Sweet sixteen enjoys first taste of business success

Sweet sixteen enjoys first taste of business success

A LEAMINGTON teenager whose school days were cut short by the pandemic, has turned entrepreneur in a bid to beat lockdown.

Like many others, sixteen-year-old Isobel Massey is waiting on the results of GCSEs she wasn’t able to take after exams were cancelled due to coronavirus.

The student, who is planning to return to North Leamington School to study A-levels in September, has been far from idle, setting up her own business – and is already enjoying the sweet taste of success.

Isobel Massey, Sweetiz

Isobel established and runs all aspects of her Sweetiz – a door to door confectionery delivery service – including social media, branding and marketing plus – with some help from her dad on the deliveries side!

She said: “When I found out that I wouldn’t be doing my exams, at first I was so disappointed as I had revised heavily and improved so much from where I was at the start of the year, but this has given me a new focus.

“I suddenly found myself with so much time on my hands and was spending far too much money on sweets and junk food and decided to start a service selling sweets at a reasonable price straight to your door.”

On June 17th Sweetiz was born. It currently offers two products – a 750g box for £7.50 and a smaller 250g cone for £3, each containing a fun variety of sweetie treats.

“Currently in the box you get a variety of sweets but as I have only just started there isn’t currently a choice, but I have had quite a few enquiries asking about different options which in the future I will be looking into, and possibly making multiple choices of boxes or giving customers the option of what goes in their box,” she added.

“I have so far sold more than 25 boxes and cones as it is only early days but I am looking forward to in the future receiving more orders.”

And her ambitions to grow this fledgling enterprise extend beyond the boundaries of friends and neighbours.

“Ultimately I want to have a wide choice of products available for people to buy and for my very small business to become successful, enabling me to possibly deliver all over the UK,” she said.

It’s good groundwork for the next stage of her academic career as she prepares to study A-levels in Business and Media as well as Psychology.

Mum Karen said: “I couldn’t be any more proud of Isobel. As with all teenagers that were going to be doing their GCSEs this year, she was left feeling despondent and has been looking for something that would stand her in good stead to return for her A-levels in September.

“She has always been motivated to push herself forward and, as her parents, we are looking forward to seeing where this will take her.”

Visit: facebook/Instagram @sweetizforyou

A ‘surge in staycationers’ will save our summer

A ‘surge in staycationers’ will save our summer

THE owners of a boutique glamping retreat in Warwickshire say they hope a ‘surge in ‘staycationers’ will help them bounce back from a three-month lockdown that is forecast to have cost the business more than £100k.

Jo Carroll and Steve Taylor are now ready to welcome back guests after taking comprehensive steps to make their holiday homes COVID-Secure.

Winchcombe Farm, COVID-19

Winchcombe Farm Holidays in Tysoe, is preparing to throw open the doors to its luxury lodges as they emerge from a damaging three-month lockdown following today’s Government announcement allowing holiday accommodation in England to reopen on July 4th.

Situated in the picturesque Cotswold village of Upper Tysoe, it is one of thousands of small independent holiday home companies to have welcomed the green light for trading again.

Jo and Steve say they hope show staycationers will help them bounce back in business, although think the current quarantine rules will greatly affect the amount of foreign tourists they normally see flocking to the area.

The enterprising couple, who established their glamping business just over two years ago on the foundations of their former privately-run nursery, currently have three lodges and a tree house for guests on their farm. Work on opening a fifth lodge this year, called Ben’s Burrow, had to be shelved as they were relying on income from this year’s main season to complete the build.

Willl’s Treehouse

Steve said: “It goes without saying the last few months have been catastrophic for the tourism and hospitality sector as a whole. We’ve had to delay our expansion plans and have spent the last few months just fighting as hard as we could to stand still.”

The entrepreneurs received emergency support from the Government’s Hospitality Grant Scheme – which covered all their basic utility bills – plus free business rates for this year, but fell into the 10% of workers who didn’t qualify for any personal financial help.

Steve said: “The business was set up as a partnership and we were self-employed. As all the profits we made are poured straight back into the company, we couldn’t claim a Self -Employed Grant. Neither could we furlough ourselves as we aren’t PAYE”.

Winchcombe is opening to a busy calendar of bookings and re-bookings for the summer months but fear that concerns around a possible second wave of the virus is deterring longer term enquiries.

Jo said: “We would normally have a bursting diary for the autumn months too, along with a waiting list for cancellations; however, we’re just not seeing that this year.

Certification from Visit England’s ‘Go to Good’ Scheme and the AA’s COVID Certification Scheme – both aimed at building consumer confidence in travel – should offer reassurance.

Jo added: “The housekeeping regime between guest stays is rigorous but essential in the current climate. It includes dishwashing the entire contents of the kitchen and treating carpets and soft furnishings with virucidal disinfectant mist, with our housekeepers changing their PPE each time they enter a new room.

“We’ve had to double up on staff, spend a fortune on PPE and extend check in times, so we can complete the level of sanitary clean that is required to make us compliant.”

“There’s obviously a huge cost implication, however, it’s better to be able to open again and welcome in guests than remain closed.”

Further preventative measures include the removal of all non-essential and fabric furnishings, including rugs, from the properties as well as books, games and toys and the welcome baskets now only contain single-packaged items.

The couple are preparing themselves for a long journey ahead amid industry speculation that it could take years – rather than months – to fully recover from the effects of lockdown.

Steve said: “The revenue from the first few months when we reopen will be used to refund the remainder of guests who had to have their stays cancelled. This, on top of fear of a second wave of coronavirus in the autumn, makes it difficult to try and make any headway this year. On top of that, we’re nosediving into a depression and think it’s fair to stay that recovery for hospitality and tourism will take a lot longer than some other sectors.”

Once cash flow allows, the couple are planning to resume work on converting a former day nursery building into a new holiday home that sleeps 11. It is hoped the lodge, which comes complete with exclusive star-gazing dome and hot tub, will now be complete by early winter.

Visit Winchcombe Farm Holidays at: http://winchcombefarm.co.uk/

Raffle offers £1k worth of prizes in aid of five local charities

Raffle offers £1k worth of prizes in aid of five local charities

HOSPITAL charities in Warwickshire will be among those to benefit from a raffle to help good causes in the county.

Organisers of Warwickshire’s Summer 2020 Charity Raffle hope to raise £5,000 to share between five Warwickshire charities.

The charities are University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire Charity (UHCW Charity), South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust Charity (SWFT Charity), The George Eliot Hospital Charity (GEH Charity), Coventry & Warwickshire Mind, and Coventry & Warwickshire Age UK.

Entrants will have a chance to win one of 50 prizes worth over £1,000 in total.

They include two weeks of one-to-one wedding planning assistance, a VIP pamper and prosecco party for eight people, a cooking workshop, a meal for two at Cafe Vin Cinq, and a one-month free gym membership voucher with a personalised training programme.

Organiser Sarah Cheney said: “In the past months, there has been a lot of fundraising for national charities during the COVID-19 pandemic, but we want to raise funds to help our local community directly so they can continue to provide their invaluable services to Warwickshire.”

Entry costs a minimum of £5. Visit https://the-warwickshire-review.rallyup.com/warwickshires-summer-charity-raffle-2020 for more information.

Bringing laughter back into lockdown with new Dads’ workshops

Bringing laughter back into lockdown with new Dads’ workshops

CARDS on the table – many of our dads are seen as a bit of a joke when it comes to their entertaining skills.

But it seems now they can now turn that all around, thanks to a unique new professional comedy and magic workshop – with real West End glitz.

The live remote workshops, believed to be the first of their kind in the country, are led by West End magician Wayne Trice and comedian Mark Hinds.

Mark, along with Anne Docherty, from Warwickshire, are the creative minds behind Comedy at Work, an innovative new business that has comedy – and mental wellbeing – at its heart.

Comedy At Work
Mark Hinds and Anne Docherty. Photo by David Fawbert Photography

The former stockbroker-turned cabbie met mum-of three Anne on a six-week comedy course in London before moving to Warwick to establish their new business which continues to grow.

They host comedy nights as well as workshops, teaching how to apply the benefits of laughter-making to all areas of life, from school leavers and graduates to team building and wedding speeches.

The latest 90-minute magic and comedy workshops, which are also available for children, use creative tools and techniques to help not just learn the trick but develop a story around it, while also creating tension and drama in their performance.

Wayne’s love affair with magic started over 30 years ago after seeing a TV show called Illusions. Harbouring ambitions to become a professional magician, research led him to Davenport in London – the world’s oldest family-run magic shop. It was here, aged 13, he started attending his first magic workshop, meeting other magicians.

But it wasn’t until he was 40 that Wayne decided to pursue his dream and packed up his career in internet banking, to become a magician full time. Since then he has gone on to perform magic shows across the country, including West End theatres – and can usually be found stealing the spotlight at corporate events and weddings.

Wayne Trice, magic, comedy, Comedy at Work, workshops
West End magician Wayne Trice.

He said: “Whenever I run a workshop, there is always a Dad who is sat at the back practising the tricks I am teaching to the kids. They get excited and from the back of the room I hear comments like ‘This is fantastic, I’ll be doing this down the pub later.’

But, like all performers, COVID-19 has dulled the spotlights forcing Wayne to take his talents online for the continued benefit of others.

Anne Docherty said: “We have been working with the kids online, both in our confidence-building workshops and with birthday parties and always get requests from parents to join in.

“We thought, with Father’s Day just around the corner, it would be a good time to give the parents chance to treat themselves by having some fun and doing something a bit different while most of us are still being forced to spend all or most of our time at home.

“It also gives them the ability to have some new ‘tricks up their sleeve’ when it comes to entertaining the kids during lockdown! All you need for these tricks are things most people have around the house, such as paperclips, elastic bands and a pack of cards. No special equipment is needed.

“The comedian also teaches Dad how to recover when a trick goes wrong and make it funny.”

And Mark, who met Wayne at a networking event, said: We very quickly knew we could combine our different passions of magic and comedy to deliver something unique.

And he’s quick to add: “You don’t have to be a Dad to attend this workshop – the ladies are very welcome too!”

Further information about the Dad Workshops is available at: www.comedyatwork.com/fathers-day

Details about all the Comedy at Work courses can found at: www.comedyatwork.com

From Russia with love – and dreams!

From Russia with love – and dreams!

WHEN Russian teenager Anya Gunkova moved to the UK with her mother to start a new life, it was a time of hope, aspiration – and brand new beginnings.

Twenty-three years later – and a successful entrepreneur, she is making her mark on the business world and has just unveiled her latest in a series of passion projects.

Anya Gunkova, Anya Pendlebury, Sofya and I, Sofya Style, magazine, radio, Siberia

Anya is the creative and business mind behind the award-winning Sofya and I brand – an online clothes boutique, magazine and, now, radio station, all with ‘real women’ at their heart.

But it’s not been a smooth journey for the career mum who has also had to overcome a series of personal challenges, including, herself, becoming a single parent.

The three generations are the inspiration behind the success of the brand, which is a real family affair. Indeed daughter Sofya has put her name to it.

And it’s her mum Elena that’s credited with the valuable life lessons that still drive Anya today.

She said: “She worked so hard after my dad died when I was 12. It was just the two of us and she had about four jobs at a time. That’s where my hard-working attitude comes from. It set me an example of how you do what you have to do to provide for your family.

“I’ve created a job for myself that I’m good at and I want to carry on doing it and growing it. Now, the big driving factor for me is that I want Sofya to see it as well, to see that I’m finally doing something for me. How many people can say ‘I’m doing what I love?’

But it’s not a familiar feeling for the girl who had for so long dared to dream of ambitions that seemed beyond her reach.

Elena gave up her career as an English teacher in Siberia when she relocated with her daughter to start a new life in Bedford.

“For me it was hard leaving everything behind, including my friends. I had to start a new school because to prepare for the GCSEs I had to repeat some of my education,” said Anya.

“We had no family here, no friends and I had to try and adapt quickly. The language was a barrier. I was picked on for the first couple of years because I was different because of my language and my upbringing.

“It was a challenge making friends and finding people you could trust again. The lifestyles in the two countries, especially 20 years ago, were just so different and it took some time to adapt.”

She added: “I considered university but decided not to because I didn’t want to put that financial pressure on my mum and I was keen to go out and earn my own. I always had this hunger for making my own money and being independent.”

It wasn’t until two years ago that Anya’s creative ambitions were realised – and only after emerging from a series of unfulfilling office jobs – and a broken marriage – which left her suffering low self-esteem. Now a single mum, but with her daughter of school age, she instinctively knew it was finally her time to shine.

She said: “I was slowly just losing myself and my self-identity over the years and was at my lowest when Sofya was five. I felt like I was becoming that empty cup that you can’t pour out of. I was aware of what was happening to me and needed to find something to dig me out of it.

“It was when I was at my lowest point that I had this idea about creating something new. I used to start thinking, I’m no good at anything and was self-critical about being a bad mum. I felt like I was failing at everything. The 9-5 work wasn’t going well and I wasn’t enjoying it. I wasn’t getting any support and felt unfulfilled. I needed something that was mine that I could develop.

“I used to write a fashion article for a monthly local magazine and enjoyed it and started to learn the process. I thought, how hard can it be? so I researched the softwares and trained myself – while still also juggling a full-time job and all the parenting duties.”

Anya Gunkova, Anya Pendlebury, Sofya and I, Sofya Style, magazine, radio, Siberia
The current issue of Sofya Style magazine, featuring ‘cover star’ local entrepreneur Kate Findlay who runs Peach Perfect.

In January 2018 the first edition of Sofya Style rolled off the presses. The A5 bi-monthly magazine and website is something Anya proudly describes as, ‘for real women with real stories.’

“It is not your typical beauty magazine discussing products that no one can afford, but it was home-made stuff and body positivity – content suitable for real women and not just so-called ‘beautiful women.’ And all my front covers feature real women with photos they send me. I don’t use fashion images.

“I work hard to make sure the content is happy, informative, inspiring and something you can relax with, a purely enjoyable read as magazines were intended to be, without all the ads. I went back to the basics of why the magazines were created in the first place.”

Sofya Style has grown and earlier this year, became monthly. Now, in a sentimental nod to her roots, Anya and her mum are planning to translate the next edition for the 300,000-strong UK Russian community.

It was later in this year that Anya also opened her shop, in Warwick, selling new and pre-loved clothing and accessories.

She said: “I had finally found something I was good at and enjoy. This was when I started reinventing myself. It gave me a focus at a time when I was going through a frustrating separation and my self-esteem was very low.”

But the seven-day-a-week demands of the business resulted in her taking the shop online-only at the end of last year – a decision that unwittingly saved her untold financial heartache.

She said: “As it turns out with the COVID-19 situation, it was perfect timing. Now I’m so relieved I closed when I did because that wouldn’t have worked out at all well for me financially.”

Not content with two creative enterprises, lockdown inspired yet another venture for the hungry entrepreneur who was ready to build on the success of her media business.

Sofya and I, Sofya Style, Anya Pendlebury, magazine, radio station, Siberia
Anya and daughter Sofya, around who the brand is named.

And at the heart of it, again, were the three generations that continue to drive the brand.

“During lockdown I was thinking of other ways to take this forward. I started to get involved with a lot of local radio stations and getting an insight to the processes involved. I decided it would be great if I could interview the people in the magazine in a more interactive way and bring to life.”

A test show soon followed and, just a few weeks ago, Sofya Style Radio sprang into life. And in true Anya style, ambitions to grow the offering are already gathering pace.

“Mum and I recorded our back story and chatted about our mother and daughter relationship and the change in dynamic once Sofya came along and about our three-generations. I built the show around it and it went down well,” she said.

“More and more people came forward wanting to contribute and interest is growing. Eventually I want other co-hosts to have their own shows on my platform.”

“I don’t want to create a playlist like most other radio stations with the usual chart music, I prefer to give airtime to unknown and sometimes unsigned female music artists.”

It’s now onwards and upwards for the career mum who has a Ladies First national business award to her name – and a new spring in her step.

But her life journey has also taught her to not take anything for granted.

She said: “I’m more grateful than probably most people born here because I know I wouldn’t have had those opportunities if I’d stayed in Russia.

“What I’d say to other people with ambitions is, keep following your gut. Being fulfilled in your work is where strength and creativity and self-belief comes from.”

Further information about the Sofya Style brands can be found at: www.sofyaandi.co.uk