Written by Tanya Cook, A1 Community Works
Hello. My name is Tanya and I run A1 Community Works Limited, an Online Centre based in rural North Yorkshire. A1 is part of Good Things Foundation’s Prince’s Countryside Fund project bringing digital skills to rural communities. Now that we’re halfway through the project, there are lots of things that I could talk about, but to give you a bit of an insight into the people we’ve been supporting, I’m going to concentrate on women in rural business.
One morning I got a phone call from Abi at Richmondshire District Council; could I work with some ladies that have sewing businesses and need to boost their digital skills? Of course, I said yes. Emails were exchanged and about a week later Katherine and Claire came to see me. Katherine and Claire do run sewing businesses and they’re also part of a Facebook group called Women in Richmondshire North Yorkshire in Business. We agreed that we would arrange some workshops in our offices and invite those in the group to come along.
The workshops included digital skills like using calendars in Google and Microsoft, spreadsheets, posting to social media other than Facebook, how to setup and use Instagram and how to use Twitter. I soon found out that the group was much more diverse than sewing. It included artists, a furniture upcyclist, ladies making preserves, preparing biltong, offering beauty treatments and working with essential oils. We even had a lady organising a Medieval Music Festival.
We ran free workshops for 6 weeks, twice a week, and drop-in sessions for one-to-one help. We helped one business use the email linked to their Wordpress site that they had never been able to access and another decided to build her own website rather than pay a web developer the £1,000 they had asked for to add 2 new photographs to her existing website.
What we noticed was that we were asked for general business advice and the group swapped advice and tips that they had learned. What we learnt was that most of the group were sole traders who had started businesses for two reasons: to fit in with the demands of family life - they had children and some had spouses in the army - and they had a skill they wanted to share. Most had little or no business experience.
We asked them why we hadn’t met any of them at the business networking meeting we go to every month. Networking is not only a great way to meet potential customers but also a way to get support to develop your business. The answer was simple: most business networks meet at times that just won’t work for them because they are either a breakfast meeting or an early evening meeting.
As a result of meeting these women we are now setting up a WiRE group for Richmondshire and Hambleton. WiRE is Women in Rural Enterprise. The meetings usually happen in the morning after members have had a chance to get children to school and other family members to work. Our first meeting will be in September 2017. We will be talking about why digital skills are so important and how we can help each other to grow our business.
It’s because of this project that WiRe is funded and supported so I’d just like to say a big thank you to the Prince’s Countryside Fund for helping us to make a real difference to women in business in rural areas. Small businesses are the backbone of economic growth in the countryside. I also want to thank the ladies of that Facebook group - you are awesome! Jane made my nails beautiful for a party and Kim persuaded be to buy essential oils - I smell of lavender as I write. I can’t wait to start the WiRE meeting and offer new workshops in September.
As part of our work with the Prince's Countryside Fund, three Digital Hubs have been funded to champion and enable the development of digital skills in their rural communities, overcoming barriers associated with geographical isolation and lack of digital connectivity, and creating sustainable solutions that will have long-term impacts for individuals, businesses and communities beyond the life of the programme.