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PCF supporting community networking group run by women, for women, that delivers support and development

PUBLISHED: 16:22 30 September 2014 | UPDATED: 16:22 30 September 2014

Lorrayne Blomfield

Lorrayne Blomfield

Archant

With the number of female business owners running rural enterprises and start-ups increasing year on year, the PCF are supporting a community networking group run by women, for women, that promises to deliver support and development

WiRE is a national organisation, with members in every part of rural Britain, which specialises in supporting rural women who own or want to start a business.

A specialist organisation, WiRE is recognised regionally, nationally and internationally for excellence and success in its work to support female-led rural businesses to start, survive and grow.

With a determination to make business support, advice and help available across all rural areas of the UK, WiRE have developed a model of member-led local networks whereby women step forward and volunteer their time in order to set up and coordinate a network of local business-women. This model helps to overcome some of the market failure in providing support and training to micro-businesses, many with limited growth prospects, which are spread across large rural areas.

Networks meet at least 10 times per year, often in someone’s home or a local pub, and are a sustainable infrastructure to help rural businesses start, survive and grow. Huge amounts of knowledge sharing and mutual support occurs and WiRE links each network and its members to accredited business training courses and specialist business expertise.

In Hampshire, the WiRE network is growing by the month. Led by NFU Mutual worker Lorrayne Blomfield, Hampshire’s WiRE group meet every first Tuesday of the month at various businesses around the county she says: “The idea of our group is to make people aware of businesses locally, so every month we move our meetings between different premises. The majority of the people who host are members of the WiRE group and we now have a minimum of 25 ladies per meeting, but we have gone up to 45 on occasion.”

With a social event every quarter and guest speakers from insurance companies, environmental health, leadership management specialists and more, the business support that the Hampshire women receive is vast. There are no criteria as such to join WiRE as Lorrayne explains: “To become a member you have to be a business owner or a director of a company. Size doesn’t matter and, more importantly the type of business doesn’t matter. A lot of networking groups restrict to just one trade or industry, but we have ladies there that are from all different industries; which helps when it comes to working with each other.”

Project outcomes

This Princes Countryside Fund project aims to improve the sustainability of rural communities through building on WiRE’s infrastructure of local network groups and developing the leadership skills of key individuals in rural communities.

WiRE Network Groups provide a sustainable infrastructure to promote and support business start-up and development in rural areas. This project will catalyse new Network Groups in key rural areas with the objective being to have a positive impact on the economies and communities of rural areas, through working with key individuals who will provide leadership to keep the rural areas alive and thriving.

In Hampshire, Lorrayne has found the national WiRE network to be a great help, as she explains: “The Head Office at WiRE has been really good for us, they supply all the marketing and the medium of using their website is really helpful because the ladies can log on and do their meetings bookings online. I do find that by just mentioning that it’s funded by the PCF, people actually take more notice; they recognise it as being well worthwhile.”

Why the project is needed

WiRE member surveys show access to a business group (networking), to be the most important business benefit to women running rural businesses and WiRE believes that networks are by far the best vehicle for enabling business improvement. Networking is especially appropriate for female led, rurally based, businesses in enabling both a transformational approach (tackling confidence/courage and self-belief as well as knowledge/skills), and development of the agglomerative effects which stimulate business improvement, collaborations and innovations.

The research, which inspired the formation of WiRE, showed female entrepreneurs to be central to the renewal of rural areas but that they were culturally and physically isolated from business support and start-up training. WiRE member surveys show this still to be the case.

What the members say

Sarah Clayson runs The Bay Trees Bed and Breakfast in Milford on Sea. She joined the WiRE group two years ago and has seen a remarkable impact on her business. She says: “I was born in Lymington and as a child frequently visited the New Forest but had never lived here until now. We moved to this beautiful location In Milford on Sea, close to the New Forest and a stone’s throw from Milford’s beach and historic Hurst Castle just three years ago; swapping our jobs for this delightful and historic Bed and Breakfast.

“This Grade II listed house, built before 1740, was once the village Poor House. It is now transformed into a Gold Award B&B where we offer a luxurious 
relaxing stay, giving guests the opportunity to enjoy the facilities, garden and all that the area has to offer. We always try to go the extra mile and feel that it is very important to source and use local products.

“The WIRE group was introduced to me by our Insurance broker, who invited me along to a social meeting. That was two years ago. I met enthusiastic, like-minded people who are all passionate about growing their businesses. Since then we have found new suppliers for breakfast jams and marmalades, honey, luxury bath products, soap and even dog food; all from New Forest businesses.

The networking advantages are vast and the speakers open discussion about current legislation and different ways of marketing our business. I feel WiRE has given our business more exposure and the coordinators are really supportive. I look forward to hosting a meeting at our home and B&B in the future.”

Get involved

If you can relate to this feature and are looking for a way to meet other like-minded business-women in Hampshire, you can email Lorrayne on lorrayne_blomfield@nfymutual.co.uk. Membership to WiRE costs just £50 for the whole year, with each meeting costing £5 including refreshments. You can attend up to two meetings as a non-member at a cost of £7 per meeting, which is convenient for those who may not wish to commit straight away.

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The public can make a donation online at Virgin Giving at the Post Office or by text. Text PCF to 70300 and a £3 donation will be made to The Prince’s Countryside Fund.

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Read on

Livestock farmer Sarah Mills on how a PCF grant has helped save business for future generations

How The Prince’s Countryside Fund has allowed Hampshire businesses to build and provide for the community

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