Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Reacting & Adapting: Taking The Gildergreen bakery on the road

In this blog series we're catching up with entrepreneurs who are 'Reacting & Adapting' to make sure their business can survive and thrive through these unprecedented months.

We first met Natasha Arbia last Summer, when she need some advice, support and direction in setting up her gluten-free bakery, The Gildergreen.

As with many entrepreneurs, Natasha had to react fast and adapt her business model when the UK went into lockdown. She quickly launched a new delivery service, making sure her customers could still get their gluten-free sweet fixes delivered right to their doorsteps.

Read on to find out how Natasha has managed to create a more profitable way of doing business, all while reducing her waste, maximising her time and growing her customer base…

Tell us what business would typically look like for you in the pre-lockdown world?

My business is a Gluten Free bakery, making a selection of cakes, brownies, cookies and tray bakes. I specialise in mini cakes, rather than large cakes, as I want my bakes to be a little treat for people who are often the only one eating Gluten Free in their household.

We have an online shop, from which we sell a range of bakes that can posted anywhere in the UK.  We also offer a cake subscription, where we send a selection of bakes to subscribers every month, in a letterbox friendly package. The subscription also include tea from The Liverpool Tea Warehouse, making it a lovely treat.

Under normal circumstances I sell my bakes at weekly Farmers Markets around Liverpool. At the markets I normally offer a selection of 3 or 4 cake flavours, brownies, tray bakes and Cookies. I usually have a market every week and have some wonderful regulars who come and support the business.

February was pretty terrible for the markets, as we had week after week of high winds, meaning that they were either cancelled called off early. On one occasion the market was called off at the last minute and I had all my cakes ready, with nowhere to sell them. I decided to see if any of my lovely social media followers would like to have some cakes delivered to them, so that the bakes didn’t go to waste and I could recover some costs. I had a great response and sold most of the cakes that day.

A few weeks later Coronavirus had hit and I had to make some difficult decisions. The markets were still running (this was before lock down), but I just didn’t feel that it was safe for myself and my customers to keep attending, so I decided that I needed to move my business in a different direction. You could already see that people were staying at home more and I had got plenty of interest for my deliveries a few weeks earlier, so I decided to move to weekly local deliveries instead.

Was it a straightforward process to shift your business model? And how is it going so far?

My website had plenty of products on it, but they were all full or half batches of bakes (for example a whole loaf cake or four mini cakes – this is because I bake all my cakes fresh to order). I wanted to be able to offer customers the same sort of selection they would see at my markets, without waste and in a way that was logically possible for me, so I can up with my Market Selection Boxes.

Each week I bake 3 different flavours of Mini Cakes, one flavour of Brownies, one flavour Cupcake and Caramel Shortcake. I then offer these as various mixed selections and will deliver for free, anywhere in Liverpool (this generally means within Liverpool City Council boundaries, but we will deliver just over the boundaries, as long as its within about 20mins drive of the City Centre). All orders are placed through my online shop, which means contactless payment, so its safe for everyone.

As well as my mixed boxes offering a great selection to my customers, they also make delivery viable for me. It wouldn’t be sensible for me to offer deliveries on single items, such as a £1.50 Brownie and I also couldn’t make a whole batch for just one slice. I thought carefully about what I needed the minimum order to be and made up the box selections to meet that minimum order. Customers can order for Saturday delivery, any day of the week before, up to 5pm on Thursday. This means that I only have to bake enough for the orders I have, reducing waste and maximising my time.

In fact, this pre-order system has been much more profitable than my weekly markets and my business has grown because of it. My customer reach has expanded hugely, I have new regular customers who buy every week and I’m still able to make people happy with my cakes!

This new service must be proving popular with your customers?

I have one regular who always emails me excitedly each week to tell me how much she is looking forward to the delivery. One week she made a large order for herself and someone made a separate surprise order for her. It was lovely to see her face when she opened the door and saw the pile of cake boxes on her doorstep.

I miss my weekly markets for the customer interaction, but at a safe distance on the doorstep I am still getting wonderful feedback from my customers and able to see their faces at the prospect of the treats in front of them.

You’ve certainly achieved a lot over the last few months – are you pleased with how The Gildergreen has been able to react and adapt?

When the lockdown came I was in a panic about the future of my business! Could I continue to deliver my cakes? Was it sensible?  Possible? Viable? I am so glad that I made the decision to carry on!

If you'd like to try out Natasha's desserts, head to here website:

If you'd like to contact Natasha directly, email:

You can also keep up with everything Gildergreen through Facebook or Instagram!

Whether you are thinking of starting a business, sustaining your business through the current climate, or even growing your business, we have a team of expert business advisors who are here to help you through the practicalities.

Contact us via to find out more or to book your 1-2-1 telephone or video appointment.  

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Women entrepreneurs are being unfairly penalised for taking maternity leave in COVID-19 financial support

The Chancellor says self-employed people who have had a “volatile income” will be fairly treated by the Self Employment Income Support scheme, but one social enterprise is making clear that taking maternity leave is not a so-called “bad business year”.

New mothers who took maternity leave within the last assessment period are being unfairly disadvantaged in the Government’s Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), says The Women’s Organisation.

Liverpool entrepreneur Jade Wright with baby Bea.
The internationally leading social enterprise is warning that entrepreneurs who are mothers, who typically take longer parental leave than their male counterparts, are being unfairly impacted by having taken time out from trading to look after their new-borns.

While official government guidance states that self-employed people who have taken, or are currently on, parental leave “may” still be eligible for the scheme - as HMRC considers them to be still trading - these entrepreneurs are receiving grants significantly lower than had they not taken this leave.

Under the Self Employment Income Support Scheme, the government will pay self-employed people grants of 80% of their average profits, up to £2,500, for three months.

These average profits are calculated based on the last three years of tax returns, but this does not consider any time taken off for maternity leave in that period, substantially bringing down the average for many.

The Women’s Organisation has estimated that this could potentially impact around 80,000 self-employed women in the UK who took leave during this time.

One of these women is Liverpool-based entrepreneur and founder of Good Taste Magazine, Jade Wright.

She says: “I am one of thousands of women who have been disadvantaged by taking maternity leave. My grant has been effectively cut in half because the maternity leave I took three years ago wasn’t taken into account in the calculation. Even though I returned to work in 2018 and have since earned a normal amount, I have lost over 50% of my grant because I made a loss on my self-employed pay during my first year in the assessment period.

“Women often take on the role of primary care givers, even beyond maternity leave countless women take additional leave every year to look after family members, and this all impacts on the amount they will receive. This is an example of structural discrimination which disproportionately penalises women and more must be done protect and encourage more female entrepreneurs”.

Helen Millne, Deputy CEO of The Women's Organisation (left), with CEO Maggie O'Carroll (right)
Maggie O’Carroll, CEO of The Women’s Organisation, says: “When queried about this failure in Government we heard The Chancellor Rishi Sunak say that the system was fair in ensuring that people who had a “volatile year” would get the opportunity to use an average calculation. Let us be clear. Taking maternity leave is not a bad business year; it is time away from trading to care for a baby.

“What’s more, employed people who have been furloughed under the Job Retention Scheme aren’t getting a reduced wage for having taken maternity leave three years ago, where is the parity? There is a real danger here that the unintended consequence of this approach can be understood as structural discrimination, which disproportionately penalises women in the scheme. Government must address this disparity as a matter of urgency, so that mother entrepreneurs can be rightly and properly supported."

The Organisation is calling for government to allow mothers to work out their average profits without having to include maternity leave in the calculation.

It adds that one viable way of regulating this would be for the government to look at who claimed Maternity Allowance, which self-employed women receive when the take maternity leave, over the last three years.

Professor of Entrepreneurship at Manchester Metropolitan University, Julia Rouse

Professor of Entrepreneurship and Head of the Sylvia Pankhurst Gender Research Centre at Manchester Metropolitan University, Julia Rouse, says: "The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme aims to compensate small traders for loss of earning during lockdown. Assessing those losses by taking into account maternity leaves taken in the past makes no sense at all. It is plainly unfair and a blow to new mothers who worked heroically to ensure that their businesses survive during pregnancy and maternity.

“Covid19 is another massive challenge for these businesses and one through which they need support, not discrimination. Imagine for a moment running a business while nurseries and childminders are closed. Mother entrepreneurs need and deserve our support and, at the very least, a fair deal.

“In the UK we have The Equalities Act that specifically states that it is discriminatory for the state to disadvantage someone on the basis of pregnancy or maternity. It is time for the Government to re-consider this unfair clause so that they act in both the spirit and the letter of the law. And show their empathy and commitment to women business owners."

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Women’s Organisation steps up support for female entrepreneurs in lockdown

While its no longer “business as usual” for thousands across the City Region, The Women’s Organisation is offering entrepreneurs and SMEs a vital lifeline through its programme of online and virtual business advice, training, and webinars.

Since lockdown began nearly 60 days ago the Liverpool-based social enterprise wasted no time in re-designing its services to fully operate on an online and telephone basis, with its programme of training and events as active as ever.

Read on to find out what The Women’s Organisation has been doing so far to support women in business and how you can tap into the support on offer, plus, how to catch up with anything you might have missed…

1-2-1 business advice through the Enterprise Hub programme

The Women’s Organisation is the lead partner of the Enterprise Hub programme, which coordinates and simplifies the business start-up and growth support available across the Liverpool City Region into a “one front door” access point.

As part of this offering for aspiring entrepreneurs and growing businesses The Women’s Organisation offers 1-2-1 advice with a dedicated business advisor, either by video link or over the telephone, alongside a programme of business training.

The support on offer is fully-funded and aimed at women across the City Region who are currently thinking of starting a business, as well as new businesses which need support in navigating through the current crisis and those which are experiencing growth due to increased demand for their product or services.

Clients can now instantly book a slot online via The Women’s Organisation’s Eventbrite page, or by getting in touch via

Online business training with Enterprise Hub

As part of the Enterprise Hub programme, those eligible can also access The Hub’s full range of fully funded online training. This includes business planning course ‘Planning for Success’, ‘Building a Social Media Strategy’, ‘Basic Bookkeeping’ and ‘Understanding Tax and National Insurance’.
For anyone interested in accessing these courses, The Women’s Organisation recommends getting a business advisor as a first step before enrolling on the training.

Entrepreneurial training with Enterprise Hub Skills

In a new addition to The Women’s Organisation’s programme of training comes a special two-day ‘Managing in a Crisis: Be Resilient’ course from Enterprise Hub Skills.

This entrepreneurial training will look at what it means to be resilient, offering practical tips to strengthen personal resilience, business resilience, and other areas of life which might have been impacted.

Managing in a Crisis is free to access for women in the Liverpool City Region who are running a business or working in a business and are finding it difficult to manage under current circumstances.

The first cohort will be taking place on Thursday 28th May and Thursday 4st June, 10.30am – 12.30pm, with the following session happening the same time on Wednesday 17th June and Wednesday 24th June.

Book your place via Eventbrite or by getting in touch via

Introducing ‘Rapid Response’: expert-led online webinars

In response to the crisis, the organisation has also launched a special series of free ‘Rapid Response’ events and online webinars designed to equip the local business community with specialised entrepreneurial skills to survive, maintain momentum and thrive through the pandemic.

Led by industry experts, the series has already covered topics including accessing finance, promotion and marketing, innovation, and well-being.

The first ‘Meet the Media: Promoting your Business During a Pandemic’ session welcomed the expertise of Nazia Parveen, North of England Correspondent at The Guardian and Tony McDonough, Journalist at LBN Daily.

Life coach Claire Morton led a ‘Master Your Mindset’ session to help entrepreneurs stay positive and motivated in challenging times, also looking at how to think outside the box for business opportunities.

A special finance and legal Business Resilience Clinic Q&A looked at approaches to securing additional financial support from funders, what steps to take to ensure a surviving and viable business, as well as practical advice on the legal impacts of Coronavirus on businesses.

The Women’s Organisation’s marketing manager, Joanne Austin, led the latest session ‘Keeping Connected with Customers’ which put a focus on how businesses can use PR and social media to make sure your business stays visible.

Sessions which have already streamed are all available to watch back. Those interested should contact The Women’s Organisation directly to access a play back link.

Upcoming ‘Rapid Response’ webinars:

Following the success of the ‘Rapid Response’ series so far, The Women’s Organisation has committed to running webinars throughout the crisis tackling core business themes.

The next session, ‘SEO to Stop Google Forgetting You’ is taking place on Tuesday 26th May at 11am.

Jo Austin, Marketing Manager at The Women’s Organisation, will be sharing her tips and tricks on improving your SEO to make sure your business remains visible and help you grow your brand.

This will be followed by ‘Reacting & Adapting During a Pandemic’ on Wednesday 27th May at 11am, where you can hear from the women whose businesses have survived and thrived during the coronavirus pandemic.

We will dig deeper to understand why their transitions have been so successful, find out what worked for them and what business practices they will carry forward in the future.

As businesses start to look towards the post-lockdown world, ‘Rapid Recovery – Returning to a Better Workplace’ happening on Thursday 28th May at 11am, will explore how businesses can manage a smooth transition back to the workplace.

This Live Q&A will bring together a panel of business experts to offer their advice and tips on how to minimise risks in your working environment, how to build confidence in your team and how to adapt your strategy.

All upcoming Rapid Response sessions are free to attend and are open to business women across the City Region and can be booked directly through The Women’s Organisation’s Eventbrite page.

The message from the Organisation is clear: we are here for you and your business.

Business Adviser Co-Ordinator, Francine Taylor, says: “We understand that this is a worrying and uncertain time for entrepreneurs and businesses and so we would like to assure you that The Women's Organisation is, as always, here to support you in any way we can.

“Whether this be through our team of expert business advisers who are on hand to help guide you through these difficult times and continue to thrive, or through our programme of business training and events. We’re here for you.”

To find out more about upcoming events, or to instantly book a 1-2-1 business advice session, you can visit The Women’s Organisation’s Eventbrite page:

Those wanting to find out more can also contact the team directly via, where an engagement specialist can talk you through the support available.

Friday, May 15, 2020

1000’s of Companies at risk as Directors are missing out on Government financial support

Directors of limited Companies are falling through the cracks in the government’s COVID-19 support package, putting their companies and millions of jobs at risk.

Leading social enterprise, The Women’s Organisation, is urging the Government to reconsider and plug the gaps in its COVID-19 financial support package to better protect Company Directors.

The Women’s Organisation is warning that there are thousands of businesses, and therefore jobs, at risk because these owner/ Directors have no access to an appropriate packet of financial support which would facilitate business sustainability.

Helen Millne, Deputy CEO of The Women’s Organisation

It is drawing attention to the plight of Company Directors who are not self-employed and are paid through their company on minimum salary, receiving the majority of their income through annual Dividends.

Many directors have paid tax both through PAYE on their low-level earnings and through self-assessment for the Dividends they have received from the companies’ profits.

The Liverpool-based organisation says that the current Government schemes intended to support businesses to survive the pandemic and be ready to thrive once the lockdown is loosened are not providing lifeline resources to this group in the way that is needed.

The organisation acknowledges that the Small Business Grant Fund (SBGF) is available to those in smaller premises, but this figure will be relatively low. And while the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and Bounce Back loans are available to these businesses, loans are not the right solution for these personal income issues.

Whilst these Directors would be eligible for the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme by Furloughing themselves from their roles as employee and director of their own company, The Women’s Organisation points out that both their income would be unviable and, critically, furloughing would mean they could not undertake vital tasks within the company to maintain its viability and ensure the business is able to restart trading.

One Liverpool Company Director shared their experience: “Within hours of lockdown all but two of my clients stopped their retained fees, leaving me with no alternative but to furlough my seven staff members. I tried to service the two projects and maintain the business myself but was forced to give up and furlough myself.

“Despite that I am maintaining company information, battling to get loan funding to enable me to restart at the point we are allowed. I earn a little over £700 per month before I earn profit related dividends - of which I have no profits to speak of since lockdown. All government routes to grant aid outside of the furlough scheme do not apply to me. I cannot see why it is so difficult to make a case to support company directors who create valuable employment to keep the economy moving.”

According to BEIS research (2019) there are 2 million actively trading companies (not including sole traders or partnerships) in the UK, with just over half of all Limited Companies employing staff and just under half only employing their owner/director(s).

This means that Limited Companies provide stable employment to at least 2 million people.

Helen Millne, Deputy CEO of The Women’s Organisation, said: “Limited Companies provide valuable products and services to their communities, generating significant income and employment to the UK economy. Company Directors deserve not only to be properly protected financially in this crisis, but also to have their contribution to our economy properly recognised.

“As it stands, a very large proportion of 2 million Company Directors are now left with no income, no support, and perhaps no business to return to. What is more, over 55% of these Directors employ staff meaning that the subsequent number of jobs at risk from these businesses failing is incredibly significant.

“We are hopeful that Government ministers and the treasury will be looking to develop a timely and effective support package which better reflects the contribution of this group to our economy and properly protects the income of thousands up and down the country”.

The Women’s Organisation has put forward a number of recommendations to the Government for extending the current schemes, so that they can best serve Company Directors and secure the sustainability of these businesses and ensure that they can be prepared for the recovery phase.

The first recommendation is to introduce a scheme specifically designed for Directors which replicates and acts as an alternative to the Self Employment Income Support Scheme, and that provides three months of their monthly dividend pay-out and three months of their monthly salary.

The Second option put forward by The Women’s Organisation is to introduce a Directors Retention Scheme, similar to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, that allows Company Directors to continue working to promote the success of their company whilst furloughed.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Reacting and adapting: the new business normal

Lockdown has changed the whole dynamic of business, but here in the Liverpool City Region business support agency, Enterprise Hub, is helping local entrepreneurs react and adapt to the new business normal.

With workplaces and venues forced to close to ensure social distancing, many ventures have had to rapidly reassess their whole way of working.
Here, we meet four Liverpool City Region businesses that have successfully transitioned to maintain a valuable service for their clients by ‘reacting and adapting’ to the current crisis.

Phenomenal Woman Fitness is one of the businesses
that has taken its services online
All have received guidance and support through Liverpool City Region’s “one front door” access point for business support, Enterprise Hub, led by Liverpool social enterprise The Women’s Organisation.

It's OFFICIAL! We're one of the UK's top 100 social enterprises

The Women's Organisation has been named as one of the UK's top 100 social enterprises for its work delivering social impact across the Liverpool City Region and beyond.

The NatWest SE100 Index, announced today (14 May) is the annual list of the UK’s leading 100 social enterprises, compiled by Pioneers Post in partnership with NatWest Social & Community Capital.

With over 470,000 social enterprises operating across the country, this places the Liverpool-based organisation within the top 1% of these.

The organisation says that its vision for the sector is that it will continue to develop innovative and effective collaboration and lead the way in redesigning an economy which puts business for good first.

Maggie O’Carroll, CEO of The Women’s Organisation, together with Deputy CEO Helen Millne, says: “We are incredibly proud to be named as one of the UK’s top 100 social enterprises. With over 470,000 social enterprises doing vital work across the country to deliver a positive impact for the future of individuals and our communities, it is a real privilege to be counted in the top 1% of these.

“Core indicators of performance used in the NatWest SE100 Index include impact management, leadership, resilience and storytelling. These principles are more important than ever and offer firm assurance within the current crisis that the social sector is equipped with the speed of adaptation and resilience to face these challenges and continue, as always, to support those in need.

“More importantly, we are proud to be part of a movement which continues to tackle inequalities and deliver real social impact. Our vision for the sector is that we will continue to develop innovative and effective collaboration and lead the way in redesigning an economy which puts business for good first.”

You can view the full list compiled by Pioneers Post in partnership with NatWest Social & Community Capital, here:

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Support for businesses through Covid-19

We understand that this is a worrying and uncertain time for individuals and businesses alike and so we would like to assure you that The Women's Organisation is, as always, here to support you in any way we can.

Whether this be through our team of expert business advisers who are on hand to help guide you through these difficult times and continue to thrive, or through our range of support to help individuals manage personally. We’re here for you.

This page will talk you through how we can support you and your business, along with some of the most useful links to Government guidance for your business.  

Our Services 

In response to COVID-19 we have now redesigned all our services to operate on a telephone or virtual basis.

1-2-1 Business Support:

Whether you are thinking of starting a business, sustaining your business through the current climate, or even growing your business, we have a team of expert business advisors who are here to help you through the practicalities.

Contact us via to find out more or to book your 1-2-1 telephone or video appointment.  

Online Rapid Response sessions:

In response to the Coronavirus outbreak we are running a ‘Rapid Response’ series of online webinars and events designed to help your business survive and thrive. Led by industry experts, the series has so far covered topics from wellbeing and marketing, to accessing finance.

Find out what’s next on our Eventbrite page:

Want to find out more? Please contact our team via and we can talk you through the support available for you.

Key Links for Business

We’ve gathered some of the key links for the business support available at the moment.

For the most up-to-date advice and guidance on the support available for you and your business, please visit the GOV.UK website by clicking here.

Business Support Grant Funding

You can now apply for the Small Business Grants Fund (SBGF) and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund (RHLGF) through your Local Authority:                                               
Under the SBGF all eligible businesses in England in receipt of either Small Business Rates Relief (SBRR) or Rural Rates Relief (RRR) in the business rates system will be eligible for a payment of £10,000.

Under the RHLG eligible businesses in England in receipt of the Expanded Retail Discount (which covers retail, hospitality and leisure) with a rateable value of less than £51,000 will be eligible for a cash grants of £10,000 or £25,000 per property.

Top-up to local business grant funds scheme

A discretionary fund has been set up to accommodate certain small businesses previously outside the scope of the business grant funds scheme (above) because of how they pay their business rates.

This fund will be allocated on a discretionary basis by your Local Authority.

Apply for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) helps small and medium-sized businesses to access loans and other kinds of finance up to £5 million.

The government guarantees 80% of the finance to the lender and pays interest and any fees for the first 12 months.

Apply for a coronavirus Bounce Back Loan

The Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) enables smaller businesses to access finance more quickly during the coronavirus outbreak. You should apply for this loan directly through your business bank.

The scheme helps small and medium-sized businesses to borrow between £2,000 and up to 25% of their turnover. The maximum loan available is £50,000.

The government guarantees 100% of the loan and there won’t be any fees or interest to pay for the first 12 months. After 12 months the interest rate will be 2.5% a year.

Claim for wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Claim for 80% of your employee’s wages plus any employer National Insurance and pension contributions, if you have put them on furlough because of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Check if you can claim a grant through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme

This scheme will allow you to claim a taxable grant of 80% of your average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment covering 3 months, and capped at £7,500 altogether. 

HMRC will work out if you’re eligible and how much grant you may get, but you can visit the GOV.UK website to help you understand the process and if you’ll be eligible to claim:

Sign up for Universal Credit

If your income has reduced significantly, or you are now out of work, we would urge you to sign up for Universal Credit. If you're already receiving benefits you should get a Better Off calculation before applying to see how your current payments might be affected.

Still unsure? 

Use this Coronavirus financial support finder to see if you and your business could be eligible for loans, tax relief and cash grants:

Share your experiences with us

We are actively lobbying local and national Government on the issues which are currently affecting businesses to make sure that they are properly supported through the Coronavirus crisis. Your insights and experiences can help inform these discussions.

Whether you have successfully applied for a Government grant or have found your business outside the scope for support – we want to hear from you. Tell us how you’ve found the process, how quickly you were able to access support and any challenges you’ve faced.

Tell us via and help us to represent SMEs and social businesses so we can protect jobs, incomes, and the local economy.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Our ask to Local Government: Small & social businesses MUST be able to access discretionary top-up fund easily & speedily

Last week The Business Secretary Alok Sharma announced a ‘discretionary’ fund to accommodate certain small businesses which were previously outside the scope of the business grant funds scheme, simply because of how they pay their business rates.

The announcement followed a lobbying effort led by Liverpool-based social enterprise, The Women’s Organisation, with several Liverpool City Region MPs, CEO’s and business leaders from across the Liverpool City Region adding their support. (Find out more here).

While this new £617 million discretionary fund has been welcomed as a vital lifeline for private and social businesses, The Women’s Organisation and Enterprise Hub - Liverpool City Region’s “one front door” for business support - have today written to Local Authority leaders and Cabinet Members with two key asks to ensure businesses can access the support easily and speedily.

Firstly, to ensure that Local Government expedite grant payments to SMEs and Social Businesses and secondly to ensure that is it not an onerous task for businesses to access.

Helen Millne, Deputy CEO of The Women's Organisation, (left)
with CEO, Maggie O'Carroll (right)

Maggie O’Carroll, CEO of The Women’s Organisation, says: “The priority is to get that resource out to businesses as matter of urgency as many have ongoing businesses costs and reduced income during the lockdown period. As we look forward to an easing of restrictions it will be crucial that they have the cash to aid them now and in their recovery.  

“We hope that urgency, pace and flexibility are the watchwords attached to this process and are asking for support and leadership from Local Authority leaders and Cabinet Members in ensuring that authorities right across the Liverpool City Region can expedite claims immediately and use a simple process which also protects the public purse from any attempted fraud.”

Helen Millne, Deputy CEO of The Women’s Organisation, and National Growth Programme Board member, added: “There is a concern if officials decide on a process which involves officers doing individual business assessments on proving reduced income that the grants will be unnecessarily delayed. 

“What’s more, businesses that have been in touch with their respective local authorities are being told that there is very little money and it’s a first come first serve basis. Given that there is a significant underspend in the previous round of grant resource, this is not a helpful for already distressed small business owners and social enterprises.”

In the letter issued today, The Women’s Organisation and Enterprise Hub have updated their original suggestions, as were put forward to local government and Alok Sharma MP, to reflect the discretionary fund: 

Issue 1

Businesses that operate from managed workspaces or incubators will often pay a contribution to a shared business rates where one rateable value is applied to the whole building within their tenancy or licence agreement. Indeed, this is often advised as the most appropriate method for business rates collection by the Business Rates Office when tenancy agreements are often “easy-in-and-easy-out” and would mean a lot of change in billing. 

Solution 1

Upon receipt of appropriate evidence the grant is paid to businesses with tenancies in properties with shared business rates. To prevent any fraud the following measures could also be added to check the veracity of the grant claim:

The local authority may ask:

- Managing agents or landlords to provide a declaration including a list of all legitimate tenants, including company name, size of space occupied, and confirmation that they have been paying  a contribution to the business rates prior to 11thMarch 2020; 
- Businesses to provide their most recent tax return showing that business address and a copy of their licence/tenancy agreement; a second form of evidence such a bank statement and a copy of their licence/tenancy agreement and;
- In the application form produced by the Local Authority indicate by a tick box that their income has reduced since the onset of the crisis (as it will not be possible for officials to make a judgement on this and there simply won't be a timely evidence base to assess).

Issue 2

Social enterprises can have many structures, including charitable status. It has been suggested that as these small businesses receive mandatory relief for charities and not Small Business Rates Relief that they may  not be eligible for this additional grant from their Local Authority. 

Solution 2

We would ask that it be confirmed that Social Enterprises with the appropriate rateable value and receiving mandatory relief for charities will be eligible for this grant.

You can catch up with the original story and find out how The Women's Organisation lobbied Government on this issue, here:
For more information on the support available through The Women's Organisation please contact

Reacting & Adapting: A positive picture for Outline Arts

In this blog series we're catching up with entrepreneurs who are 'Reacting & Adapting' to make sure their business can survive and thrive through these unprecedented months. 

One business doing just that is Outline Arts, which has launched an online programme to help children and adults alike to unleash their inner artist and explore art as a tool to switch off and get creative through these difficult months.

We caught up with founder and freelance art educator, Jennie Keegan, to find out more…

Having come from a background in Art and Design coupled with Creative Education, Jennie’s passion lies in helping people of all ages to develop their creative confidence.
After years spent working in higher, further and community education settings, Jennie decided it was time to forge out on her own. And so, Outline Arts was born.
Jennie offers courses and workshops in Visual Communication, using techniques from drawing and illustration, to image making and storytelling.
Having just celebrated its second birthday, Outline Arts has already delivered a raft of successful projects for the likes of National Trust Formby, Tate Liverpool, Alder Hey and Aintree Hospitals, as well as for schools and festivals.

Outline Arts’ programme usually consists of Art Club for children ages 7-10 and 11-14, alongside monthly themed workshops, holiday art schools and pop-up collaborations – including the National Trust, Emma’s Wild Garden and Sunshine Sensory.
Not forgetting the adults, Outline Arts also runs monthly themed workshops and an ‘I Can’t Draw’ workshop.
As with many businesses, social distancing measures have meant that its no longer “business as usual”. But Jennie hasn’t let that stop her getting creative with clients.
She says: “My sessions are planned around experimenting with materials and techniques, encouraging exploration of ideas and confidence so you switch off, be creative and enjoy the session. This aim has not changed. It is the way I do it which has.”
Outline Arts can now be found running an Online Arts Club, posting daily creative art prompts on social media, with more exciting projects on the go to keep the community engaged.
Jennie tells us: “I was approached by Grow Liverpool and other Liverpool businesses to launch #streetgallery #frommywindow to encourage children (and adults!) to create artwork and share it in their window so people have something positive to look at if they are passing - inspired by the movement in Spain and Ireland.”

Last month Jennie also launched free 8-week Online Art Club for children and adults, which has been a resounding success.

Jennie says: “The idea is you have an art session every day of the ‘working week’. It's completely flexible so you can do as much or as little as you like, when you like. Each Monday subscribers receive a video for that day’s session, along with a handout of resources for Tuesday to Friday. There are also research activities included so students can start to gain a wider understanding of artists, organisations and galleries.”
Jennie tells us that she initially set out with the aim of signing 20 people up to the programme, but there are now over 90 taking part.
The club has been so successful that the sessions might be here to stay as part of Outline Arts’ business growth moving forward.

Jennie says: “The Online Arts Club has had really great feedback and what's more surprising is the parental engagement with the creative activities! My daily art prompts and creative responses have also been a hit, with people getting involved from as far afield as New York and some people even starting an art journal to record them in.”
“We're now looking at how this could work in the future as it's definitely something I want to do with things open up again. I'm taking this time to develop resources and courses online, reflect on my business.”
What’s more, Jennie has now been awarded a bursary from Curious Minds, which is Arts Council England’s Bridge Organisation for the North West, to develop her CPDL during this time and adjust her teaching in response to COVID-19.

While it is no longer “business as usual” for Outline Arts, Jennie has successfully innovated to maintain engagement with her community and has been able to reach new audiences online. 
We asked how Jennie has found the process of reacting and adapting to the current crisis, she says: “Don't get me wrong, it's been a tough, uncertain time and I have moments when the thought of the future scares me but focusing on my online courses, creating videos and positive social media content has been good for my business with my followers increasing by 15% for both Instagram and Facebook.
“But the most worthwhile thing has been the messages and e-mails I've received from students and parents sharing their enthusiasm and photos of their work.”
Jennie was able to tap in o business support at The Women’s Organisation, through the Enterprise Hub programme.
She says: “The support and advice I've had from the Women's Organisation has been invaluable. They are positive, proactive, and forward thinking, especially in these uncertain times. Knowing you have the kind of support that you trust, which always has you and your business’ best interest at heart, is comforting and allows you to focus on your business more confidently.”
To find out more about Outline Arts you can visit or find them on social media on Instagram and Facebook.

Do you need help reacting and adapting your business? For more information about the support available through The Women’s Organisation to help you and your business, please contact us via e-mail at if you're based in the Liverpool City Region.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Turning Things Around: Leah's Journey

The gym saved Leah Clyne once – and following the Coronavirus outbreak, the gym has come to her rescue once again.

Eight years ago, Middleton mum-of-three Leah was in a stressful media sales job.

Leah Clyne

Lack of sleep and a constant cycle of stress saw her sink into depression and turn for solace to the comfort of a drink; before she knew it, the reassurance of a glass of wine had become a daily habit.

Under treatment by the doctor for depression, she said she didn’t mention her habit because she didn’t consider it a problem.

Then, when the weight piled on, she admits she lost her self-esteem and her self-confidence.

“I was in a mess,” she confessed.

Life threw Leah a further challenge when her son, who is now 29, was diagnosed, with ADHD and autism as an adult. Leah said the family had battled for years to look after him, oblivious of his condition.

With a daughter who was about to leave school and unsure of her future, as well as caring for her youngest who was aged just two, Leah had a lot on her plate.

Then, dealing her one further blow, her partner left the family home, leaving Leah to face these challenges as a single parent.

Leah knew that something needed to change; she dug deep, and took the first step in completely transforming her life.

She said: “One day I woke up, opened my eyes, I'm not sure what happened, but I decided to join a gym.

“I started classes, and after months of hard work I started to feel better.

“I stopped drinking, and a year later I decided to help other people get fit and healthy and show them that there is a way through.”

Leah then moved to set up her own business, V Gymwear, producing a range of outfits for avid gym-goers.

She said: “Being a fitness instructor and personal trainer, plus a busy mum, I realised that quality, affordable gym wear was a must for me and began my journey to find these products, and that's when I realised I could share this with other women in my industry and clients.”

Eager to learn valuable entrepreneurial skills and develop her business even more, “rather than be the lady with a bin bag of gym wear for sale”, she enrolled with Excelerate Labs, a business support and advice project run by The Women’s Organisastion, in Manchester.

Her advisor, Mike Marsden, guided Leah towards setting up an online shop and helped her achieve her targets, advising her on how best to advertise her business on social media to reach an even wider audience.

Then, the pandemic hit.

Leah said: “It stopped me in my tracks.

“No gyms open. No classes to teach personal training. It was like the world had ended.

“I was actually devastated.”

Faced with such a massive obstacle so early on, she admits that at one stage she even felt like going back to her old ways of using alcohol as a soother.

However, her gym wear website pulled her round and gave her the focus she needed to get her routine back on track and in order.

“I focused on the website, the online sales, the advertising, and this has been proved to work.

“Sales are coming through. My Instagram has grown tremendously, and I actually feel overwhelmed – but in the best possible way,” she said.

Leah has also expanded her services through her laptop by offering free online exercise classes via Facebook live, in aid of a Manchester charity.

“Instead of asking people to pay for the classes, I decided to find a local charity to send their donations to.”

Leah chose Home-Start Manchester, which helps vulnerable families, a charity she feels an affinity with: “I’ve been there,” she said.

She added: “Knowing I could help someone who is in a situation I can relate to meant a lot to me, so it comes from the heart.”

So far, Leah has raised nearly £400 for the charity, and has set herself a target of £1,000.

Her business mentor, Mike, is still around to offer a guiding hand. He said:

“It’s been absolute delight working with Leah, and what a roller coaster it has been. We have seen her Instagram following increase from a few thousand to over 17900 followers; the web enquiries are up, conversion is up, sales are up and number of customers returning is up.

“The products are getting better and better and Leah tirelessly works to improve them. It’s not just nice-looking gym wear for women, its gym wear that actually works in the gym.

“Nobody is working harder than Leah right now. Sometimes Leah can send me 5 texts a day, and it’s always positive: new sales, new targets reached, her products have been improved and it’s just a pleasure to watch.

“We can’t wait to see what she does next!”

Excelerate Labs are part funded by European Regional Development Fund to support businesses in Greater Manchester.  Continuing to work with local businesses shifting their model to continue to grow despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, Excelerate Labs offers FREE professional business advice.  To find out more contact