BUSINESSES ranging from the practice of crania sacral therapy to portraiture were represented at the WREN (Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network) celebration and showcase at Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Friday.
Various speakers, all women in enterprise who have been through the WREN programme, were inspirational with their stories about how they pursued their passion and got into business.
Aislinn Cambridge, whose business name is Minister4happiness, has written a book inspired by the people in the wellness industry that she has met over the years. She pointed out that one’s capacity for happiness is 50% genetic, 10% circumstantial and 40% to do with one’s thoughts, behaviour and actions.
Jessica Bonenfant, founder of Greywood Arts in Killeagh, showed photographs of the old dilapidated house she bought in the east Cork village and later, pictures of the transformation of the house into a thriving arts centre.
Avril Allshire-Howe, of Caherbeg Free Range Pork, Rosscarberry Recipes, West Cork Farm Tours and Forest Bathing in West Cork, spoke of how she and her husband bought a place in West Cork and were planning to live ‘the good life’ (as in the 1970s TV sitcom ). Avril seems to have succeeded and in her talk, she emphasised the importance of networking.
Speaking to Frances Doyle, employment development officer for SECAD (South and East Cork Area Development) and WREN co-ordinator, before the event, her emphasis was on the importance of building confidence in the women that completed the eight week WREN programme. Typically, women do well in middle management. “But a lot of women aren’t moving up beyond that,” said Frances.
“Look at the Dáil and the men in suits. There’s a huge confidence issue for women. Childcare comes down to the women all the time. Then, when women get older, the care of their parents is down to them.”
The Irish Government co-funded the WREN programme through the department of justice and equality and the European Social Fund as part of a programme for employability, inclusion and learning. When SECAD applied for the funding, Frances said they decided that it should be for females only.
“It would be a start your own business course, with half of it to do with personal development. We’re in partnership with Ballyhoura Development,” she said.
More than 150 women have gone through the programme in the last two and a half years. When Covid hit in 2020, it coincided with the start of a new WREN programme. Everything had to go on Zoom.
Frances said: “It suited the women because a lot of their children were at home. The women didn’t have to travel or pay for childcare. They were on their laptops. A lot of them, when they applied for WREN, said to me that they had no computer skills. I said to them to get someone to show them how to use Zoom in the next three days. If they really wanted the course, they were able to find somebody.”
Delivering the course online meant that, as well as women from Cork, women from Kerry, Kildare, Limerick were able to take part.
“Before, they would have had to drive to Midleton, where SECAD is based,” Frances added.
The downside of being online only was that it was harder to build up a rapport with the women, Frances said. The eight weeks comprised of eight sessions with a business trainer and eight sessions led by Frances (who has a masters in life coaching from UCC ) and Carrie O’Donoghue, the WREN co-ordinator for Ballyhoura Development. The women were in groups of around 16.
As well as suffering from imposter syndrome, Frances found that the women were slow to charge for their time.
“They didn’t rate that as a value stream at all. Take the making of a hat, for example. They would charge for the felt and the needles, and the stall to sell the hat. But it might have taken them eight hours to make the hat and they’d never charge for that.
“We in WREN worked at building up the women’s self-belief so they would charge for their time. A lot of craftspeople make the most beautiful things and then put them in a cupboard. The idea of pitching their ideas to people was terrifying for them.”
Carolyn O’Sullivan runs a business called ‘Not Another White Dress’ It’s for women who want an alternative to the white wedding dress.
Based in Dungarvan, she says that it’s a growing trend.
“Because of the pandemic, people had to change their wedding plans and cut back on numbers,” says Carolyn.
“They feel they can be a little bit different with their own personal style. There will always be women who want the traditional white dress. It was Queen Victoria who introduced it. At the time, she was wearing lace made in Devon to support what was a declining industry. It became a huge trend. Photography had started and people were seeing images of the queen in white lace. It took off from there.”
What are brides wearing other than white frocks?
“I definitely think jumpsuits are popular. They have taken off in the last couple of years. Obviously, tailored suits are popular as well. People are having two-day events, a ceremony on day one and then a big day afterwards. So there are two outfits needed.”
Carolyn, who worked in Australia for 11 years for a variety of women’s wear brands, is a graduate in fashion design from the Limerick School of Art and Design. As well as being a designer, she is a skilled pattern maker.
She says she learned a lot from the WREN course, including marketing and using photography as well as learning about pricing.
But what she really valued was being on a WhatsApp group with the other women on the course. It has been great for networking.
WREN WAS VERY SUPPORTIVE
Maria Hernandez is an artist and art teacher, based in Kenmare. Originally from Spain, where she taught in an art school, she says that building up students was difficult at the beginning when she moved to Kerry eight years ago.
“Kenmare is a small town and people didn’t know me. But now it’s fine.”
Her business is called Creative Kubs.
She teaches around 40 children including home-schooled children and 12 adults. Her work includes portfolio preparation for people hoping for a place at art college. Maria is going to start working at a nursing home one day a week, giving art classes to residents.
“I’m doing it all myself. Sometimes I feel really overwhelmed, keeping everything in place. I need to mind myself, not to be too hard on myself and to take it one day at a time.”
She found the WREN course very helpful. “The revenue and income tax part of it was really good. In Spain, it’s a completely different system. I had a few meetings with an accountant here which was really good for me.
“Being a woman with a family and running a business, it was interesting to see women the same as me, struggling to do everything.”
Can that be changed?
“I think so. One thing I learned was how to delegate in my family. I can’t do everything.”
Maria has a two-year-old boy, Naoise, and her partner is studying for an art degree on Sherkin Island. When he qualifies, he will join Maria, giving classes to adults.
A SWITCH IN CAREERS
At the age of 42, Zoe McCurdy switched careers from social work to fitness and conditioning classes for people in the east Cork area. This personal trainer, whose business is called ‘Zoe’s Fitness and Therapy’ had suffered a few injuries.
A mother of three daughters, she used to struggle with health.
“I felt terribly overweight and unfit, with injuries in both my knees,” explains Zoe.
“I came across a physiotherapist who helped me rehab my knees. I started training and fell in love with weight training. So I retrained and did my first body-building show. I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
Zoe, who turns 50 next year, competes in body-building shows and power-lifting at national and international level.
“When I started working in this area, I got work part-time in gyms. I was still a mom at home on benefits. It was a struggle. But I started to build my business and reduced my hours in gyms.
“Then I came across a back-to-work enterprise scheme. It’s a government scheme that supports people setting up their business and allowing them to claim benefits. You have to do the WREN course to get on it. The course was absolutely brilliant.
“Two years after doing it, it really gave me a lot of confidence. You have a network of strong women and you get advice on different areas such as advertising and book-keeping. I have no notion about book-keeping and accounts. But as I learned, I don’t need to. Somebody else can do that for me.”
Based in Midleton at the Riverside Acupuncture and Sports Injuries Clinic, Zoe gives nine fitness classes every week. She also does sports massage therapy and injury work as well as personal training.
Zoe encourages her daughters (aged 22, 18 and 16) to keep fit.
“I also show them that I, as a single mum, have a very successful business.”
She is clearly a good role model on many levels.