Three Somerset Business Women On Surviving The Pandemic

TAKE THREE WOMEN

Lockdown has been tough for all and has decimated several businesses across the country.  But some companies have thrived, by pivoting or recognising opportunities for growth, despite the immense challenges. In celebration of International Women’s Day, we talk to three female business owners in Bridgwater, Somerset about their businesses and how they have survived the Pandemic. 

Kate Gardiner, Purple Spoon Events

Kate - Owner of Somerset Business Purple Spoon

8,000 meals hand-cooked and delivered to the community during the past eleven months of the Pandemic – and counting. 

And though it’s not quite how she expected the Purple Spoon Café to pan out, it’s certainly kept founder and owner Kate Gardiner busy as well as needy members of the community, who might otherwise have gone hungry, well-fed.

Kate Gardiner set up the Purple Spoon Café in the YMCA building in Bridgwater in 2017. It hit the spot with the local community as well as feeding Kate’s desire to help the community, too. ‘I lived in Italy for several years and a very popular initiative which has been going for decades is ‘café sospeso’ whereby customers pledge money which can be redeemed for food and drink by those who really need it. We introduced the concept to the Purple Spoon shortly after we opened, and it was a huge success. It’s incredible how generous our customers are. We even bought a tree, as they do in Italy, on which we could suspend tokens that equalled the value of the pledge.

When lockdown hit and the café had to close, Kate and her staff nearly went out of their minds with boredom.  We were all desperate to get back to work and do something worthwhile. After being turned down for grants countless times, Kate set up her own gofundme page which generated 3k from customers and Kate was able to return to the YMCA to carry out her mission – to provide much needed food to the community.  Since then, she and her team have cooked around 8,000 meals, which have been distributed via Village Agents, or Village Angels as Kate refers to them – a group of amazing, dedicated people who operate as a bridge between GP’s, social workers, and those in need.  

Kate, who is a mother to two primary school aged children sees teachers as unsung heroes of the Pandemic.  ‘Both my children have continued to go to school as what I am doing is deemed essential work. Just because the class sizes are smaller than usual, doesn’t mean they are not working as hard.  In fact, they’re probably doing three times more than they normally would, in my opinion, to fulfil the overwhelming amount of responsibility they have on their shoulders.  To pay homage, Kate filled 40Buddha Bowls which were hand delivered to teachers at 13 schools in the area before they broke up for the summer holidays last year. 

Kate continues: ‘When things return to the new normal, of course we need to resume the commercial side of running the business to pay salaries.  But we will also be more committed than ever to supporting those in need.  If lockdown has taught me anything, it’s how important it is to reach out to your local community.’

International Women’s Day is the most important event on our family calendar. Forget birthdays and Valentine’s Day, it’s one the day of the year when my husband always buys me flowers!

Vicky Owens, Director, S Roberts & Son

Vicky Owens - Somerset Business Owner S Roberts & Son

If you thought that demolition was a man’s world, think again.

Vicky Owens of S Roberts & Son has defied gender stereotyping to rise to the ranks of Director of Asbestos and Demolition at S Roberts & Sons in Bridgwater, a 6.5 million turnover business involved with skip hire, waste recycling, Licensed Asbestos Removal, Demolition and Tipper Lorry hire.

‘My sister and I lost our mother to cancer when we were teenagers leaving us her company shares. We both wanted to support our father in the business and went into it straight after school.  We both spent ten years cutting our teeth and both took over the reins from our father at ages 30 and 29.

Though things were very different when I first started here in 1993.  I recall being very daunted.  But in reality, it was ultimately beneficial, as because of my female status, I stood out from the crowd and got noticed.  I never felt the need to act like a man.  I was determined to forge my own path.  Women can bring just as much to the table, but often from a different perspective. They tend to be more creative, collaborative and, most importantly, communicative.  We’re also a bit softer around the edges and understanding, particularly when it comes to working mothers and we have quite a few of these in our employ. 

Sometimes, when I go to site meetings with people I’ve never met before, I feel I’m being judged. But I have accumulated so much knowledge, in the industry, as soon as I start talking, gender issues just go straight out of the window. 

Fifteen years ago, we were the first demolition company in the South West to launch a licensed asbestos removal division which has been instrumental to the growth of the business.  This is the department I run, and it kept us extremely busy during the first lockdown at Yeovil Hospital, removing asbestos to create more ward space for Covid patients. 

As March 2020 brought an early summer, many consumers turned the time that they had at home to DIY which provided a significantly boosted the skip hire side of our business. 

Because of our asbestos works we had a huge bank of disposable overalls and face masks at our disposal.  When we heard about the chronic shortage of PPE, we were delighted to help by delivering large batches to Sedgemoor District Council as well as the local hospital to keep their workers safe.  It was great to be able to do what little we could to help. 

Asked whether there’s any chance of changing the name of the company to reflect the two female business owners, Vicky responded: ‘Because the business was started by my grandfather, S Roberts, is would thus mean the company would need to be renamed S Roberts & Sons & Granddaughters which would probably make it a bit of a mouthful and more than a little challenging for those who answer the phone!  And if, as I hope, my daughter Evie who has just completed a degree in accountancy comes on board, that will add yet another layer of tongue-twisting complexity.  I think we’ll stay as we are for now!

Julia Minchin, Founder and Managing Director of Hippychick

Julia Minchin - Somerset Business Owner Hippychick

Having a baby is difficult enough.  But having a baby during the Covid Pandemic is a challenge beyond comprehension. 

During the first lockdown, many mothers had to birth on their own without even their partners present, and in virtually all cases, new parents have had to cope without the support of friends or family.  ‘For me, these women who have survived the first stages of parenthood in isolation are the true unsung heroes and should be celebrated unreservedly on International Women’s Day.’ Says Julia Minchin, Founder and Managing Director of baby and toddler business Hippychick in Bridgwater.

As a business providing baby essentials to new parents, we were determined to keep our doors open.  But only four, out of our original workforce of 16, were able to come into the office. 

‘Getting deliveries out with such a reduced work force was challenging to say the least’ continued Julia. ‘We worked around the clock, all four of us, in the warehouse, learning picking and packing skills (some of us from scratch) to get baby essentials such as bibs, mattress protectors, baby carriers, and blankets out to parents as quickly as possible. Staff who were working from home had to man the phones and emails in order to continue to deliver support and reassurance to customers.  My husband Jeremy who had to work from home as he was shielding, had probably one of the toughest jobs, trying to keep the warehouse stocked.  Again, challenging when several items were coming from India and China!

And then things got even worse for parents.  As schools closed, parents all over the UK were plunged into a role of educator as well as parent.  Whilst primary school children were widely catered for the 0-5 age group was largely ignored.

For some years, Hippychick has been selling a great range of developmental wooden toys, aimed at the pre-school market.  This area of the business took off in a way it has never done before, as parents sought ways to keep their young children educationally engaged and away from the TV.  We were lucky.  We had the right range, in stock and ready to go at the right time. 

What lockdown has really taught us as a business is the vulnerability of so many sectors of society.  And we’ve tried to reach out to them as much as we can. 

We donated hundreds of toys and nursery essentials to The Salvation Army and Childrens’ Social Care in Somerset so that children from families under financial strain received a gift at Christmas.  We also delivered educational toys to a number of primary schools and nurseries across Bridgwater who were open during lockdown, and on Random Acts of Kindness Day, each of us did something special for a friend or a neighbour, leaving a bunch of flowers on the doorstep or dropping a note through the letter box.

One fantastic development is the relationship we’ve forged with Purple Spoon. We are helping raise awareness for the great job they are doing and have contributed van loads of food so that they can continue to provide nutritious meals to those who need it. 

It’s been a tough time but fortunately we’ve managed to ride the storm.  It’s also been a huge learning curve. The main thing it has taught me is that life is entirely unpredictable, and you never know what’s round the corner.  You can never be complacent. You have to be agile, adaptable, and flexible, ready to adapt your business to a changing environment, and, sometimes, in the case of the Pandemic, literally overnight. 

Share:

10% off your next order?

Yes please

Website by Cognique

  • Visa
  • Mastercard
  • PayPal
  • Amazon
My Basket