices heard and recognises the inequality not only in the performing arts scene, but historically and currently. 

After gaining a small crowdfunding sum of money in December 2019, Hardman is taking the first steps to build the project into a CIC business that will give back to women in the performing arts. We Want Women will deliver mental wellbeing and focus circles, gathering research on the issues women in the performing arts face and create a network for women to feel heard and held.

One Day Launch: A Roadmap to Gender Equality 
Friday 6th March, 8am to 9:30am, at Siren Liverpool

Join The Women’s Organisation at the launch of "One Day" - a report setting out a road map to harness gender equality as an economic driver within the Liverpool City Region - to add your voice to the conversation.

Metro Mayor, Mr Steve Rotheram will launch the One Day report and we will also be hearing from Dr Paula Burkinshaw, Visiting Senior Research Fellow into gender and leadership at The University of Leeds.

Click here for Tickets:

International Women’s Day #BeTheChange
Friday 6th March 2020, The Women’s Organisation, Liverpool

This international Women's Day two of the North's biggest development agencies for women, The Women’s Organisation and Northern Power Women, are coming together to stage a panel event discussing the big issues.

We'll be asking: Going beyond the PR stunts & publicity around International Women’s Day, what needs to be happening in practical terms across our boardrooms, homes and political spaces to effect real change, drive equality and level the playing field once and for all? Hearing from those who have done it, we want you to leave the event feeling empowered and equipped with the practical tools to go out and make change happen in your everyday life.

Click here for Tickets:

Monday, February 10, 2020

FREE Start Your Business Workshops - Dates & More

This two-day course is the starting point for thinking about a business plan and marketing strategy in a friendly environment.

The thought of setting up a business can be frightening, whether it is worrying about tax and finances or the daunting task of writing a business plan. 

In this training session, our team will support you with:

Market research – the essential starting point for any business.

Marketing – how to get the word out about their business

Learning about the different social media tools available for business, blogging, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – understanding which platform is best for their business

Building a social media strategy

Finance – business start-up finance, sales and cash flow forecasting

Understanding your customers and competitors

This course is completely FREE to residents of Greater Manchester who are not yet self-employed. We have a number of upcoming 2-day sessions in the following venues, running 9.30am - 4.30pm:

FULLY BOOKED - Pomegranate, The Lexicon, 10-12 Mount Street, Manchester - 11th & 12th March

FULLY BOOKED - Confucius Institute, University of Manchester, Oxford Road - 20th & 27th March

NatWest, 1 Hardman Boulevard, Manchester M3 3AQ - 22nd & 23rd April

Booking is essential.

If you would like to speak to us, and find out more about this course, you can email us on or ring us on 0161 327 0967

Friday, February 7, 2020

5 Tips to Grow Your Business with Digital Marketing

Digital marketing is one of the most powerful tools in your marketing repertoire. Digitisation is impossible to avoid; it’s present in every level of our lives, and enables us to target specific demographics like never before. We’re bringing you 5 top tips on how to grow your business with the help of digital marketing.

people sitting down near table with assorted laptop computers

In-App Advertising
Ultimately, advertising ties into your visibility, and right now you’re probably invisible to most of your target market. Increasing your visibility and tapping into your desired market can be difficult, making in-app advertising a boon for appearing to your audiences. Unlike traditional advertising avenues, in-app advertising is pretty affordable – you make it as expensive or inexpensive as you like, and you have control over who is targeted by your ads.

Studies today show that users engage with apps more than websites, and mobile devices were used for more than 50% of web traffic in 2018. Consider what platforms are best to connect with your customers, and for placing yourself in the minds of your buyers. For example, if you run a wedding cake business, using visual platforms that brides frequent such as Instagram and Pinterest would be best for capturing your target audience’s attention.

Understanding SEO
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is getting your digital presence to appear highly in search results. It can be a difficult game to play, but it’s a powerful tool when you know how to use it. You could take all the time and energy in the world to make sure you have a functional, well-presented website, but without proper SEO, there’s a chance no one will ever see it.

Start by researching the most highly-searched keywords in your industry, and write some blog posts that add value to these topics. Again, though, SEO is difficult to master, so you may want to outsource your needs to someone who is SEO-savvy to get the most out of your strategy.

Establish a Strong Social Media Presence
It’s not impossible to grow your customer base solely through social media networks, so establishing a strong social media presence is key. It opens up a line of communication between yourself and your customers like never before, giving you access to valuable customer feedback and the chance to make a lasting good impression.

Building your brand on social media does require frequent posting and engagement, but you don’t need to spend half your time scrolling through Instagram and tweeting incessantly. Scheduling tools such as Hootsuite and Buffer allow you to plan your content in advance, but it is a good idea to do some live engagement with your followers every once in a while, too.

Build and nurture a mailing list
Having a solid email list offers you direct access to your customers and audience. In the age of ever-changing algorithms, when you post on social media, there is no guarantee that your posts will be seen by your followers.

Gathering information from your customers allows you to directly contact them with any upcoming events, promotions, or news, and cut through the noise of social media. There are plenty of tools out there, such as MailChimp, that allow you to send out blanket emails to your customers and split them into groups according to their interests. It also allows you to see the proportion of emails opened and links followed through – be careful you don’t send too many emails, though, or you’ll risk being consigned to the spam folder!

Create Shareable Content
The content you create can make or break your marketing strategy. High quality content can help build your brand and improve your relationship with your target audience, whereas low quality content can damage your image. Additionally, you don’t want your good content to go to waste by not being seen, so it needs to be shared by the right people to reach as widely as possible.

Make your content useful and practical to your audience, and make sure it’s engaging and relatable so that people are more likely to share it. Dry content isn’t going to evoke a reaction from your followers!

If you are a woman running a business in the Greater Manchester area that is working through these dilemmas and other business growth pains, our Excelerate Labs team may be able to help.

Part funded by European Regional Development Fund, Excelerate Labs can link you with a local adviser to explore growth strategy and help you to get all your ducks in a row.

Contact for more information.

Monday, February 3, 2020

EU Funded Programme will help shape the Enterprise Support Landscape Across Europe

The Women’s Organisation has been successful in securing EU funding as part of a partnership programme to support an entrepreneurial approach to skills development, social inclusion and economic growth.

Entrepreneurship360 is a three-year Erasmus+ funded project led by the University of Iceland, the leading institution of research and higher education in Iceland; renowned for research in the global scientific community, and working with partners  from Belgium, Finland, Italy and Spain with enterprise experts The Women’s Organisation contributing as UK partner.

Partners Meet for the first time face to face in Iceland
Meeting for the first time in Iceland this month to shape the project, the partners have been pooling ideas and expertise to explore the practical implementation of the groundbreaking EntreComp (European Entrepreneurship Competence) Framework, building directly on The Women’s Organisation’s experience and Enterprise Evolution consultancy services. 

Building on the success of Entrecomp the development of the Entrepreneurship360 platform will provide a one-stop-shop for the peer networks, guidance, tools, resources and MOOC based training to enable individuals and organisations to understand and use the EntreComp competence framework. The £240,000 project will run until summer 2022, building a community of practice to connect those applying EntreComp to their learning and work practices. It will be innovative in its cross sector nature exploring lifelong learning from formal education through to HR recruitment and start-up and will provide opportunity for representatives from the partner organisations to visit the other countries involved to see how they are already working to support entrepreneurs.

By defining 15 key competences, grouped in 3 areas: Ideas & opportunities; Resources; and Into action, EntreComp helps to create a shared understanding of the knowledge, skills and attributes that make up what it means to be entrepreneurial.  The pioneering EntreComp framework is the first cross-continent approach to supporting entrepreneurial ambition now being implemented by organisations and institutions across Europe and will provide a baseline for steering the focus of Entrepreneurship360.

The Women’s Organisation’s Enterprise Evolution consultancy team are in prime position to support the development of Entrepreneurship360 having co-authored the framework’s user-guide, EntreComp Into Action  and led research activities into how organisations supporting workforce development have used the framework.

The framework and user-guide are proving to be valuable to those working in education, training and development across Europe in shaping their activities and approaches to supporting work that create value for others, whether that be financial, cultural or social. 

CEO of The Women’s Organisation, Maggie O’Carroll, said: “The creation of the Entrecomp framework has been one of the most ground-breaking pieces of work in terms of shaping the international offering around enterprise support we’ve seen for a long time.  We are delighted that our partners at the University of Iceland were successful in securing funding for Entrepreneurship360 in order to further build on that work to ensure everyone from academics to those in informal learning environments have the same opportunity to understand the skills required to drive an enterprise forward.
For more than two decades we’ve been campaigning to ensure those with entrepreneurial ambition have appropriate and essential programmes of support to give them the best chance to start, sustain and grow their businesses.  Understanding the nuances of entrepreneurship and going a step further to look at how we can make the research, resources and learning around that more accessible across a European platform is an exciting opportunity we are thrilled to be a part of.”

The first step of implementing Entrepreneurship360 will be for the team to engage with others who are applying the Entrecomp framework or interesting in exploring how they could use the learning to inform their work.  The Entrepreneurship360 partners have developed a survey for individuals and organisations to complete which will help to inform the and underpin the work, and will be an opportunity for others to join their community of practice.  If you would like to find out more and take part  follow this link:

STAND OUT: Promoting Women Role Models - Hilary Browning

The slogan “empowered women empower women’ is one we say a lot here at The Women’s Organisation. They are words we strive to remember every day - we can all be inspired by women who are doing great things. 

That’s why we want to shine a light on the women who are leading the way in their industries in our new series, ‘STAND OUT’.

We’ll be hearing from women who are at the top of their business game, from top business execs, to women working in arts and culture and even an archaeologist!

First up is Hilary Browning, a cellist for Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

Hilary Browning, cellist in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Hilary Browning has been at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for 27 years. Growing up in a musical family in Kent, Hilary and her sisters were directed towards the cello and violin from a young age by her parents: “I think the idea was that they wanted to have a string quartet, but after they got to three children they decided that that was enough kids, so they didn’t quite make it to the full quartet!”

Through lessons at school, attending the local quartet centre, and playing in the youth orchestra, Hilary began to realise that music was her calling. At 14, she had her ‘eureka’ moment in the youth orchestra: “Being in a big group of people all playing their own instrument individually – the sound that comes out - had a big emotional impact on me. I got that emotional buzz from it and said to myself ‘this is exactly what I want to do’.”

Getting serious about her career, Hilary started to travel to London from Kent every week for lessons at Guildhall, eventually attending the college full-time for five years, rather than going to University. The symphony orchestra is notoriously difficult to get into, but for Hilary, the hard work was worth it. “You don’t get to follow and achieve your dreams without putting something in. I don’t think some people realise just how hard you have to work, but it’s the same with everything.”

After college, she began playing with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, but her ambitions were set higher. She saw a job advertised for a number two role at Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra – a big step up from any role she’d held before. Having nothing to lose, Hilary auditioned, and she got it. She’s been at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic ever since, where she met her husband, fellow cellist Ian Bracken, with whom she has two children. Her son William is continuing the musical legacy; an aspiring concert pianist, he's now in his third year at Guildhall, and has been greatly inspired by his piano-playing grandmother (Hilary's mum), who has taken great pleasure in encouraging and nurturing her grandson's development.  

Speaking about the Philharmonic, Hilary commented on how it was one of the most important institutions of Liverpool. “Artistically, it’s a flagship for the city. The audience that come are so fantastic… This loyal fanbase that comes to China, to Japan. I think to have it on Liverpool’s portfolio of things to offer is really important.”

However, after a few years, Hilary began to notice something lacking: contemporary music. “Everybody talks about playing music made by dead, white, male composers, so this was the first step (getting people playing living composers!)”.

She approached the chief executive, and they began a series called 10/10; so-called as every Saturday night, after the main concert, they would put on a set at 10:10pm. “We got people to come and play for free and the CEO allowed us to have the main hall, so it was a free concert for the audience. After about a year of doing this we got some funding from the North West Arts board - they approached us, which was brilliant.” The series was a big hit, and had a huge part to play when the Philharmonic applied for stabilisation funding from the arts council a few years later. 10/10 is still going strong today, bringing in a diverse range of composers and cutting-edge music from around the world.

Hilary playing at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic

Orchestras worldwide have received criticism at their lack of diversity. Even as recently as 2018, women are massively underrepresented in some of the world’s greatest ensembles: in a study of 22 orchestras, men accounted for 69%, with some instruments suffering an even larger gender imbalance. For example, the trumpet had only one female player, and the trombone and tuba had none at all. This disparity has been attributed to historical gender bias - until the 20th century, women were discouraged from playing any instruments that may distort their facial features, were too heavy and powerful, or required ‘unladylike’ postures. Amy Phelps, a cello instructor who wrote her PhD thesis on gender discrimination in orchestras, said: ‘The instruments they identified as male are the louder, bigger instruments… Our society does not want women to be loud’.

Women didn’t start playing in orchestras until the 1960s, and while there were a few female conductors in the 1980s, they eventually disappeared, Hilary says. “Around that time there was a conversation around, ‘we’ve got to get women into board rooms, we’ve got to get women into top jobs’, but it didn’t really happen.” Berlin Philharmonic didn’t have any women in their orchestra until the 1980s, and when they eventually did, the conductor walked out in protest. Vienna Philharmonic didn’t include any women until the 21st century. “It’s so behind and set in traditional ways”, says Hilary, “we’re way ahead of that in this country.”

Women make up 40% of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and Hilary has her own theories on why that number isn’t increasing. The hours can be antisocial, with many evening concerts, so arranging childcare can be difficult and can lead to many women leaving their posts. “We had to have a nanny looking after our kids. People muddle through all sorts of childcare arrangements. You might have them in day care then someone else will pick them up and bring them home.”

Nevertheless, Hilary is optimistic for the future. She is involved in a diversity group, which aims to promote women into conducting roles, a traditionally male-dominated sphere. There are more and more women becoming conductors, but Hilary says there’s still some apprehension surrounding it:

“People, even other women, are nervous about [having female conductors]. One girl in the orchestra said, ‘If we’re going to have female conductors, they have to be good’, and I said, ‘Well, why do they have to be good?' Of course, we're all striving for excellence, but we have to give all conductors a chance before their reputation is completely solid. 

“I do think quite strongly that we have to be pro-active, we can’t just let it happen. It would take too long to filter through. We need to have more ideas and more energy putting into how we can get more women conductors, more women composers.”

'Equilibrium' will be introducing work from female composers
Speaking of those who inspire her, Hilary looked to women who have the courage to challenge the norm and say, ‘Why not? Why shouldn’t I?’; women such as Madeline Allbright, Condoleezza Rice, both former US secretaries of state, and Elim Chan, conductor of the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra. “She just completely surpassed all the barriers in her way”, says Hilary, ‘she told me that the only ones she encountered were from other women looking at her with their eyes narrowed, thinking ‘how are you going to do this?’”

Finally, to those wanting to achieve their dreams, Hilary has some parting advice:

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way. If you want to do it, there’s absolutely nothing to stop you. Find the best teacher you can, surround yourself with people who will give you positive encouragement, because on the path there’s lots of ups and downs. Knock-backs are part of it. For each success, there’ll probably be three more knock-backs. If you don’t get in the first time, try a different place. Don’t be put off by people saying you can’t: just keep at it and keep working hard.”

Hilary Browning is now part of ‘Equilibrium’, a new group at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic with a mission to introduce works by hitherto neglected women composers and exciting new works by women of today, in partnership with the Women’s Organisation. 

For their first perfromance, Equilibrium have invited Sheila Hayman, descendant of the composer Fanny Mendelssohn, to speak about Fanny and the challenges she faced as a female composer of her time.

Their first performance takes place on Monday 10th February at 8pm. Tickets are available here: