Maidenhead MUm

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The ladies of Maidenhead mean business.

Maidenhead Business Girls Birthday Meet up

I thought I’d start this blog post with a bit of a confession….

* takes deep breath *

When I first moved to Maidenhead in 2010, I was a little derogatory about the town.

There, I’ve said it!

Admittedly I’d just moved from Camden Lock in London, and before that I’d lived in New York, so of course it was going to feel a bit different.

There was always a buzz in Camden!
But putting that aside, I couldn’t quite seem to see any character or individuality in Maidenhead. I couldn’t put my finger on ‘the vibe’. There was (a selection) of the same shops you would see on most high streets, albeit in smaller formats than I was used to, but I struggled to see what it was that made it ‘Maidenhead’. What could I tell friends and family about it that would really put it on the map?

There are some beautiful areas around Maidenhead
Roll on four years to last summer and a quiet revolution had started to happen. I started to realize that although Crossrail and the proposed redevelopment of the Kings Quarter were going to help Maidenhead define itself, the real character was evident in the people themselves. The people I’ve met through writing this blog, the people I chat to on Facebook in Maidenhead Gossip Girls, and more recently, the people I’ve begun to link up with on Facebook in the Maidenhead Business Girls group.

If you’ve not heard of Maidenhead Business Girls before, then its worth us taking a little side step here to understand a little bit more… Founded on a whim last February by local mum Amanda Ayres as a spin off from the existing Maidenhead Gossip Girls group, the group has snowballed into a community of over 1100 businesswomen in Maidenhead representing everything from cake bakers to vintage upholsterers.

I asked Amanda to tell us a little bit more about it:

Amanda Ayres, founder of Maidenhead Business Girls
How it began:

One crazy evening last February (20th) I was looking to outsource something to a PR person, so I put up a post on MGG. At that moment I thought 'wouldn't it be great if there was a group just for business girls' so I created a group and within a few hours the numbers climbed. It has taken a fair amount of work to curate it and put up content to make sure it hasn't turned into just an advertising forum. I believe (based on the feedback I’ve had) that it’s become the central 'go to' place for business ladies in Maidenhead.

What do people use it for?

It’s a forum where ladies can gain advice, support, rant and promote their businesses. The great thing about it is the ladies have become very loyal and almost territorial about keeping it Maidenhead driven and they use other local ladies for their products and services. I know lots of ladies have gained an awful lot of new business from it.

Who is a member of the group?

I think it has become a great community and it demonstrates the entrepreneurial spirit we all have. The other thing is that there is such a diverse mix of ladies from all walks of life, some professional business women and others just starting out with no clue how to move their businesses forward. I love that fact because it shows what women are capable of achieving with a bit of support and help. You don't need to be an academic to set up a business. If you have a great idea and some passion it shows what women are capable of achieving.

Perhaps every town in the country has an underground current of passionate, talented and creative women that have a dream of building their own business. But my gut feeling is that the proximity to London means that in Maidenhead we have a higher percentage than your average town. When I get chatting to people I hear similar stories of how they used to commute to London and worked in Marketing or PR or other senior management roles and then started a family and realized that something needed to give.

I could count myself in a similar situation. I’ve moved away from London and work as a Marketing Manager for Three, which thankfully means that I don’t have to face a daily battle on Platform 4 to get a seat on the fast trains into London. But I’ve always had a passion for photography, and having spent many years as a photographer in a studio, and then managing a photo studio, there’s always been a little voice in my head saying ‘what if?’. What if I set up on my own? Could it work? But it’s always seemed like such a big jump to go from reliable paid work into self-employment so the photography has always been something I’ve nurtured in the background.

I love to take photos of families and children and have my own website

Whilst I was on Maternity Leave in 2012 I found that I would Google lots of tips and questions about being a first time mum, or to find out where I could go with the little one and I started to read lots of blogs.

I chose to write my blog about being a mum... but with a big focus on local life too
I’d done some copywriting as part of my Marketing job and I knew that I loved to write and to tell a story so I taught myself how to blog. Little did I know at the time that this would represent a real turning point in my life in Maidenhead! It's through writing my Maidenhead Mum blog and networking with other Maidenhead ladies and mums that I’ve realized that anything is possible. Admittedly things are not necessarily easy or straightforward, but possible, very possible!

As Amanda says:

"You don't need to be an academic to set up a business. If you have a great idea and some passion it shows what women are capable of achieving."

And it was this thought that made me decide to go along to the first birthday meet up of the Maidenhead Business Girls at Sanctum on The Green last week. Being honest, agreeing to go is one thing, but then actually leaving the house on a cold winters night to talk to lots of people that you haven’t met before is whole other thing. Like a giant first date, (most people’s worst nightmare!) I tried to over-rule the little voice in my head that said I must me mad to do this kind of thing ‘for fun’!

The Birthday meet up was arranged at Sanctum on the Green
But I needn’t have worried. Everyone I met was friendly and easy to talk to, and with everyone at different stages with their business plans and with different skillsets it seemed like a really open forum to chat.

Amanda and Sophie from RIMU Marketing, who led the Marketing workshop
The workshop in progress

The evening started with a Marketing Strategy workshop which 20 of the Maidenhead Business Girls had signed up to. This hour-long session was put together by Sophie from Rimu Marketing. Sophie is a freelance Marketing consultant, based in Windsor and she set up Rimu Marketing in 2014.

After a 15 year career in Marketing in the leisure and travel industries, Sophie was presented with an opportunity for change when redundancies were made at her company. She left with an idea that she wanted to tap into her talents and do something a bit different, but not knowing what to go for. After some advice from a friend she realised that lots of small businesses were looking for marketing support, and she's not looked back since! She has been on a similar journey to lots of us in the group (and has a 3 year old and 5 year old to keep her busy too!). Her own experience of setting up a business, together with her marketing knowledge means that she's become a specialist in working with small/ medium size businesses... especially if they have a drive and passion to make their business succeed!

I asked her about her experience so far:

"I have met and had the pleasure of working with some truly amazing businesses owners, plus I have learnt a lot along the way. I love my job and watching my clients businesses blossom as a result of our work together, plus I also get to be around for my boys, pick them up from school and watch them grow up." 

Together with Amanda, they have been creating a series of half-day workshops available to the Maidenhead Business Girls on subjects such as Marketing Strategy and Social Media for small businesses.

A great Marketing Strategy is like a good cocktail
This mini session was a chance for the MBG members to get a good overview on how to create and sustain a successful marketing strategy. Sophie used the analogy of a good strategy being like a good Gin & Tonic (now you’re talking my language!).

An attentive audience for Sophies tips and advice
Sophie described things well, without using lots of jargon
The session started with the chance for us all to introduce ourselves and to chat about where we were all up to with our individual businesses and it was interesting to see how varied we all were. And I loved that there were some ‘confessions’…
"I had a plan, but it’s deviated!"

"I have a rough plan in my head, but nothing formalised"

"I’m not as busy as I’d like to be"

"I need to better organized and plan more effectively!"

There was plenty of time to ask questions
I found that hearing everyone’s experiences meant that I didn’t feel intimidated to ask questions or contribute to discussions.

Lots of note taking!
More notes!
Handouts were provided too
Comparing notes!
Chocolates at the end of the session
After the hour long ‘taster’ workshop on Marketing Strategy (which flew by!) the bar at Sanctum on the Green had quite a buzz around it as more and more ladies had arrived and were catching up with each other.

MGB members chatting
Great cakes!
Caroline Payne from the Roli Poli cake company made a fabulous birthday cake
Ann Jackson from Cakes Unlimited (left) also made some gorgeous cupcakes
Presents for the members
There were some rather fabulous cakes and a growing pile of presents building - each MBG member had been given the challenge to bring a small gift representing their business to give to another member. A sort of birthday/networking/Secret Santa kind of thing that added a bit of fun as everyone chose their mystery gift!

It was fun choosing which present to go for
MBG members with their gifts
Marcia from Marri Mi Wedding and Privilege Card and Wedding directory with a bag designed by Anna Richardson
Marcia helped co-ordinate Goody bags for each of the members with a business card from everyone
The bags all ready to go!

So what was my verdict on the workshop and the evening?

I’ll talk about the workshop first…

I thought the workshop was the perfect size as it didn’t feel intimidating to ask questions and offer suggestions as part of the debate. Hearing everyone introduce themselves and chat about their business it was also clear to see that we were all at different stages and different levels of expertise, but I found this really encouraging. It was really reassuring to hear that everyone is always trying to strike the perfect balance of home and work life, and that being self employed you will always feel the guilt that you should be working on more things for the business, but that really it's best to figure out your limits and work within them. Sophie made the valid point that there was no point doing a huge advertising campaign if you didn’t have the capacity to handle the volume of work - it makes more sense to take a measured approach. The hour went really quickly though and it would have been easy to spend more time discussing some of the topics. I would feel confident in recommending the longer three hour sessions that Amanda and Sophie are co-ordinating.
Talking to Sophie after the event it was great to hear that she'd had some great feedback from the MBG ladies after the workshop:

“A super overview!”

“Thank you Sophie. Good to know I’m doing the right things. Great prompt to do more/ focus on results, etc.”

“Whistle stop tour of Marketing Strategy. Very interesting and well delivered by Sophie. Good to meet like minded women.”

And as for my thoughts on the evening…
Cake, drinks, presents and lots of friendly people willing to chip in chat. What’s not to like?!

Amanda had the responsibility of cutting the birthday cake which was created by Caroline Payne from the Roli Poli cake company
And had a cheeky 'eat the caaaaaaake moment!'
I chatted to some people who had a familiar ‘virtual’ face as I’d seen them in the Facebook groups, so it was great to meet them in real life, and I chatted to others that I’d not met before and whose path I would have been unlikely to cross without the help of the group.

Amanda and myself at the end of a busy evening
The beauty of having a social media group like Maidenhead Business Girls is that it allows all us to talk to each other, and, regardless of where we are along that adventure we can offer support, share ideas and help each other build the business. I offer a big thank you to Amanda for her dedicated management of the group to make it a useful (and politics-free!) place to network.

Since the evening I’ve already had two ladies get in touch with ideas on collaborating for a blog post here on Maidenhead Mum so its already showing me how useful the group can be!

Want to find out more?

To hear more about Maidenhead Business girls you can request to join the group on Facebook or email Amanda at

If you like the sound of the workshops that Sophie and Amanda are running for Maidenhead Business Girl members, you can find out more by clicking the 'Event' tab within the group.

The next workshops are on Social Media for Businesses on the 12th March at 9.30 and the 19th March at 6.30pm. There is a small fee of £55 which covers the 3 hours session, venue hire and all refreshments. To book, click here.

As a final note, I've not been paid to write this post and all opinions and recommendations are genuine and from the heart!

If you've enjoyed reading this post and want to read my blog on a regular basis, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook , visit my website or you can use the boxes on the right hand side (on desktop) or at the bottom of the screen (mobile) to subscribe and get my posts sent to you by email.

You can see more of my photography on my photography website and blog,

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Shop local and find your perfect Secret Santa gifts for under £10

I guess by now you must all be very aware that Christmas is just around the corner. Hopefully you’ve managed to make a start on the Christmas shopping and have nabbed yourselves a few deals in the Black Friday and Cyber Monday events.

But although it can sometimes feel easier to shop online (apart from the delivery challenges!) <insert Yodel/Hermes/Other company rant here>, it's worth remembering that there are other options. There are lots of independent retailers around, especially in Maidenhead, which means you can get something unusual, and right on your doorstep.

Although I’m guilty of usually preferring to shop online (mostly because there’s never a good time to traipse a toddler around the shops!), I got in touch with Deborah Jones from the Craft Coop in Maidenhead to see if we could collaborate on a ‘local’ gift guide. 

If you've not heard of the Craft Coop before, its a pop-up shop in the Nicholson Centre that supports local designers and crafts people. It occupies the former Waterstones shop and it gives a high street presence to over 150 local 'crafters'. As we thought about the gift list we decided that rather than do the usual ‘for him’, and ‘for her’ we thought we’d mix it up a bit and show range of presents that are all under £10 and all made by people local to Maidenhead! 

Wearing a karate suit... all in a days work at Three!
In Maidenhead we have lots of large businesses with the head offices located here (I should know, I work at Three!). It's ‘Secret Santa’ time of year and the annual challenge of trying to find something decent for under a tenner for someone that you don’t usually buy gifts for can be quite a challenge. 

So I set Deborah the Secret Santa challenge to see what she could come up with for less than £10. Hopefully this list will give you all a bit of inspiration, and if you've left it too late for the delivery man to make it in time, even better. You can nip there and back to the Craft Coop, and still have time for lunch.

It's worth mentioning upfront that I'm not writing this post for profit. 

As a photographer I know that the creative industries can sometimes be a thankless task and I wanted to share a bit of support where I can. So I said to Deborah that if she could find a range of great gifts for less than £10, the deal was that I would come along to photograph them.

Be careful what you commit to! 

I have to say I was surprised to see such a hefty list in my inbox! So, a little intrigued, I went along to the Craft Coop on the 6th December (which rather appropriately was Small Business Saturday) and I was pleasantly surprised.

Before I talk about what I saw, it's worth mentioning some of the wider business context here. I think it's pretty fair to say that Maidenhead has felt a little bit lacking on the retailer front over the last 12 months - we’ve seen some large national brands vacate their premises, and sometimes these have lain empty while the landlords wait to hear the next steps for the town’s redevelopment. Compared to Windsor, Reading or High Wycombe, Maidenhead can sometimes feel like the poor relation. 

But, thanks to this blog I’ve met lots of local business people, lots of them mums, who are starting to turn that trend around. They’re innovating, being creative and are finding place for themselves on the High Street when space is available. Last Saturday was a great example of this. Our little town was alive! We had Art on the Street all along the High Street with lots of local artists braving the cold and showcasing their talents, there was live music outside and inside the Nicholson centre. You could even meet Father Christmas (for free!) 

Art on the street created a great atmosphere
So with a spring in my step, and wishing it could ALWAYS be like this, I went into the Craft Coop. 

Confession time: at first I wasn’t quite sure where to start - there is A LOT of variety in there. I’m also quite picky when it comes to craft items (probably down to having a super creative husband that seems able to make ANYTHING, from perfect Playdoh creations to keep the little lady entertained, to my own custom made paper flower Wedding Bouquet)

Handmade paper flower bouquet, made by the hubby!
But referring to Deborah’s list I was able to get a bit closer to the detail and spot some standout items that would make great gifts.

So, in no particular order, (and covering only half of the designers on the list that Deborah sent me!) here’s a list of things you can buy from 'Secret Santa', all for less than £10, and all handmade locally.

The Craft Coop has lots of gifts, all made locally and lots less than £10.

Bluebell Glass

If your designated Secret Santa person like bright and bold colours, then they'll like the contemporary glass designs from Bluebell Glass There's a mix of items, from tea light holders to earrings. The purple and blue stud earrings caught my eye, but this is not about buying for me!

 Here's a little bit more about Claire:

"I design and produce fun and funky fused glass pieces in Crowthorne, Berkshire. Glass is a bright and vibrant medium to work with, facilitating refreshingly individual and beautiful designs, ideal for any home.
My work includes a wide variety of products from the more functional items to indulgent decorative pieces"

What can you get for less than £10?

  • Tealight holders, £5
  • Small dishes, £10
  • Coasters, £7
  • Christmas Ornaments, £6- £12
  • Stud earrings, £8
  • Hanging Ornaments,£6-£8 
Cookham Candles
Instead of the standard box of handwash and body lotion, (does anyone else call them 'smellies!?) a candle can be a great alternative, and even better if it's handmade locally. The Cookham Candle Company make a range of scented and non scented, handmade candles in various different decorative containers. 

Here's a bit more about them: 

"We concentrate mainly on container based candles, and are constantly evolving our range of unique designs and delicate fragrances. We have some beautiful glassware and ceramics ranges and are also very keen to use craftsmen both here and abroad."

What can you get for less than £10?

  • Candles are priced at £7-£16 

Roelofs and Rubens

Handpainted earthenware, including egg cups, plates, plant labels and more! I particularly liked the 'no idea' plant label, perfect for the mystery herbs that grow in your garden.

Here's a bit more about them:

"On the border of Berkshire and Hampshire, the R&R studio sits in a shed in the garden, a true honest cottage industry. Using handmade/pored English earthenware bisque, derived from Stoke-on-Trent, our products are hand painted in our Hampshire studio, using stamps, stencils, sponges and lots of free hand painting. Once painted they are glazed and fired in the kiln to 1100°C."

What can you get for less than £10?

  • Light pulls, £5
  • Egg Cups, £6
  • Hanging ornaments, £8.50-9.50
  • Plant Markers, £7

Teresa Mills Mosaics

Teresa Mills Mosaics have created a mini Mosaic kit that has everything you need in a bag to create a personalised mosaic. Although your first thought might be that this is just for kids, never underestimate the value of a gift that can keep your child occupied, quiet and happy while Mum or Dad can have a cuppa in peace!

Here's a bit more about her work:

"I have designed these professional quality kits so that anyone can create their own unique mosaic letter to use as a wall plaque or a place mat. The kits make a lovely present for both children and adults and are an ideal party, craft or 'rainy day' activity."

What can you get for less than £10?

  • Mosaic Kits, £8-10
  • Mug, £8
  • Frames, £7-£8
Yolande devine

Yolande Devine makes a range of unique bracelets, earnings, brooches and much more. Her bright patterns and colours really caught my eye. I thought the presentation of the earrings was particularly clever, much better than a boring old jewellery box!

Here's a bit more about what she does:

"In my range you will find a distinctive collection of jewellery designed & created from high quality materials including semi-precious gem stones ,fresh water pearls ,glass artisan beads and hand pour resin pieces all finished off with hand forged sterling silver, copper and Vermeil. Each piece is designed and hand made in my home studio in Maidenhead, Berkshire." 

What can you get for less than £10? 

  • Earrings, £15-£15
  • Christmas earrings, £7 and £10
  • Bracelets from £10
  • Crystal snowflakes £10.
Co-Co Crafts

As you walk in the door of the Craft Coop its hard to ignore the vibrant colours and patterns that you can see on the Co-Co Crafts stand. A friend of mine is a fan of the kids dungarees... partly for the pattern and partly because you need straps to be able to grab a running toddler!

Here's a bit more about Coco Crafts:

"My name is Amy Neal and I am CoCo Crafts. I have a wonderful range of handbags, purses, accessories and children's clothes. I make all the products I sell at home and take great care in the quality of every piece. My love for colour is portrayed in my selection of bright, funky fabrics and I am constantly adding new additions to the range."
What can you get for less than £10?

  • Mirror, £4.50
  • Purses, £5.50-£8
  • Glasses case, £8

Korry's little shop

Another year, another Christmas decoration! If you're buying for someone that LOVES Christmas, then a handmade decoration from Little Korry could be just what they want.

Here's a bit more about Little Korry:

"At Korry's Little Shop, you will find that perfect decoration for a nursery, a children's room, any room in the house or the Christmas tree. Every item is hand cut and hand stitch, there is no glue in sight.
Whimsical home deco and unusual jewellery handmade in High Wycombe with love and the French touch."

What can you get for less than £10?

  • Felt Christmas Decorations for £6. 
More than Divine

I'm a sucker when it comes to bold colours and patterns (I got married in bright blue, as you do!) So Trish Westrop's corner of the Coop really caught my eye. there were some great patterned coasters and bookmarks. 

Here's a bit more about Trish:

"I'm a surface designer/ maker I graduated, as a mature student, in June 2010 with a BA in Surface Design from the University of the Arts, London. Whilst I enjoy making fun pieces of jewellery I also design wallpaper, greetings cards and prints for fabrics; both fashion and interior. "

What can you get for less than £10?

  • Coasters, £4
  • Bookmarks, £4.50
  • Mugs, £8
  • Cufflinks, £12
  • Keyrings, £8
  • Mirrrors, £6
  • Hairclips (vintage buttons) £4-£6
Fran Mc Caskill

With a range of decorations in different colours, Fran McCaskill's fused glass pieces are bright and quirky.

Here's a bit more about Fran's work:

'I live in Surrey with my husband and 3 children. I trained as an information graphic designer at Middlesex University and have 20 years commercial design experience.  I am a highly motivated person with a real passion for design in all media. I enjoy experimenting with wire, wood, metal and glass and am inspired by the 'wonkiness' of life recreating this in my designs - making them unique with a quirky twist!'

What can you get for less than £10?

  • Fused Glass Coaster, £8
  • Hanging ornaments, £6-£10

So there you have it, a handy little list to encourage you to shop locally! I hope you've found it useful and that you feel inspired to take a look in the Craft Coop. If you're still stuck as to what to get for your Secret Santa person, they even do gift vouchers so you can let them treat themselves!

If you've enjoyed reading this post and want to read my blog on a regular basis, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook , visit my website or you can use the boxes on the right hand side (on desktop) or at the bottom of the screen (mobile) to subscribe and get my posts sent to you by email.

You can see more of my photography on my photography website and blog,