Supporting recovery as lockdown restrictions lift?

We got to do something quite marvellous on Easter weekend. We spent the day with our grown-up sons outdoors and well wrapped up when the sun went in, but it was lush just what the doctor ordered.

We caught up on all the things we have missed, and of course, the conversation shifted to memories of great nights out. We soon realised that every memory involves eating out in places we have loved; and as they both have their own hospitality businesses, we of course talked about them getting back to what they love most.

The apple does not fall from the tree in this case; I loved working in hospitality and was in senior position for a large hotel chain for many years, and then moved over to Operations Manager at Earls Court Exhibition Centre before it became a housing estate of course.

In the day job, I have been in many meetings over all the lockdowns about how we support businesses. Of course, it’s what the BEC does, and it’s great to work in partnership with Barking and Dagenham Council, Be First and other partners, to ensure that we are all on the same page and delivering as much support as possible.

The grant system has not been easy for businesses to negotiate, and after the first grant, the decision from Government to this being discretionary, has meant that every local authority has been able to tailor support to the businesses most affected. However, behind the system inside the council, this has been a logistical nightmare in terms of making the payments, as it is linked to the business rates system. So, all sorts of technical wizardry were needed to make this happen. Hats off to our friends in the Business Rates team who have absolutely worked their socks off to ensure payments went out timely and to genuine businesses in need.

So, what are we doing next? Well, Barking and Dagenham does not have a huge night-time economy, and retail has been dwindling for some years. And of course, this last year with multiple lockdowns, existing customers have moved to online delivery.  However, we have a working group called reimagining high streets; now in Barking and Dagenham, we do not have a traditional high street. We have two town centres and a lot of smaller parades of shops, ‘neighbourhood retail’ as I like to call it.

There are big plans for Barking and Dagenham, film studios, the three markets of London, a food market, a new shopping centre in Barking Town Centre with spaces for bars and restaurants all exciting stuff in the pipeline. But for now, we need to focus on our resident businesses who are still around, and now that they can re-open, they are going to need help, lots of help.

So, we have come together as partners to provide a retail, hospitality and leisure support programme which will give any business in Barking and Dagenham one-to-one business support and bespoke programme to revitalise their business. For some, this will be restarting what they did before. Some of them will need to rethink their business model completely in line with the change in customer expectations.

We are proud and delighted to be working on this scheme, and if you want to find out more then follow this link:

Finally, please don’t feel obliged, but if you want to listen to my son talk about his journey to owning his own restaurant business, then click here:

COVID-19: One year on

I cannot believe that I am writing this, but it's one year since the first lockdown and I cannot quite believe it. I am sure we will all be writing our one year on lockdown blogs, but I am in shock that we have had a whole year of this madness.

When I wandered round the BEC on that final day, checking doors and windows and then setting the alarm, I honestly thought that it would be for a couple of weeks. How naïve of me and the rest of the UK, I am sure. 

We have been in and out of the BEC three times in this year. We reopened on 22nd February, and hopefully that will be the last time we close. I know we did the right thing in January despite not being forced to; because we all felt we had a duty to our staff and wanted to support our borough to recover as it had the worst numbers of COVID-19 in London. The great news is, this has drastically improved and I would like to think that the closure of our large public buildings helped a little bit.

 One memory from the early COVID-19 days still makes me smile. We all started to get worried about this virus at the end of January and implemented a regime of hand sanitizer and constant hand washing. This led to the team all having very dry hands, so someone popped to Boots and bought some hand cream. Three days later, the team came to see me to ask if orange skin was a symptom of the virus. I looked at their palms and despite different ethnicities they all had orange palms like Oompah Loompahs from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I looked up the symptoms but could not see this on the list, as I wandered into the reception to update them all, spotting the offending hand cream on the desk, which yes you have guessed turned out to be self-tan…mystery solved!

Oh, it still makes me smile!!

So back to my reflections. In the last year, I have had far too many conversations about cancelled weddings, holidays, and the lack of contact with our nearest and dearest and several friends became grandparents in lockdown and still have not had much contact with their grandchildren other than via a video call. Where would we be without technology? It really has been a lifeline in these strange times, despite being on it all day the irony of then speaking to your family in the evening. It is starting to get a little wearing now and I am counting down the sleeps to Easter Sunday, so I can see my family outside of course!

It has been over a year since we held a face-to-face event at the BEC, and we are missing having visitors to our buildings, it was our 5th birthday a few weeks ago, but sadly all celebrations are postponed until further notice. However, we have continued to deliver all our programmes online which have been incredibly successful, and we are having the conversation that we may never go back to face to face delivery of some elements. Potentially the future is a blended offer with face-to-face delivery and online support. Online delivery has enabled us to widen our reach and our audience has grown significantly.

 One thing I know we will continue to do as a business community, is think very carefully about whether there is a need for a face-to-face meeting or whether it can be done online. It makes me shudder when I think of the number of wasted hours travelling back and forth across London for meetings. Like many, I am certainly enjoying flexible working, a mixture of the office and home working, which has improved my productivity and ability to concentrate. 

 If you are thinking about returning to a base, then check out our office time share offer which might the solution you can find it here at

 We have the road map which so far appears to be working. Let us hope it continues and we can all finally close the door on this year and start getting our lives in to a pattern that becomes our new normal…. Things have changed but life goes on! And if we can help, we will.

Let’s Talk about Timeshare

When I was 18, I went on my first ever girls’ holiday with friends to Torremolinos. Now to set the scene, this is in the early 1980’s, and Torremolinos like many Spanish holiday resorts, was awash with Timeshare representatives doing their best sales pitch. Now for younger readers, this whole concept might be new, but you bought one or two weeks in an apartment block that you could then trade your weeks, or resort by paying a supplement for peak times and seasons.

 For those of my age group, then I am sure the word "timeshare" conjures up images of brick like mobile phones, slick suits, bleached blonde hair and Kajagoogoo blaring from every bar. However, you tried to avoid them. They blocked your space trying to sell you their timeshare.

 Now on our second day, we got accosted by a good-looking lad who offered us free sangria to sit through his time share presentation. Well, we were going for drinks anyway, so why not! To cut a very long story short, for the rest of the week, this became our afternoon pastime. A different rep and a different block, same outcome, free drinks! And when they asked if we wanted to buy, we would say we were 17!

So, at the BEC, you can imagine the teams surprise when I went in and said I think we should sell timeshare at the BEC! Luckily, they heard me out! We all know that the role of the office has changed in the pandemic. Businesses are increasingly seeing the benefits of remote working and this will influence the workspace market. A recent survey of staff working for a large corporate which asked do they wish to return to Canary Wharf, had 80% of staff saying no they would prefer to work remotely. However, that does not work for all businesses, and as an innovative workspace provider, we need to be able to meet the changing needs of clients. So, welcome to office timeshare!

 Office timeshare at the BEC will allow businesses to have the benefit of a private office, but on a flexible contract basis. In essence, you can buy from 1 – 3 days per week every month over a six-month period.

Let me explain. Company A uses the office Monday and Tuesday every week, and company B uses the office Wednesday to Friday every week. Now you may be thinking what about COVID-19 and infection? Well, the BEC has been dealing with that for a year, and our cleaning regimes are tried and tested, so no adverse risk.

You may be thinking what the benefits of office time sharing, why not continue to work from home…Timesharing allows businesses to have both a physical office environment and a flexible working policy without wasting money on office space that sits empty for periods of time. Timesharing can be a solution for businesses better suited to ‘real life’ client meetings or those who need to collaborate. Having designated ‘office days’ can re-introduce that much needed routine, but still supporting the new way we all work flexibly making it easier for people to transition to a return from having everyone at home all of the time. 

Maintaining an office presence demonstrates to employees that you still value team culture and a return to that much needed human bonding we have all missed so much. Office time can help kindle that feeling of belonging that may have missing from a fully remote team whilst still giving employees access to that flexibility remote working offers.

Ironically, I am writing this blog from home, but I do time share 3 days in the office, 2 days at home. I wanted some post-COVID-19 reality, and this is working for me and the rest of the leadership team. Now Alexa play ‘Too Shy’ by Kajagoogoo 😊

If you're interested in office time share, then you can find out more at

Birthday vibes …5 years on

So, it was the BEC’s 5th birthday on Sunday 27th February, like the rest of the world it was not the birthday we had planned, no grand celebrations or get togethers, but as my dear Pops (father-in-law) would have said in his broad Jamaican accent ‘soon come’.

The BEC being 5 has left me feeling quite nostalgic. I went into the BEC for a few weeks in April 2015 to help when the manager left alongside my day job! I started the modelling for a social enterprise soon after and nine months later we had it achieved. I am proud of how far we have come, how it has built and grown momentum. The BEC is part of the fabric of Barking and Dagenham and wider across London in supporting start ups and SMEs, and it is seen as a key resource for local people (and Londoners in general) who are looking for business support.

If at this point you are unsure of what the BEC does, well we pride ourselves on being more than a workspace provider. We deliver truly affordable workspace, as well as business mentoring, training, and general wraparound support. In the old days pre COVID-19, we offered lots of face-to-face, business-to-business networking events, and I am sure given the news lately, it will not be long before we can do that again.

So back to my nostalgia, I was thinking about our relationships we have with our partners, the local council, Be First, BD collective and Care City, to name but a few. When I say partners, I am not being polite, I truly mean partners. I think this has been one of the most significant shifts with working with public sector organisations. That our partners treat us as equal players and our contribution and expertise is valued and appreciated.

I was reflecting on our staff and how they have grown and developed and are committed to working in the BEC family, and over the last few years we have built up a network of consultants and mentors who still run their own business, but are passionate about the BEC and very much part of the BEC family.

Our local economy, like everywhere else, is really struggling with the impact of COVID-19, and our small businesses have suffered deeply. I am glad that the BEC has always had a ‘look local first’ policy and I am delighted that we spend 85% of our income in our local area. I am proud that we achieved our London Living Wage employer status late last year. It is an area that as responsible businesses, should be seeking to support. This means that our two young people from Kickstart will also be on London living wage which is just the best news.

It's not all glory, there are some things we are not great at and still learning but the most pressing thing is we are not good about shouting about our success. I watch other organisations who are so good at telling the world how great they are, but we really struggle with this. I think it is a case of imposter syndrome, a girl from Dagenham who feels uncomfortable about ‘bragging’ and does not want to be pretentious or self-centred.

However, here goes…. we have helped 693 people start a business in five years, the recorded national data in our area says that businesses have a survival rate of 36% but we know that the businesses we helped to start 74% of them still are running. We like to buck the trend!

We have delivered 2978 hours of business mentoring to individual businesses, which means we have invested £213k in supporting businesses on a one-to-one basis. We have supported nearly 8000 people to have training for their business, which is an investment of £394k over five years. We have seen the rate of female business owners go from 42% in 2016 to 68% in 2021 and consistently our buildings are at 96% capacity. Despite the uncertainty of the workspace market, we need more workspace opportunities (hint hint).

Moving forward into year 5 to 10, we do not want to forget our roots, but we are keen to expand into other areas. I tell others to dream big, so my aspirations are for a BEC in every borough, well every borough that sees affordable workspace and wraparound support as a priority!

The lady wants an avocado!

If you know me well, or indeed a little bit, you will know that one of my passions, hobbies and interests in life is food and drink, more commonly known as hospitality these days. I like eating food, cooking food, and talking about food. I am a foodie.

I am also born and bred Barking and Dagenham some 50 odd years ago; and on infrequent visits home from my hospitality career, I would charm and elaborate to my parents with the latest food/wine experiences I had enjoyed in as my Dad described ‘fancy places around the world’. Now, my parents were of the generation that food was about nutrition and staying healthy, and mealtimes at home as a child were about eating quickly to ensure my big brothers didn’t offer to finish my meal. I look back fondly on all the arguments over traditionally British/east end fare; and the arguments about the skin of the rice pudding, and the best one why four brussel sprouts was not a good swap for a roast potato.

What I came to realise in later years is that at that time I was bought up in a food culture oasis, for several reasons, money was tight, and my parents were on a budget. Travel was not as widespread, and goods took longer to get to the UK, and there was not a whole industry in hospitality. Indeed, the only cooking show I remember as a child is the Galloping Gourmet! Now I am really showing my age! There, were a few takeaways, an Indian restaurant, a Chinese takeaway, and of course, Fish and Chips on a Friday was a ritual in our house.

I returned to live in the borough nearly 28 years ago and noticed immediately that food and drink had become more diverse. In every shopping parade there were new varieties of fruit and veg that I had only seen in my hotel and catering days.

One funny moment, hence the title of this blog, was about 23 years ago, I had some friends from my Hotel days coming for dinner and I needed an avocado. I went to Barking Market. In the market between two shop fronts was a fruit and veg stall called the ‘hole in the wall’. I asked the proprietor for an avocado he laughed loudly told his mate and then told me to get back to Kensington.

I am glad to say it is very different now, the range of produce is large and extensive and is available to all that live in the area. We can get holiday crisps (Lays not Walkers) in every shop these are especially needed in lockdown as we re-imagine those holidays again.

Now my interest in food and drink has intensified, my son both delighted and shocked me following into the hospitality industry. The boy did good! He made a meteoric rise in the companies he worked for in a short space of time, and at 26 announced that with his two business partners, they were going to go it alone in Peckham.

I have come to know Peckham and South London well. Food and hospitality have become an integral part of our family life, and part of the culture that binds us together. We are lucky we have eaten out a lot over the last few years…as well as frequenting our son’s place; in comparison to where I live. It really is the Peckham Riviera in terms of the hospitality offer and the wide range of independent shops and restaurants.

There is no denying that Barking and Dagenham does not have a huge night-time economy, nor the range of food offers other London boroughs have and is playing catch up. So, I am delighted to hear that the three markets of London are moving to Barking and Dagenham. In case you were wondering this is Spitalfields (fruit and Veg), Smithfield (meat) and Billingsgate (fish). With this will come a food market, new restaurant opportunities and a culinary college.

Now some cynics will say this is gentrification. I have a more optimistic view; that it is about placemaking and building communities. There is no denying that hospitality brings cultures and communities together.

On a sadder note, there is no denying that the hospitality industry has been decimated by COVID-19. There will be much to do to rebuild the industry. The BEC has been working with the council on the local plan to support retail and hospitality businesses reinvent and re-imagine the future.

However, personally I am excited by the future and looking forward to seeing these plans take shape and if you need a stimulus our colleagues at Be First made a short video about the plans for Barking. I personally cannot wait!

What you do outside of work matters – Finding that side hustle

There is no denying that I think everyone has found this latest lockdown the hardest as we approach the first anniversary of COVID-19 restrictions. Days merge into nights and weekends merge into the week, and I am sure I am not alone in asking ‘What day is it today?’.

I am a big fan of side projects. I write a lot for work but have a passion to write a book, and I have a long list of ‘minor’ skills I would like to develop. I want to learn to crochet and knit; my mum was amazing at these, but I just wasn’t interested as a teenager. I have however taken up my teenage love of sewing and embroidery I bought a new sewing machine at the start of the first lockdown.

 I also love to cook, not just dinner. I mean proper cook! My Husband got celeriac tarte Tatin and a beef wellington for Valentines. Cooking is my therapy and a lifelong memory of my former career in hospitality.

People often ask "How do you find the time for other things, other than work?" Truth is, I have no more time than anyone else. I just try to make time for things that are important to me. It's good for my wellbeing and mental health.

Side projects make me happy. To be honest, they give me the same sense of achievement as completing a project for the BEC.

Theorists say that as a human, we are the average of the people we spend the most time with. If the people we surround ourselves with inform who we become, so too does how we spend our solo time. I guess that makes sense from my perspective. I spend lots of time (online of course) with creative people, and of course my son is in the hospitality sector, which explains the continued fascination with cooking.

Hobbies, side projects or hustles--our day-to-day activities. These are reflections of ourselves that add up to form your life experience over time. If how we spend our time says a lot about who we are, would you be happy with what that says about you? 

Consider for a minute. Where do you spend your time and doing what? Of course lockdown factors must be considered. Home working, home schooling and finding things to entertain the family may have impacted on your ‘me' time. I get that of course, but consider for a minute. Are you on social media because you are fascinated by technology, building a business, or simply scrolling through as a habit?

Do you watch TV, Netflix, or Disney+ because you want to be an actor or director, or are you avoiding a more interesting but difficult activity? Does the time you spend build up your skill set and expertise or is it just a way of avoiding it?

 Now is a great time to evaluate especially during lockdown. Are you truly happy with how you spend your time? Making time is about deciding what matters. There is only room for distractions if you let there be.

 In this role, I get to speak to a lot of people about their side projects, especially when they start out turning that side hustle into a business. When we have side projects, I get excited, full of questions, and the person is full of excuses.

 You can crank away at an idea without making it a full-time commitment if you commit to it. More time is not the answer! Dedicated time is! Reality is if its important to you, you will find a way, and if it is not, you will find an excuse.

 When you commit to something, it is easier to find time for it. Over the last year, I have become a dab hand at managing my times and aware how my time is spent, with who and on what, and I calibrate amounts.

Make the best of dedicated time. No passion project blooms overnight on its own, but structuring your dedicated time can go a long way.

● Look for pre-existing pockets of time you can convert into dedicated project time

● Decide when you are consuming and when you are creating and do not mix the two.

●  Jot down in an ideas journal and no multi-tasking

● Set simple, achievable deadlines and goals, do not try to do everything at once, aim for reasonable. For me this is one blog a week

● Do not push it know when you work best and on which sort of project, respect your natural productivity cycle. My blog time is Sunday afternoons and my best ideas come late at night.

● Pick projects that energise you and inspire you.

Whatever it is, if it is not making you happy or content, then switch gears and change it up; when you do find it, grab it, and hold on tight, make time not excuses it counts and start now!

Celebrating National Apprenticeship Week 8th to 14th Feb

This is a blog of two halves, a duet so to speak! Bear with me…..I have a guest within this blog, who is keen to share her experience, but first of course my thoughts 🙂

When I was little back in the 70’s, my brothers were both apprentices. We are an east end family, and the boys grew up knowing they would be expected to get a trade. One of my brothers was desperate to go to art college but my dad insisted that ‘art’ was not a job or career. My other brother went into a solicitor’s office when he left school but hated it, and so he took an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering.

 They have both done well, but I learnt never to ask them to fix anything unless I was prepared to wait. But for years 70’s onwards, apprenticeships were seen by some as slave labour. Young people working for minimal pay while learning on the job.

Gladly there has been a global shift on the world view of apprenticeships. Degree apprenticeship is a normality and being paid a fair salary despite the title ‘apprentice’ is widely accepted as the right thing to do.

 Personally, in my (very) long career, I have always worked with apprentices in hospitality, health, and social care and now here at the BEC. It’s not always a bed of roses, it can be challenging. Sometimes it needs a ‘Supernanny’ approach around those soft skills, being on time, that work is not like school, and no I don’t want your mum to ring in sick for you! From our latest apprentices, we learnt what the aubergine emoji was! We have learnt the meaning behind Netflix and chill, and all other new words and phrases.

 Our last two apprentices in 2017 were a breath of fresh air most of the time. Sean and Ameena brought a real vibe with them when they started back in 2017. Sean went off to work for a company we work with on completion of his apprenticeship, which was great. Ameena, well she stayed and this is her view on being an apprentice. She was delighted to be asked to contribute, and when I read it, it reminded me just how far she has come. She is 22 this year, having had a lock down on her 21st, we are still waiting to celebrate with her.

 Here is Ameena Sharif’s story:

 “I began my apprenticeship journey here and I am now coming up to my third year of working for the Barking Enterprise Centre. This was my first job, and I was thrilled to complete a Business Administration Level 2 Apprenticeship - one of the best decisions I have ever made! Before completing the apprenticeship, like many young people, I did not have a specific career path in mind. However, I knew I was passionate about helping people and working in a business environment which is why this apprenticeship was an amazing foundation for my career. 

 I have developed so much over the past three years - both on a professional and personal level. I began as a not-so-confident teenager and have transformed into a confident, ambitious, and motivated individual. The apprenticeship experience really pushed me out of my comfort zone to gain new skills and life lessons which I shall always hold on to. I gained a true sense of independence as I was getting a regular income alongside my qualification.

 The team here have been so incredibly supportive. Together, we have worked on improving my confidence levels as this was really holding me back and overshadowing my abilities. My manager worked with me and we had regular 1 to 1 meeting to help dissect my worries and create an action plan, this allowed me to really flourish. Eventually, excellent customer service became second nature. I was also slightly worried about being the youngest in the team however, everyone was so welcoming and I realised there was nothing to be worried about! Working with colleagues from different age ranges allowed me to develop many interpersonal skills and the ability to communicate well with people from a range of backgrounds. My whole team has really cheered me on to become a far more refined version of myself and have always been so friendly too. I am so grateful for having such a supportive work family.

 I am so very thankful for all my professional and personal development and the growth gained from all the challenges I have faced.

 Thanks to my apprenticeship, I was offered a permanent full-time role and additional responsibilities which allowed me to develop my skills - demonstrating my capabilities. Although I cannot be completely certain of the future, I know I want to strive to make the most of my career and hopefully go into a management role where I could train and help younger people like I once was when I started out.

 Some advice I would give to my younger self would be follow your dreams no matter what and not to be afraid to take chances even if they don't work out; always be your own biggest cheerleader!”

If you got to the end of this, I am sure Ameena would appreciate some feedback on this and her podcast. You can tune in here:

Let us do all we can to encourage young people more now than ever.

Why it really is…time to talk

On Thursday, it is Time to Talk Day. A day to have conversations about well-being and mental health, timely right? And undeniably at some point, most people will have struggled in this last year.

The pandemic, lockdowns, global recession, unable to see family and friends and ultimately bereavements and many other situations which have given people lots to feel down about. It is not all gloom and doom. There has been some light in the never-ending tunnel. People appear to be kinder to each other, there is noticeably a sense of community spirit and neighbours have got to know each other as we all spend more time at home. All of which is helping us all to cope in these strange times.

 It is also good to see that the words ‘mental health’ has started to lose its stigma; and there is a definite culture shift in that mental well-being is viewed as nearly as important as physical health and wellbeing.

 Looking back through my teenage years and up until my mid 30’s, I recognise that at times, my mental wellbeing suffered. But, I never spoke to anyone or sought help for a number of reasons. Mainly to do with what I thought people would think, the stigma of not being able to cope.

 I am conscious of this fact and keep it in mind when life becomes challenging or trying, and I remember to use all the self-developed strategies. For me this means switching off from personal social media for a while, limiting the time I spend watching the news, and focusing on reasons to be grateful. For me this is that life’s basics are covered: a home, a family, health. And that overwhelming desire that good things are around the corner.

 I would like to think that my friends, colleagues, and family feel that I am always there to listen should they be feeling life’s challenges. Certainly, through the mentoring work I do over the last year, there has been a shift in conversations about how business is being impacted and how that is making the business owner feel. Of course, we still talk about the business support and how they can move forward, but for some, this involves doing some work on their own confidence and digging deep around positivity about the future.

We have dedicated quite a chunk of our digital presence to raise the issues of emotional and physical wellbeing and how important this is in these challenging times. Our Wednesday Link Up at 11am has no agenda, no schedule, just a check in, for secluded business owners to know that they are not alone. We are all in this together exploring these challenging times.

Lastly but by no means least, if any of this resonates with you then I urge you to reach out to help those who may need it, and if you recognise this in yourself then reach out to someone and remember its ‘Time to Talk’ everyday!

Do you believe in business gurus? Finding the perfect one for you

The title of this blog might as well be: Do you believe in fairies?

But reality is, some business owners completely buy into business gurus and heed their advice religiously. Business Gurus have been around since the 1960s. According to Wikipedia, "There is no existing qualifications, anyone can be a business guru by making an impact in a particular business field."

 In case you are confused, a business guru or management guru is deemed as a leading authority on business practices and can be defined as a person with influential ideas or themes about business. They are mostly American, normally academics with real-life business experiences. They are normally published authors and so, you can have them sitting on your desk or on your shelves.

Our social media team here at the BEC uses quotes from business gurus often mostly on a Monday as part of our Monday motivation campaign; however, let us see what they come up with for woeful Wednesday which is their new challenge.

 Predominantly people are in two camps over business gurus: those that wholeheartedly believe in the theories and concepts they develop and promote, and those who think it is a load of mumbo jumbo.

 I thought I would tell you about my favourite guru for quotes in business. I am not sure what nationality he is, but I have been an absolute fan of his theories on life since I was a child. He is the big fat ginger cat in Alice in Wonderland, the Cheshire cat is his name. 

 I listened on Monday, 4th January to Boris Johnson’s speech on Monday night with you must stay home speech and I thought of the Cheshire cats quote of ‘How queer everything is today and yesterday things went just as usual. I wonder if I have been changed in the night. Let me think was I the same when I got up this morning!’

In normal times, I get to deliver quite a few presentations about starting a business and what you need to succeed. People are always nervous about starting a business and this will be heightened in the current financial climate and pandemic restrictions. I always use the Cheshire cat’s ‘Every adventure requires a first step’ to encourage that first push to entrepreneurship. This one also describes the journey of being an entrepreneur ‘Only a few find the way, some don’t recognise when they do some don’t ever want to’.

 I have talked about this many times. I am a planner. Visualise whiteboards, fancy stickers and coloured pens, and fabulous stationery because it must be fancy to inspire me. I talk about planning a lot with businesses and with my team at work.

However, I have never always quite managed it in my own life; especially when it comes to careers… I went from hospitality, to teaching, then to adult social care, and now have found my niche of supporting businesses. In life like us all, I have had challenges; and we are all facing our greatest challenge in working out how we are to survive this and think about business recovery.

Well, the Cheshire cat can give us all inspiration. The plot is, Alice reaches a crossroads and says to the Cheshire Cat, ‘Would you tell me please which way I ought to go from here?' and the cat replies ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to’. Alice retorts ‘I don’t much care where’, and the cat replies ‘It doesn’t matter which way you go’. Alice replies in exasperation ‘So long as I get somewhere’. ‘Oh, you’re sure to do that if you only walk long enough,’ concludes the cat.

 Whatever you feel about business gurus, what is clear is that we all need inspiration at this challenging time and it's great to find a kindred spirit someone you can wholeheartedly believe in and rely on for advice, a sounding board or just to reaffirm your decision-making process. For some, this may be a guru, for others who use our services it is the fabulous business mentors who support the BEC. In my case, it is the Cheshire cat and our fabulous Operations Director Donna Finley, my work wife… the ‘ying’ to my ‘yang’. And if you were ever in any doubt about how well we know each other and why the relationship works so well… below is a picture of my Christmas present from her!

Lockdown 3! – Here we go again

In a previous blog at the end of last year I shared that I had spent New years day 2020 planning the BEC’s year …big mistake as we all know all that it all went horribly wrong and the arrival of COVID-19 decimated our plans for 2020.

This year I wasn’t at all well over Christmas and New Year no prizes for guessing the illness, however, I was luckier than most in not needing medical attention or the hospital. Having lolled around for two weeks feeling wretched I was looking forward to going back to work… a return to routine and a sense of normality in these strange times.

Well, that lasted for one day as the 8pm announcement on Monday the 4th revealed that we would be heading back into lockdown from Tuesday.  Now thankfully for many businesses this is just business as usual as they have been homeworking for nine months or more, like my public sector colleagues who essentially have never really gone back.

However, for the businesses who reside with us at the BEC, who had returned to our buildings in June of last year this is yet another major upheaval yet again the buildings need to be vacated and closed. Many would argue that after the first lockdown they should always have had a contingency plan; believe me we tried but our residents and businesses feel a sense of belonging, a community of like-minded people and I get that is just not available at home.

So here are some tips for making working from home more bearable.

I get that its difficult home schooling, crap weather making working difficult. When my son lived at home, we did not have a spare room to convert and so I had a desk on the upstairs landing not ideal but at least a space I could work from.  Now thankfully he is long gone (I’m not thankful that he is gone but that is a whole different blog) but that his former bedroom is now my office. I converted it last January I must have had a premonition.

So, try to find a space that is separate from family life even if it is a ‘Harry Potter’ office you know the cupboard under the stairs style office.

My second tip is about a routine which means taking a break, a tea break, lunch breaks and an exercise break before it gets dark, basically some down time and if you are home alone this needs to be more than a cuppa and a slice of toast! A proper lunch its January and you might not have Greggs nearby, but we should be eating healthy right?

My third tip is about keeping in touch and I don’t mean having a zillion video meetings. My learning from first lockdown is that I didn’t keep in touch with friends and family as much as I should have done. Not for any other reason than just ‘zoomed out’ in a very intensive working period.  So, make times for friends and family however ‘zoomed out’ you may be, we are all missing our circle of friends and family however big or small that is…

My fourth tip is about collaboration working from home can feel like a solo experience, but it still involves interacting with others. While email can be effective for deciding or passing information; we all know that working from home clogs up inboxes quickly.  My tip is to find an app that works for you to ask that quick question or check in with your team or partners. Rapport has never been more important now in my eyes.

My final tip is to start thinking about the future, this must be over at some point and if you are like me there is joy in planning especially with fabulous stationary, stickers, and coloured pens but that is probably also another blog.

Whatever works for you to get through this, lets hope and pray this is the last time. In my darkest moments I visualise putting my hand in a coat pocket and finding a face mask.  I look at it and think remember when we had to wear these in public spaces. I think that in years to come this will bring me more joy than finding a £20 note in my husband’s jeans pocket and keeping it!