Small Business Support Blog

If you are interested in reading about how to get your business visible online, with regular insights into being an entrepreneur and navigating your way through the business world, then this blog is for you!

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Category: #ReasonsIstarted

  1. #ReasonsIstarted - How one business owner is supporting families across the North West with her mental health services

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    #ReasonsIstarted

    Counsellors in Bury

    Foreword from Pamela 

    This series of amazing stories from fiercely feminine entrepreneurs documents the journey of some inspirational women who have founded and built incredible brands. These are stories of reinvention, stories of unlocking creativity and pivoting during the pandemic and managing adversity to demonstrate their passion and commitment to building a future legacy.

    In this latest installment we hear from Aislinn from The Calm Within - who took her passion for heloing childen to a successful business helping support the mental health of families across the North West...

    Mental Health Matters!

    January 2021 marks four years since I launched the website for The Calm Within.  It’s been an interesting journey, with this last year being an emotional rollercoaster for me and many of my clients.  But it was actually 20 years ago that I first began to realise the importance of supporting people to take care of and improve their mental health.

    At the age of 21, I left Leeds university with a degree in Classical Civilisation.  I loved the course, and still love the mythology and history of the ancient Greeks and Romans.  But I had no idea what I wanted to do for a job or career.  With most of my family being teachers, there was part of me that wanted to do something different, follow an alternative path, but I realised that, ultimately, I wanted to share my love of Classics with others and that the best way to do that was to teach.  So, I decided to apply for a teaching assistant job in a high school, to test the water, and to give me employment and experience whilst I brushed up on my Latin (amo, amas, amat and all that).

    I quickly discovered two things: one, that I loved working with children, and two, that children find it very difficult to learn if they are preoccupied with emotional issues, thoughts of difficulties at home, or are struggling with friendships, self-esteem, etc.  And there are so many children battling emotional difficulties every day: some openly and loudly, others quietly, secretly.  I found my passion: supporting children with their emotional wellbeing.  

    Kids Mental Health

    A few years later found me working in an adolescent psychiatric unit, completing my counselling qualifications and supporting children and young people with intense mental health needs.  Here I witnessed first-hand the very real and devastating consequences of not providing early intervention, not meeting mental health needs early on.  It was an incredibly humbling and rewarding experience, and many of those patients (and staff) still hold a special place in my heart, but it drove my passion to support young people earlier in their journey: to try and help prevent other young people getting to the point of crisis.  I spent time working in a children’s counselling charity, which was again a wonderful experience but, as with so many charity organisations, funding dried up and the charity had to close its doors.

    My next step was working with the local Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service, as part of the schools’ team, providing an early intervention mental health service in schools.  I loved this role: being part of the education and health service, working with the children and building relationships with teaching staff, as well as my NHS colleagues.

    But family life and working life weren’t balanced, and things needed to change.  Working in CAMHS was amazing, but not without its difficulties and I deeply felt the irony of working so hard to support other people’s children, whilst feeling I was not there for my own.  I made the difficult decision to leave the NHS and took some time out to be with my children: a decision I have never regretted, for it gave me invaluable time and experiences with my family.  But I missed my work and became aware of more and more people needing mental health support, which an overwhelmed NHS wasn’t able to provide.  There is a gap in mental health, where people find themselves in limbo: their mental health is not poor enough for them to need crisis services or specialist intervention, but neither are they doing well.  They fall into the gap and are often missed or placed on waiting lists, until their mental health difficulties escalate, and they then meet the criteria for help.  In 2015, the year I left the NHS, I read an article in The Guardian, which resonated so strongly, I could have written it myself.  Written by an anonymous author, it details what it felt like to be working in a CAMHS service that was struggling.  It’s no big secret that mental health services in the UK are struggling: overstretched and underfunded. “Sadly, investment in mental health prevention is limited. Currently mental health research is only receiving 5.5% of the total UK health research spending.”  I have the utmost respect for the NHS staff, for those who work tirelessly to support those in need.  They truly are heroes.  But heroes who are fire fighting, using buckets with holes in.

    I decided to start my own business, to help support the families around me whilst also having time for my family, and started by offering Relax Kids classes one day a week: fun activity classes which teach children (and their parents) strategies for managing difficult feelings and techniques to help them feel calm and confident.  The classes started gaining in popularity, and I was offered the position of trainer, training new coaches in the north of England.  I was delivering classes in schools, and offering 1:1 sessions alongside community classes.  I also trained in the Baby Mindful programme, and delivered classes to support new parents: collaborating with PANDAs to provide support to new mothers was definitely a high point for me (and the BBC came to film a class, too!)   But I missed the counselling and was being asked by more and more parents for advice and support on how to help their children with more complex issues.  Young Minds tell us that “one in eight (12.8%) children and young people aged between five and 19 has a diagnosable mental health condition”, and yet many are unable to access the support they need.  And so, in January 2017, The Calm Within was launched, offering a variety of mental health services under one name.  

    The Calm Within

    The service grew and blossomed.  I offer counselling sessions to adults and to children, a range of resources to support good mental health, as well as the classes and services for schools.  I have a blog, which explores all things mental health, and love collaborating with other businesses, offering consultancy regarding mental health, or offering services to staff.  And last year, I wrote a book, The Sleep Book: Helping Busy Brains Settle For Sleep.  I collaborated with a fabulous illustrator, Rachael Elizabeth Sligo, of Little Flowers By Sligo, who worked her magic and brought the book to life.  We were in talks with a publisher, and life at The Calm Within was looking good.  2019 saw The Calm Within win the Raring2go! Award for Best Family Service, and I reached the final six of the Made in Bury Awards, in the categories of Health, Wellbeing and Beauty, and Backing Young Bury.  2020 saw me reach the finals for The Bolton Health & Wellbeing Awards, for Female Therapist of the Year. 

    And then, Covid19 hit.  The effect it had on families, schools, businesses across the world was, and remains, devastating.  And, according to a survey by the World Health Organisation, “The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide while the demand for mental health is increasing”.  For me, it meant school contracts were cancelled, classes stopped, the book was on hold and the counselling sessions had to take a different approach.

    But, we go on.  There have been highs and lows.  Networking acquaintances have developed into great friendships, new clients have engaged with me, the book has finally gone to print and, perhaps best of all, I got to teach my children about the Greek myths as part of their home learning! 

    The biggest challenge of late has been taking everything online.  My preference is to offer face to face counselling: being present in the same space as your client, being able to pick up on their body language, feel the emotions in the room, and just sit together in therapeutic silence, can be so powerful.  To take that away, and conduct sessions via online platforms, took a lot of getting used to, and still feels slightly odd.  But with additional training, support from the British Association For Counselling and Psychotherapy and my  supervisor, and incredibly understanding clients, the online counselling sessions are working successfully, and clients are able to access the support they need.  Working online remains challenging (losing internet connection, clients not having confidential space at home, cats wanting to be let in, or out, not to mention delivery men knocking on the door mid-session!), and I welcome the day we can return to the counselling room, but for now, I am grateful that I can still offer my clients a much-needed service and provide a little calm in the storm (and I get to wear my slippers to work!) 

    Sleep aids for children

  2. #reasonsIstarted - How one passionate retailer wants to help independent product business owners be successful!

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    #ReasonsIstarted

    Laura Harrison Retail Specialist

     

    Foreword from Pamela

    This series of amazing stories from fiercely feminine entrepreneurs documents the journey of some inspirational women who have founded and built incredible brands. These are stories of reinvention, stories of unlocking creativity and pivoting during the pandemic and managing adversity to demonstrate their passion and commitment to building a future legacy.

    The next in the series is the amazing retail specialist Laura Harrison – who has taken the leap from corporate to entrepreneurship – and is helping small independent retailers to maximise their success!

    From corporate to indie - helping to make retail processes implementable!

    Retail has always had a special place in my heart and crafting a business that has allowed me to help brands grow has been really wonderful.

    I started LH Retail Development in April 2020 after taking redundancy and a career break to work out what I really wanted to do. I had been given the opportunity to work on a project that had kept my love of retail alive and even after over 20 years in the same industry I knew I couldn’t leave it behind.

    Going through the redundancy process from a big corporate retailer took longer to get over than I’d thought. I had been my choice not to stay but the feeling of loss of a position I’d really loved was hard and I’d put my feelings to one side so I could make sure my old team had got through it before I dealt with it. The time away gave me lots of space to think about what I really wanted to do.

    Retail, or probably more accurate – shopping, has been a big part of my life for so long and it’s a genuine love. It goes all the way back to spending time with my Mum, she often tells a story of how she sat me on her knee and showed me how to order out of a catalogue! I was introduced to the excitement of seeing new things and that has never gone away.

    A day out at the shops has always been something Mum and I do together, we ‘mooch’ about and have a good lunch and generally catch up on what’s happening with us. It’s always a positive thing and I know that so many others get joy from finding something beautiful in stores or online that is just right for them.

    I went straight from school into stores and climbed the ranks to Manager by age 21 before moving into Head Office. Here I got to see how it all worked, how buyers curated and worked with designers and how the business side of business was run. I found that I loved the numbers part of things and I could put together the insight that drives the creative process.

    Range reviews, meeting suppliers and understanding trends was so exciting and knowing I played a part in putting the strategy together was 100% job satisfaction, I’d found a career that meant my love of shopping was a strength.

    rich woman

    I that’s what I love about supporting brands to do what they do. I have been working with stores and buyers across some of the big high street names for nearly 25 years now, helping them sell joy to millions of people. Whether they provide practical or aspirational products they are making someone happy when they decide to buy, it’s a real service to many.

    My role has always been about the numbers and process, being there for creative people who want to design and build the perfect range but don’t enjoy the spreadsheets and the data work that come with understanding the detail of retail. Knowing I could provide this as a service and skill building for those who wanted to learn gave me the push to get LH Retail Development moving properly.

    05. Balanced Margins

    I knew I could provide the foundations that independent business owners needed to focus their time on what would improve and enhance their processes. Underpinning the product build with the right sales and stock plan and teaching them how to judge what was good and what needed to be managed in their mix.

    Starting my consultancy meant I could help different levels of need and feel I am helping keep the next generation of big names in the game, the likes of H&M, John Lewis and Habitat were all small businesses once.

    I hope that I’m here for retail for a long time to come, it’s one of the best industries out there and I can’t wait to see what new brands I work with along the way.