INSPIRATIONAL MUM OF TWO, WORLD RENOWNED BECKY ADLINGTON, ON LIFE BUILDING HER BUSINESSES, WHILST JUGGLING HER BROOD!

INSPIRATIONAL MUM OF TWO, WORLD RENOWNED BECKY ADLINGTON, ON LIFE BUILDING HER BUSINESSES, WHILST JUGGLING HER BROOD!

REBECCA ADLINGTON OBE | IMAGES BY TOM PITFIELD | INTERVIEW BY LOLO STUBBS | BROOD MAGAZINE ©

“WHY SHOULDN’T I WORK FULL TIME, WHEN I LOVE MY JOB?

Rebecca Adlington OBE is undoubtedly the greatest female swimmer that Great Britain has ever produced, and one of the greatest GB swimmers of all time, not only because she is a multiple Olympic, World, Commonwealth and European medallist but she also broke the World Record in the 800m freestyle in 2008 at the Olympic Games in Beijing ; a record that was 19 years old, the same age Rebecca was in Beijing. 

Becky’s drive and thirst for success did not diminish when she retired from Swimming, and she is still the same overachiever that she was in the water, having juggled a number of amazing career accolades for a number of years, such as her role as a pundit for BBC Sport, running multi businesses, creating swimwear ranges with Slazenger and work in her role as an ambassador for the Encephalitis Society and as a Patron of Women in Sport charities too; all alongside her biggest and favourite ‘job’ as a mum of two to the adorable 7-year-old Summer and 21 month old Albie. 

Rebecca was recognised for her incredible achievements by the late HRH Queen Elizabeth II when she was awarded an OBE in 2009 and the British public have had ample opportunity to get to know Becky as person rather than ‘just’ as a swimmer, after she has taken part in a variety of well loved prime time TV shows such as I’m a Celebrity, The Jump and Celebrity Masterchef!

We had the pleasure of sitting down with this inspirational mama at one of her thriving swim centres, and we chatted about all things career and kids and found out how Becky manages to make it all work for her and her family! 

Rebecca Adlington on business and babies
© BROOD MAGAZINE. REBECCA ADLINGTON OBE
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INTERVIEW WITH REBECCA ADLINGTON OBE

You have used your unbelievable successes as a professional swimmer to build three incredible businesses that are helping thousands of children throughout the UK learn to swim. Tell us a bit more about those businesses and at what point in those businesses did you become a mum? 

“We have three learn to swim businesses under one umbrella; we have swim!, Becky Adlington’s SwimStars, and we also have Total Swimming Academy’s. Swim! is the business that is growing the most. Swim! is our own building, where we control that customer journey and we can make sure that they have a purpose built venue that is just for kids. Swimstars are set within gyms, so we are effectively in somebody else’s house, we have to be respectful to its other members, and total swimming is in schools, so we use school pools, so that’s the difference between all three. And they are all at different stages, total swimming is the oldest that’s 12 years old, Becky Adlington swim stars is 10 years old and swim! is 5. 

My daughter Summer is 7, and my youngest is only one. He was a complete surprise, myself and my partner weren’t married at the time, we hadn’t even really planned on having children, so it was a bit of a shock but a beautiful one. Albie was a lockdown baby as well, I think most people said you either got divorced or pregnant in lockdown – and we got pregnant!” [She laughs] “Summer was still off school, and I was really freaking out about whether or not Andy would be able to come in with me because of all the restrictions at the time. I had heard so many stories about people having to give birth on their own and I just couldn’t even imagine how that would feel and so I didn’t end up going to the hospital until I was 8cm because I was so paranoid about it. I was like, ‘I’m not going to the hospital yet, because I don’t want to be by myself’. When we got there, they asked Andy to wait outside, but it was for only like 5 minutes because the head was coming out and so then they got Andy straight back in. I was so relieved because I can’t imagine going through labour without that support!” 

Because of the industry of your business, the whole Covid period must have been incredibly difficult and full of challenges that no one could foresee, how did you cope with that alongside having a new baby? 

“It was so horrible, we had shut every area of our business down because obviously pools weren’t allowed to be open. When I look back to the first lockdown we had all taken bets as to how long it would last and nobody said anything past 8 weeks, and then it was like 6 months later and we were still in lockdown. So it was really, really difficult for us, we nearly lost the business, because swimming pools were one of the last things that were opened up. I remember when they opened up pubs but still wouldn’t open pools and I couldn’t believe that the government wasn’t seeing that choosing people’s mental and physical health and learning a life skill such as swimming as more important than some other things. I understand of course that the hospitality industry was important too, I just couldn’t understand why they didn’t open swimming pools when it was scientifically proven that chlorine killed covid within 30 seconds, so if you had it or even if it was on your skin as soon as you were in the water, within 30 seconds any of those germs would have been killed? When they came out I think they should have made more noise about that as it’s so important for people to understand that and understand that was actually one of the safest sports to do during covid. Physiologically, it was really hard as you were open, then closed, then open, then closed again. It was just horrible and it felt like an absolute mindfield for us and all of the team who work with us (and for our customers!) One minute their children could come back to swimming then they had to stop them again, it was so stop and start for the kids and a lot of people lost interest or developed fears. We nearly didn’t survive that.” 

Amongst the struggles that your business was going through and preparing for a new baby, you also had Summer at home, how did you deal with the demands of that and homeschooling?  

“I didn’t really homeschool, I’m not going to lie. Summer was only in year one at the time, so we did things that she wouldn’t normally get to do with me instead, like exercising, for example as normally I would go to the gym and do that whilst she’s at school, so it was the first time she had really seen what exercise was. She learnt what a press up was and what a squat was etc not that she was doing them! She also helped me with washing and household chores and things that are actually fundamental to getting through life. Now I can say Summer, ‘can you turn the oven on to 200 degrees’ and she now knows what that means, and she can chop veg like a master!” [We all laugh] “So there are good things like that that came out of it as I didn’t know that at her age. So I was very relaxed about that in lockdown, my main challenge in the first lockdown was to teach her how to ride a bike – that was the main goal for me and she did it! So I was more than happy with that! I think everyone was under enough pressure without worrying about homeschooling as well.” 

How did you manage to bounce back from the brink of losing your business to now seeing such incredible growth?   

“I think one of the main factors was that parents were desperate to get their children to swimming lessons and back in the pool – so we were really lucky that the demand for our service was there. Also in terms of our swim! centres, so many other pools never reopened as they didn’t survive covid and a lot of councils had shut down their pools, I think it’s something like 160 swimming pools shut down in the UK following all the lockdowns so that’s a huge amount of pools up and down the country that people can no longer go to, so for us to be able to open up new pools in areas where there aren’t any, people are keen to come in and use them because parents just want their children to learn to swim, and it’s been a real pleasure to be able to provide these facilities where communities had lost out on access to pools for their children all together. It’s been a huge relief and a really nice feeling to get back to business properly again. It was a huge challenge to get the funding together after going through such a difficult couple of years, and finding the buildings isn’t easy and going through all of the logistics of setting up a swimming pool isn’t an easy process. But they’re not 25m swimming pools, they are teaching tanks for children so it’s easier than if we were building full leisure centres. We’ve also recently partnered with JD Gyms so to have them as our funding partner and such an established and well respected brand like JD involved, has been an absolute pleasure for us as a business to have that support. When we think that we started out as a little learn to swim programme started by three olympians (Becky’s business partners Adrian Turner and Steve Parry) who love the sport and now we are working with such an industry leader such as JD it’s amazing to think how far we have come!”

Becky Adlington OBE

What do you think is harder – being a parent or running a business?

“I think both definitely come with different challenges! For us as well because we have quite a big age gap between the kids, as there are six years between Summer and Albie, so it was kind of like starting again. When I arrived I realised that I had totally forgotten the newborn stage! Which is mad, but I think your brain does something to remove it otherwise you would never do it again!” [We all laugh!] “I had six months maternity with Albie, which felt quite short really for me and it was hard going back to work, and it was really difficult because when I had Summer I had a lot more time with her and when I did go back to work I only went back part time. So it was hard returning to work after I had Albie and working full time, I suppose I felt guilty because of how I did it with Summer first time around. But then I thought to myself that I think most people do things differently second time around anyway and circumstances change and you have to do what is right for you at that time. I obviously co-parent Summer with her Dad and so we had to find a way to co-parent that suits us all. Whereas now with Albie I’m married and we all live in the same house together so it’s different this time around, as the first time I had a baby it was mainly just me and Summer. But now it’s a totally different dynamic anyway. For instance, when it was just myself and Summer I would put her to bed and then I would just be sat on my own, whereas now when the kids are in bed me and my husband can have that time to have an adult conversation and watch some adult television – I don’t mean it like that! [We all erupt into laughter!] I mean something like Game of Thrones! [We continue laughing] “In all seriousness though, having that adult time is so valuable.”

What do you think you have learnt most from becoming a mother a second time around? 

“I think because I’ve had my second child but also I think because I’m older now I realise that yes, I’m a mother and obviously that’s really important to me but I’m also a wife and I’m also Becky! I have realised that I also have to go with what ‘Becky’ wants to do at times too, because you do have to put yourself first at times as well as your children, your husband, your sisters, your parents and your business partners. I think when you are juggling so many different roles when you are a parent, especially a parent who is working or running a business, that is the hardest thing to manage, all those different aspects and pleasing everyone else but also learning to please yourself too.” 

A lot of working mums suffer from the dreaded ‘Mum Guilt’ and sometimes judgement from others, what has been your experience of this?

 

“Mum guilt is the worst! I always have Mum guilt! It’s weird because my husband doesn’t get it, he’s always saying ‘what are you talking about? You’ve got nothing to feel guilty about!’ Because his point of view he’s with the kids – as my husband doesn’t work he looks after the kids, which has been a hard dynamic anyway as most of the time other men will say to him ‘Oh, you don’t work? You look after the kids?’ I can’t understand why there are still so many men who don’t understand why other dads want to stay at home and lead with the childcare. Like why? It’s like when people say to me, ‘Oh is your husband at home, is he babysitting the children then?’ and it baffles me because I think ‘no, he’s not babysitting them, he’s their Dad!’ They are his children as well? It’s so weird that people still think that way, because why shouldn’t I work full time when I LOVE my job, and when we had Albie and we looked at all the factors for both me and Andy in terms of salary, job satisfaction, happiness etc, Andy said I really want to be at home with the kids, so if my husband is telling me that and I love my job why would we not make that decision? And it works really well for us, and then at weekends Andy takes the time to do his own thing like play football etc and I’ll be with the kids most of the time, and during the week when I come home I cook the tea and sort the kids out. I still organise everything for our family, and every Sunday night I create a planner for our family so we all know what we are doing and I can go to work knowing everything is under control!” [She laughs] “So it’s 100% a team effort! The thing I refuse to negotiate on, the thing that helps me keep that balance of work and parenting, is to make sure I’m always there for bedtime. I want see my kids every day and obviously there are those odd occasions where I’m not if I’m in London or something, but I always make sure I can spend time with them before they go to bed.”

What tips would you give other working parents who are juggling work and bringing up children?

“I think being organised is definitely something that I need to be in order to stay sane – I’m a bit like Monica in friends!” [We laugh] “For instance with the planner that I do on a Sunday, I use different coloured pens, and we stick that on the fridge! We have an online diary too and that is also colour coordinated, and I make sure everything goes in that diary. So I am very organised. I think there is so much going on each week that it’s one of those things that really helps us and the kids to have that reference. I think that really helped me with that transition of being back at work, so it eases my anxiety too and gives me that peace of mind that the kids aren’t going to miss anything. It also saves me time as I’m not checking in with Andy every two minutes like I was when I first came back to work! Which obviously caused a bit of friction too with Andy, because I wasn’t used to letting go so I think having that system in place has worked really well for us.” 

You can learn more about Rebecca and her swim! business visit: https://www.swim.co.uk

Rebecca Adlington SWIM!
REBECCA ADLINGTON OBE
© BROOD MAGAZINE
Simon Wood
Written by
Tom Pitfield and his daughter Iris

PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

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WEBSITE & DESIGN BY ROB STUBBS

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SIMON WOOD’s WEEKEND FAKE-AWAY: Naantastic’ Rarebit with Bombay Taters & Curry Sauces

SIMON WOOD’s WEEKEND FAKE-AWAY: Naantastic’ Rarebit with Bombay Taters & Curry Sauces

SIMON WOOD’S FAKEAWAY
BY SIMON WOOD OF WOOD MANCHESTER AND WoodKraft Cheltenham. IMAGES © TOM PITPIELD FOR BROOD MAGAZINE

There’s no harm in having a little bit of a treat now and then, what’s that saying? ‘Everything in Moderation, including moderation.’

Well, I’m no different and sometimes a take-away is a lovely thing, but sometimes, and we’ve all been there, its not. It’s cold, late, or worse just not very good.

So in this month’s edition of Brood Food I’m going to show you how to make something so simple and so tasty. You’ll question picking up the phone or using that easy-access app again.

After Christmas especially, Take-aways can be expensive so here I’m going to show you how to create a fusion of my two favourite things in the comfort of your own kitchen.

It’s quite simply ‘Naantastic’, a Donkeystone Rarebit filled naan bread loaded with Bombay tater-tots and a cheats curry sauce. This is made entirely from store cupboard ingredients, and I like to use a local brewery’s Ferris Muler Beer to add into my chilli cheese mix

simon woods weekend fake away naantastic rarebit with bombay taters curry sauces

Naantastic’ Rarebit with Bombay Taters & Curry Sauce

Ingredients (Serves 4-6)

  • 4 Large Naan
  • Ready-made Curry Sauce (or granules)
  • Deep Fried Chickpeas
  • 2 Tablespoons Aleppo Chilli
  • 1 Jar Curry Sauce 

The Rarebit Mix

  • 1 pack Grated Chilli Cheese
  • 1 pack Grated Cheddar
  • 100g egg yolk
  • 80g Beer
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Method

Mix everything together and season with salt and pepper

The Bombay Taters 

  • Boiled New Potatoes
  • 1 Red Chilli
  • 1” Ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 Small Onion
  • 200ml Water
  • 1 tablespoon Curry Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Chilli Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Coriander Powder
  • ½ Teaspoon salt and black pepper
  • 1 Bunch Chopped Coriander
  • 50ml veg Oil.

 

 

SIMON WOOD'S FAKEAWAY
INGREDIENTS FOR FAKEAWAY © FOR BROOD MAGAZINE

Method

In a large hot frying pan add your oil followed by your onions and cook until softened, add in the chopped garlic, chili and ginger and cook for 1 minute.

 

Next add in your spices and toast them for 2 minutes, stirring throughout and then add in your water followed by the potatoes.

 

Stir regularly adding a little more water if the mix starts to dry out

 

Next wet your naan bread and toast one side under a grill, turn and then add your cheese mixture and place back under the grill allowing the cheese to melt and turn golden.

 

Add your coriander to the potatoes and warm the curry sauce.

 

Top the toasty naan with the potatoes some crunchy chickpeas and sliced red chilli and then Serve with a beer of your choice.

 

All this can be made in less than 15 minutes which gives you plenty of your evening to relax and unwind.

 

@Donkeystonebrewingco @SimonJwoodUK

WoodKraft Cheltenham
Naantastic’ Rarebit with Bombay Taters & Curry Sauce
SIMON WOOD’S FAKEAWAY © FOR BROOD MAGAZINE
Simon Wood
Written by
Simon Wood

PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

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SUPER MUM OF 6 ON TAKING HER BUSINESS FROM HER KITCHEN TABLE TO DRAGON’S DEN

SUPER MUM OF 6 ON TAKING HER BUSINESS FROM HER KITCHEN TABLE TO DRAGON’S DEN

KATE BALL, FOUNDER OF MINI FIRST AID WITH 4 of HER 6 CHILDREN © TOM PITFIELD FOR BROOD MAGAZINE

Inspirational Mum of 6, Kate Ball, started her award winning business, Mini First Aid in 2014, right from her kitchen table. She quickly saw the potential for growth and franchised the business a mere year later.  At the time, Kate had two young children, Alfie and Grace, but by 2021 when Kate appeared on the hit BBC series Dragons’ Den, she had 6 children after having two sets of twins! Kate, together with husband and business partner Matt, and four of their six children stepped into the infamous Dragons’ Den, to give an impressive pitch (even with their brood in tow). This resulted in an investment from the hugely successful, multi millionaire Mum of two, Sara Davies MBE!

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Kate at her beautiful family home, and heard all about her inspiring business journey, and the heartbreaking reason behind her drive to educate others about first aid. We also enjoyed one of our most chaotic and fun shoots to date, with Kate and the youngest four of her children – her two sets of twins, four beautiful and lively girls: Emily and Olivia, and Poppy and Amelia! 

Mini First Aid
Kate Ball Mini First Aid with her children
KATE BALL, FOUNDER OF MINI FIRST AID WITH 4 of HER 6 CHILDREN © TOM PITFIELD FOR BROOD MAGAZINE
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Tell us a little bit about your career before starting Mini First AId and at which point in your career did you become a mum?

“I had a big corporate training role for Mars which I loved and when I had my first child, Alfie, I was really lucky to have a year’s maternity leave with full pay! It showed how much they value staff and their families, and that they want you to go back. And it was fantastic, but when you were back at work, you were BACK!  I managed to negotiate flexible working down to four days. However, this effectively meant that I was still doing my 5 day job, but in 4.I know this is a common story for so many women who return to work after having a baby. So it was really hard, but I actually fell pregnant with my second child, Grace, quite quickly (there’s only 20 months between Alfie and Grace). During my maternity leave with Grace, there was a company restructure and my job was going to change. This was going to mean more travel and time away from home. I had two young babies and I just didn’t want to do that on a regular basis. So, I took redundancy and began to look for other opportunities, which led me to some consultancy work around training and HR. But in the back of mind was always this first aid idea niggling at me.”

What inspired you to start a business in first aid and at what point did you decide to dive into the world of entrepreneurship? 

“Educating people about first aid and specifically CPR, has been something I have wanted to do ever since losing my brother, Matt. Matt had a condition called cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that we have seen in the media more recently having affected some footballers. The condition means that damage to the heart builds and then suddenly the person affected goes into cardiac arrest. When you hear about it happening to  footballers, a doctor is present, the defibrillator is there. Thankfully, we have also seen campaigns for defibrillators to be present at all grassroot football games. Unfortunately, my brother was on a beach in Portsmouth when it happened to him. There was no defibrillator and his friends did not know how to do CPR. We don’t hold them responsible in any way, but it’s always in the back of your mind: What if this group of young people knew how to do CPR until the paramedics arrived? 

So your brother Matt is very much your inspiration? 

Absolutely. I’ve always thought: What can I do to help prevent this from happening to other families? I think when somebody dies, some people go straight into activist mode and set up a charity, or start running marathons, but we as a family weren’t really there when it first happened. It was a huge shock and took a long time to get to that point. My brother was only 22 years old when he died and I was only 24, so myself and my parents were just dealing with the fact that he had gone. But it was something that was always in the back of my mind. And then when the moment came, I knew I had the skills to write quality training courses and identified a gap in the market . Accessible first aid courses weren’t readily available in my area, and that is where the germ of an idea came from.

So how did you get started with your own first aid business?

I got myself trained up and one of my mates worked as graphic designer and I paid him with a bottle of red wine to design me a logo ( The Mini First Aid logo). And he did a really thorough job and we still use that logo today! And then I started running Mini First Aid classes for parents and carers, alongside my consultancy work and juggling my two young children. In the beginning, I ran the classes in  my spare time and saw it as me doing something worthwhile, whichs gave me a bit of extra money. It grew from there and now there are over 70 franchises across the UK and we train around a thousand people adults and children every week in basic and lifesaving first aid!”

As it’s a passion project for you as well as a business, what’s the most rewarding thing about running Mini First Aid?

“We get messages from people every week telling us about different first aid situations which have happened to their baby or child, and because they attended a Mini First Aid class, they knew what to do. Often, this has saved their child’s life. We sent out a newsletter last week, about a family who managed to successfully deliver CPR to their baby, and you can’t read to the end without crying. I am not interested in getting any glory for that, but feel passionately about educating people and making a difference.  The fact that we are growing a successful business that we can earn a living from, and that all of our trainers can earn a living from, gives me a massive amount of satisfaction.”

How has your business developed over the years? 

“As well as training adults in first aid for abies and toddlers, we now train school children in first aid. In the last academic year, Mini First Aid trained 80,000 children, which is incredible! I was amazed by that, but my husband Matt – who runs all the commercial side of the business, made a point in stating that there are 6 million primary school children in the UK, so there is still a long way for us to go! [She laughs] But to go from nothing to 80,000 in 7 years, gives us a real sense of achievement! Watch this space as we’re about to introduce a nsew groundbreaking class!”

At what point did your husband come into the business?      

“We had just moved into our new house, done a renovation and we decided to have a third baby. When we started trying, I had a miscarriage. Sadly, it was a missed miscarriage – where you don’t miscarry the baby, so you have to have an operation – which was horrible. We had a lovely midwife who told us that although it hadn’t worked out this time around, if we wanted to get pregnant again,we should go for it. Then when I did fall pregnant, we went for the scan and there were two heartbeats! It was a proper fall off your chair moment. It felt like a gift – like the universe was saying you’ve lost one, so you’re going to have two! So it felt really lovely. And at that point I was ‘Mini First Aid’ completely on my own. I was marketing, PR, finance, website – I was everything! I was managing everything to a point and just about getting away with it, but it was very entry level and I said to Matt: “I can’t do this and have two tiny babies at home – as well as Alfie and Grace.” Matt was running an events company at the time (he’s a professional musician), so completely out of the realms of first aid. But he does know how to run a business and offered to come on board for 6 months, to give me ‘a break’ when the twins arrived. As if!’ [she laughs] Six years later, he is the Operational Director of Mini First Aid. We also have a team of 9 people in our Head Office, who look after our franchises, commercial operations and marketing etc. 

Your business is obviously like your seventh baby – especially because of the personal connection, how do you find having franchises of your business, because it can often be hard to let go and delegate when you are so passionate about your business

“Oh my god yes! It was really hard as I am a bit of a control freak. Even now, if I read something that one of our trainers has written on social media and it isn’t quite the wording I would have used, it can niggle at me. I still have to have a word with myself and say: “Right, come on Kate, it’s still getting the message out there, there’s nothing negative about it and it doesn’t matter if it’s not quite in my style.’ I also have a really good Franchise Manager , Gemma, who is really proactive in making sure everything is delivered on brand, and the style of training is replicated to the same standards throughout the franchises. But you do have to learn to let go, as your business grows or you cannot continue to expand.”

Kate Ball and her husband pitching Mini First Aid to BBC Dragon's Den
IMAGE COURTESY OF THE DAILY MAIL | © DAVID VENNI / © BBC, DRAGON’S DEN

What has been the hardest thing that you have encountered since starting your business?

“We had a situation in the very early days where someone picked up what we did and completely copied it! At the time, I felt like someone had stabbed me in the heart, because of all of the blood, sweat and tears that goes into starting a new business, and then someone just gave it a slightly different name and ran with it. It’s so hard because from a legal perspective, you can’t really do anything. We’re also teaching first aid, so you don’t want to be aggressive, because you feel like you should be saying: “It’s brilliant that you’re teaching CPR, but I just wish you weren’t doing it in the exact same way as Mini First Aid!’ I remember someone advising me to take it as a compliment. You have to have thick skin and I’m getting better, because we do have competition in the market now, as people have seen we have a good business model.  

How did appearing on Dragon’s Den change things for your company and also for you as a family as you had all six children at that point? 

“It changed things massively for us, and yes, we did have 6 children at that point! When we did our audition for the BBC, they liked our reference to children’s first aid as they thought it would work well on camera rather than demonstrating our first aid kit. So whilst we were going on there to pitch for investment for developing products, producers wanted to showcase the work we do with children. We were actually due to have other children on set with us, but then Covid hit, so they asked us to bring our own children! At first, we considered changing our pitch as there was NO way we were going to take the children on the show. But then we considered what the BBC had said, and decided we just needed to go for it! So we practised at home and even the night before, and we were still panicking that it was going to be a massive mistake. Our first set of twins were only three at the time, and you know what three year olds are like! We also didn’t want our older two to feel any pressure because that’s not fair on them. Mini First Aid is our business and we didn’t want Grace or Alfie to feel nervous, so we kept reassuring them that it was fine, and there was nothing to worry about. Our children did brilliantly and then left the set whilst Matt and I were grilled. The process is gruelling! We were thrilled to get Sara as an investor, one  – because she is a working mum and two –  because she gets us as a couple, as her husband runs her business with her. We felt that she had the right persona and we’ve been proved right. When we walked out and got into the lift we were like ‘YES! We did it! And I just burst into tears!”

What is it like working with Sara Davies and her team?

Sara and her husband, Simon are just the most down to earth, kind and lovely people. And as much as Sara can’t constantly be involved, nothing is too much trouble for her and we actually see her every quarter for half a day, which is great and we’ve done that for the last two years now. 

Sara has been a really good mentor for me. She does Facebook Live on our internal group with our franchises about twice a year, and has been a huge help with the retail side of our business. We had some retailers lined up to stock our first aid kits before the show, but hadn’t committed, and as soon as we started working with Sara and they knew about Dragons’ Den, it was a done deal. Some of them even doubled their orders. Sara opens doors for us in the media too, because she has really good connections which is invaluable!”

How did the children react to the news that you had been successful in the ‘Den’?

“What was lovely was that the children had been taken off and were being looked after. Then the crew brought the children to wait for us at the other side of the lift and told them the news before we arrived, so they literally leapt on us, shouting: “You did it!” So we all went to McDonalds to celebrate as we’d promised this to the children after the pitch. We had totally forgotten that our microphones were still on, so when all the unedited footage was sent to Sara’s team, Simon (Sara’s husband) listened to the audio file. When we met him for the first time he said: ‘We knew you were our kind of people, because you bribe your kids with McDonalds!’ [We all laugh].

What would advise other people who are only at the start of their journey in business, and how do you keep the vision through those blood sweat and tears? 

“One of the things that I would say to anyone starting a business, is to make sure you do your research and know your numbers, so that you can work out from the very beginning whether you can make some money from it. From the start, you need to look at other businesses that you like and see what they are doing well. What is it that they are doing that appeals to their audience? This can help you take the best bits, to help you build your brand. For me it wasn’t all first aid brands, as I wanted to change the way first aid brands were seen and delivered. I looked at baby brands and how accessible they were. This really helped to guide our website designer for example, as I was able to say ‘I love how this looks and can you make this bit look like that?’ So I think looking around for other brands you find aspirational and you can gain inspiration from is really important. 

And I think the final piece of advice I would give, is finding your own balance between work and family. I would never say I’m an expert because sometimes it can be a nightmare, but I really do try to work when I am ‘at work’ and be ‘in the family’ when I’m with the family. Whenever I’ve tried to mix the two, that’s when it’s gone horribly wrong! If I’m sitting with my laptop when the children come home from school, they will just climb all over me and close my laptop and I may as well give up. So sometimes that means that I might be an hour longer at work but when I’m home I can be present. To help me separate that, I used to go out to work even if that meant I went and sat in a coffee shop, but at least that way I wasn’t balancing my laptop on the playdough or getting stressed if someone made a noise whilst I was on the phone! And I know it’s not always that easy as sometimes things happen to throw a curveball when you have a family, or things don’t fit in with when people want you to do stuff. I was recently asked to sdo a radio interview at 7.30am and I had to go into the bathroom and lock the door and just pray that someone didn’t come knocking at the door shouting ‘Mummy, Mummy, Mummy!’ And I felt so stressed. I think sometimes I do things like that to remind myself how stressful it is and how important it is to keep it separate as much as possible!”

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GROWING A BRAND AND A BABY | WITH MASTER DISTILLER AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE SPIRIT OF MANCHESTER, SEB HEELEY

GROWING A BRAND AND A BABY | WITH MASTER DISTILLER AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE SPIRIT OF MANCHESTER, SEB HEELEY

SEB HEELEY, SPIRIT OF MANCHESTER & ADRIAN ADAIR FOR MORSON. IMAGES © BROOD MAGAZINE

In this feature, I catch up with master distiller and co-founder of The Spirit of Manchester, Seb Heeley.

Jen Wiggins and Seb Heeley started distilling gin in the dining room of their Chorlton home, with an initial run of just 100 bottles. The Christmas of 2016 the couple “distilled for 24 hours straight for 11 days to keep up with demand. We slept in two-hour stints at a time.” Fast forward 6 years and Seb and Jen have opened a Manchester city centre cocktail bar and distillery to keep up with huge demand. Their internationally recognised hero product, Manchester Gin, is one of the most awarded gins in the UK, selling over 100,000 bottles per year in the UK alone.

Just like its gin, the brand’s founder Seb is gimmick-free, authentic and future-facing. In the stunning surroundings of their Manchester cocktail bar, Three Little Words, we chat about finding love and a business over a G&T and the challenges of simultaneously nurturing a young business and a young son.

We last met earlier in the year in less relaxed surroundings – on the panel of a North West Insider Business event. You spoke so passionately about your business and I enjoyed hearing about how you and your wife founded Manchester Gin. So let’s start there…

Morson Group
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SEB HEELEY, SPIRIT OF MANCHESTER & ADRIAN ADAIR FOR MORSON. IMAGES © BROOD MAGAZINE
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Manchester Gin

I started the business in 2016 with (my now) wife. But the idea starts way earlier. In February 2013 I was out with two of my friends… it was about half one on a Wednesday morning (yes, a school night!) and my two friends were chatting up two women. Feeling left out, I said I was going to speak to the nearest unattended woman! And there was Jen, sitting 10 feet away from me. I walked up and the first words I ever said to her were “What are you drinking?”, and the first words that she ever said to me were “Gin and tonic.”

Some classic foreshadowing there… it was meant to be!

The conversation turned into a very pretentious chat over who knew the most about gin … “this botanical doesn’t go with that one etc.” … and that started our whole love affair. Fast forward a couple of years to 2015 and we’d decided to open a bar together.

I used to work for a property developer, so the idea was that he’d buy the site (he didn’t know this), redevelop it all, and then I was going to quit and open the bar. In researching the bar, we came across what I would call ‘true small batch gin distillation’ which are tiny stills of around 30 litres. It was the first time I’d ever seen gin being made in a little back room (probably 2m x 2m). And that was our proverbial light bulb moment… we said “We’ve got a free summer, we can give this a go.” It took us 12 months to get all the licenses. When we managed to launch our first gin in 2016 our distillery was actually in our dining room, because we didn’t have a great deal of start-up capital. Our first still, which we call Wendy (who we still use to this day) was installed there, she’s a little 60 litre still which would make 100 bottles of gin.

It’s the perfect origin story – your love of gin meets the love of your life. So what’s it like being a husband and wife team, do you have dedicated roles and responsibilities?

Yeah. I try to do as little as possible!

My wife would say the same and we don’t even work together!

We always say we’re that irritating couple that actually gets on. Working side by side is never a problem and we’ve worked closely for the last seven years, every single day going home, waking up, going to sleep, always together.

As to roles, I try to do one thing once badly and then I don’t get asked again! So accounts I can’t do or anything that involves being precise and accurate, that’s Jen’s skill set. Generally, I’ll do everything that’s outward facing such as distillation, new product development, and running the distillery team.

It’s good to have complementary skill sets, makes for a great team.

Well, we always say that we complement each other. Jen will focus on the minutiae (we always say that she’s the worrier) whereas I’m just left in my little dreamland coming up with various things. And it works really well.

We talk to other people that start businesses and I think unless there are at least two of you in the business, I think it’s incredibly hard to make a real decision. If there are two of you and you make decisions together, learn together and fail together, that’s how you find success.

And of course, you have added pressure of being partners in business and life, plus you have a little boy! So, I’m curious, as business owners and parents, how do you manage a work-life balance?

I don’t think there is one in all honesty. When I was in transition from leaving a job I’d been in for nine/ten years to running my own business I remember going on a 2 week holiday and my old boss said ‘Have a great break.’ I remember saying ‘I’ve got to take the laptop to design Christmas sets’ and he said, ‘Welcome to the business owners club.’ When you start your own business there’s no work-life balance because it is your life, it’s all on you. If the work doesn’t get done, you don’t make any money and you can’t provide for yourself and your family.

Work-life balance is a funny thing – particularly for business owners. It’s quite a polarised term, suggesting that you’re not living when you’re working but if you’re passionate about what you do, you’re engaged in what you do, whether you’re an employee or an owner, you find balance. It’s often about what you feel is acceptable.

I agree, this business is our baby, and we love it. I remember a time a few years ago, I think it was my birthday and we said, listen, we’re going to have a nice lunch and we’re not going to talk about work. We sat at a bar not dissimilar from this one and we were chatting away with the barman and ordering cocktails. That lasted about 4 minutes before we were looking behind the bar saying “I quite like that spirit bottle because of the shape” then an hour passed and all we’d done was talk about work – we’d failed!

But like you say if you are passionate about what you do then there is no work-life because it’s just life and this has been our life for the last seven years now. So, you know, we’re always talking about work, talking about ways of making it better, we don’t stop. On the flip side, because we’re business owners we can take Fridays off, we can spend quality time with our son when he needs it, and we can do the school run – we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Any advice for a couple exploring whether to go into business together or not?

Make sure you love each other if you really get on each other’s t*ts, don’t ever do business together. It will test your relationship and you have to fully commit to it. But if you do love each other and you want to spend time together and spend every day talking about it, then go for it. I mean, it’s the best thing we’ve ever done. But it’s like having a child, if you’re not completely in love don’t have a child, because that will break your spirit instantly.

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And what do you think is the one key ingredient to a successful family business other than love and passion?

Well, our business motto is ‘f*** it’. And as far as we’re concerned, that’s what we live and die by. When Jen first quit her job, it was ‘f*** it’, let’s do it.

What I mean by ‘f*** it’ is, just be bold in what you do. If you really think it’s worthwhile doing it, then do it. But ultimately, if it was easy everyone would do it. When I first started working on the business my friends would say ‘Why would you bother to do this?’ My old boss was the same, when I got my first still got delivered to my office he told me I was an idiot… he took that back 4 months later!

I think this ‘being bold’ rhetoric just says everything about you. When we were on the panel together at that Northwest Insider event your desire to succeed came across so strongly. Do you mind me asking, where does that come from?

Honestly, it’s a desire not to fail. I always wanted to start my own business growing up, conversely, Jen wasn’t that massively enthused about it and it wasn’t a big driver of hers.

I think it just comes from always wanting to do something new. If you discover something you love, why wouldn’t you put your all into it? Why wouldn’t I want to make a whisky next, why wouldn’t I want to build a new distillery? Once you’ve done one thing, it needs to roll onto the next. For us, the development of our brand isn’t a game plan, it’s a natural progression.

That’s so interesting to hear you say that. At Morson, one of our core values is curiosity. We want our people to know that by being curious, and inquisitive you’re making yourself and your business better, and more successful.

Yeah, exactly. You must always be on the lookout for what’s new, and what’s coming. Two years ago, we didn’t have the ambition to go into whisky but in the next six/seven years it’ll probably become the focus of the whole business. So, you’ve just got to roll with what’s moving, what’s changing, and how your passions change and evolve.

So, whisky is firmly in the pipeline?

Well, I always say, and I stand fast in this, I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. And I don’t think I’ll ever know. But I love this business, I love making alcohol – the next ten years will revolve around whisky. We call it a super distillery. It’ll be capable of producing half a million bottles of whisky a year. Compared to Scotland, that’s considered very small. So we would be a cottage industry business to Scotch Whisky and but we’ll be in the top three or four producers of English Whisky. So our ten-year goal is to produce one of the world’s best whiskys and grow internationally with that brand.

The still behind us is a thousand-litre still that can make a million bottles of gin. Our 750-litre whisky still can only make 40,000 bottles. So we need a 15,000 square foot space to make the equivalent amount of whisky to gin. So the focus for the next two to three years is to get a new distillery up and running and fire into production because you’ve got to wait at least three years for it to mature into whisky.

Will it be Manchester’s first whisky?

I mean Macclesfield have a whisky and the guys at Forest Gin, but that’s Cheshire, so yeah, Manchester’s first. But also the best, I want to produce the world’s best whisky, you know, just a small feat…

You’ve got guts and ambition. It’s great. Whilst we’re talking about the future, what would you like your son to follow in your footsteps?

You know what, I just want him to do what makes him happy. Jen and I always talk about how amazing it is to see his personality developing and coming through. He’s four now and in reality, the job he’s most likely to do doesn’t even exist right now. When I think when I was a child, social media didn’t exist now I employ three people in our social media team – a job that didn’t exist 20 years ago.

I’d like him to be in control of his own life, which for me meant running my own business when however hard you work is usually a direct correlation to how much you earn. But money is not the be-all and end-all. Genuinely, I would say, as long as he’s happy, that’s the most important thing.

When we were on the panel, you spoke about legacy. The fact that you wanted to create a business that is still going and growing when your son is older. Is that a driving factor?

Yeah, the way we’ve built our brands is for longevity. It comes back to my old days in property. The reason I went into property was to build a building that outlived me. I wanted my children, and my grandchildren to go and see that building, and say “Granddad built it” and it’s the same thing with our brand. I have no interest in him running this business, he has to go and live his own life, as I did. We’ll always have our family name on the back of every bottle we produce and it’ll be something that he (hopefully) is very proud of. But he doesn’t need to run this business if he doesn’t want to.

So as we’re in the festive season, what does Christmas look like in the Heeley-Wiggins household?

Food, food, and more food. I’ve already written the menu. I wrote it probably six weeks ago. I’m obsessed with food. So is my little boy and there’s not much he doesn’t eat. We tried him a couple of years ago with caviar and he enjoyed it but we can’t afford to keep him eating like that!

We usually have six or seven courses from nine to nine, so it’s a 12-hour eating and drinking fest.

And matching cocktails?

Yes, everything is paired with a cocktail. So we’ve got breakfast paired with a breakfast martini. Then prawns in a cream sauce with a French 75 (a cocktail made of gin, champagne, lemon juice, and sugar), followed by a tomahawk steak and a lovely bottle of wine from where we had our honeymoon in Bordeaux and then cheesecakes, cheeses and hams. Then it’s total regret at about 9:15 pm when you can’t move on the sofa!

It’s really special to see a local couple build something so successful, through pure hard work, dedication and above all love.

Seb and Jen’s passion for their business and brand made me think about a term which describes the polar opposite, one that has made its way into the mainstream this year. First touted on TikTok, back in March, the term ‘Quit Quitting’ has done the rounds with the recruiter and business media, generating plentiful commentary and analysis. Viral videos describe quiet quitting as delivering just what your job description demands and no more. You’re ‘quitting’ the idea of going above and beyond by doing the ‘bare minimum’ – that’s it. Individuals feel disengaged from their roles or they lack the same energy or passion they once had.

Regardless of your employment status – entrepreneur, perm, contract or otherwise – it’s natural to strive for a sense of purpose. People want to understand their role, have a clear career pathway for growth and can see how their skills align with the outcomes that they – and the business they work for – are trying to achieve.

If you’re an employer, we must embrace differences, build digital literacy, re-skill talent, create a culture of ‘we’ not ‘me’ and much more. Together, these solid principles will help to tackle quiet quitting, quiet hiring, great resignation and whatever phrase hits the headlines next. After all, a survey by LinkedIn said that companies with a purposeful mission reap 49% lower attrition rates. And those numbers simply can’t be ignored.

Jen and Seb provide the antidote to quiet quitting, “If you discover something you love, why wouldn’t you put your all into it?” and since 2016 have gone above and beyond to build their business. Their success is a testament to the power of finding purpose.

If you are seeking a new purposeful opportunity or are looking for ways to keep your workforce engaged or attract and retain diverse, multi-generation talent drop me a message at adrain.adair@morson.com

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CONTENT CREATION BY OLI DUNN

CONTENT CREATION BY OLI DUNN

CONTENT CREATION📷

My Perspective On Content Creation by Oli Dunn

I try to create more than I consume, I LOVE the creative process, I love creation of any kind, written, audio, video, painting, photography, the list goes on, it’s expressive, it’s expansive, it’s therapeutic, communication at its best, it’s good for you, in fact I’m addicted to it, as i am writing this I feel a chemical change in my body, excitement in my stomach, my heart beats faster.

Two quotes are coming to my mind as I write this;

“Create more than you consume.”
– Gary Vee.

 

“Do things that make your heart beat faster.”
– Nick Bianchi.

I regularly paraphrase the above. I’ve never linked the two though, until now.
Content creation for me has to be REAL, in the moment, spontaneous, unplanned and unpredictable (like life itself).
But most of all for me at least, it has to be fun, exciting and relatable.

Oliver Dunn
Oliver Dunn for BROOD MAGAZINE © TOM Pitfield Photography 

I’m pretty confident you will already be aware that video is where it’s at, users stay on platforms longer therefore apps like YT, IG, FB generate more dollars from ads the longer people are on their platforms. That said captions and written storytelling are equally important for the very same reason, this can often be undervalued.

My thoughts on Reels/ Shorts are as follows;

A reel is like a good night out, the less planned the better, the impromptu, spontaneous nights are the best right? I think the same applies for shorts. Give people the unexpected, surprise them. Think about where the value is, for example, whether you are a personal brand or a business think in questions, the answer is in the question – literally. If you are asked certain questions, bank and bookmark them, write them down and use them as inspiration and as a theme to create content.

For example, I’ve noted questions people ask me, such as;
How do you temper chocolate?
How do you stay so positive?
How are you so active on social media?
How do you speak in front of camera?

These questions will help you to form a basis for individual pieces of content or even a series of content. Consistency is key, become people’s habit.

Be relatable and authentic. Typically I notice that views are typically higher on shaky POV videos taken on a phone as opposed to a professional camera so don’t overthink it. Use equipment you feel comfortable with, that you can be consistent with. Consistency means you will become someones commodity, if you’re bringing them value, like a coffee in the morning, if users know they can discover fresh, exciting, interesting or entertaining new content from you daily or weekly they will keep coming back for more and you will become part of their routine.

My biggest lesson in social media.

A turning point for me was during lockdown. Generally people do things, people are busy, online and offline, doing, documenting, sharing their own experiences. In other words people are thinking about themselves and their agenda (nothing wrong with that) and not about you and what you’re doing. There’s a lot of noise to cut through. During lockdown a lot of people weren’t really doing anything at all.

I saw this as an opportunity to reach out to people, give them something to do. So I started selling chocolate making kits, this kept me sane, focused, driven and more importantly it gave people something to do at home with their family. This led to me sending out kits for big virtual corporate events around the globe for brands like Paypal, Facebook, Google and Gymshark and subsequently a Guinness World Record for the largest number of people making chocolate together in an online space.

As part of selling the kits initially we needed a call to action.
So Kim and I started a live show on a Saturday morning, called “Saturday Choc Live” inspired by our favourite nostalgic TV shows as kids, such as – Going Live, The Big Breakfast, Blue Peter etc. People could ‘make along’ with us, using the kits and more, singing, dancing, having fun, messing around, giving people lighthearted entertainment with compassion, just what I felt they needed at that time.

PILLAR CONTENT..

Saturday Choc Live and later, my LIVE YouTube weekly “Choc ‘n’ Roll Show gave me the necessary pressure to create new ideas for recipes and quirky creations but most importantly it gave me repurposing GOLD.

The weekly ‘pillar’ content was genuine fun for us, but off the back of it would be short clips, bloopers or reactions which were totally unplanned but when repurposed would showcase what we do, who we are, what we are all about and would often be the videos with the highest views and the most engagement, often more than the show itself. 15 seconds of a one hour show could be a real asset as a piece of content which would lead us to new and exciting places (that’s the fun part for me, you never know who’s watching and what doors can open).
It gave us and our viewers consistency and people knew exactly when and where they could find us and tap into the madness and hopefully take a shot of positivity away with them as well as maybe some chocolatey inspo.

How can I be consistent?

Commitment to a regular slot, live or pre-recorded content is great for consistency, but also great accountability if you let people know when to expect to see your content, this gives you something to focus on and puts some time sensitivity into the equation giving you, hopefully some excitement and the necessary pressure to find new ideas to share.

Think about how you are going to intrigue people, create curiosity, what’s the hook?
Why should they be interested in watching your videos?

For example;
How I made an Easter egg using a balloon?

Show people the true you, the behind-the-scenes. People love realness. Authenticity.
Share your thoughts, your ideas, even your insecurities. You want your followers to trust and relate to you so the more real/ human like you are the better.

I have a theory that people are interested in people, it’s just human nature, I’ve always found I’ve had more engagement on my personal accounts over my business accounts, so my conclusion is that business accounts should have a personality (or personalities) behind them, so they can be more interesting and relatable.

REPURPOSING..

My Great friend Liam Gardner (who produces the Goin’ in deep podcast, which I host with my friend, Ben Eastwood) often, reminds and encourages me to re-purpose clips. For example, if we record a podcast on Zoom, then repurposing a 30 second clip of our conversation can be of high-value, because naturally we will pick a snippet of the most interesting part of the conversation or action which gives people a valuable insight into the dynamic, and hopefully leaves the viewer wanting to consume the long form content. “Repurposing gold” as Mr Gardner would call it.

LEGACY.

This is becoming a much bigger inspiration for my entire content creation than I could have ever imagined. Now that I’m a Daddy I’m thinking more about the bigger picture and leaving a digital legacy for Romy and her children and her children’s children.
Giving future generations an insight into my thoughts, ideas and way of life. Therefore the emphasis is on “documenting” as opposed to just creating. This is where my YouTube channel will really come into its own. History in the making. Storytelling is how history has been made, literally, way back since prehistoric man engraved their stories inside caves. This is even more motivation for me to be the best version of myself so that I can leave a digital legacy and be a positive example for years to come. Paying it forwards.

So in essence, always be YOU, document everything, it might help or inspire just one person, that person might even be you.
Nothing is ever a bad idea, action always wins and everything leads to something.
Document everything, if it’s a good Instagram story it should be a reel and share on YT shorts and TikTok too, no rules approach, just do it.
You should also consume on all platforms so you can create bespoke content on each one, respecting the platforms trends and styles.

You never know who’s attention you might capture, it’s not all about a high number of likes or views, it’s about being authentic and true to yourself, forget the metrics and do it because it means something to you and because you love it! It’s about 1 person that’s all, that 1 person who you could be inspiring, changing their mood or perspective for the better, or someone who might offer you a fantastic opportunity in the future because you resonated with them, grab their attention. Go after it, try not to worry about being judged or other people’s opinions just be YOU and the rest will figure itself out for you.

I’m going to say that one more time for the people at the back, don’t let views, likes, interactions or engagement metrics dictate what you post or don’t post, definitely don’t let those metrics detract you from being your true self, do the opposite and double down on being you, it’s the authenticity people will love. You never know who’s watching and what’s going to pop as a result of your action, I certainly know what will pop if you don’t take that action, nothing!
Keep posting and you only need that one person to notice what you’re doing who can open doors for you and it will be worth it, but more importantly enjoy the ride, you are you, you are unique, embrace that, be proud of it and share it.

And lastly in the words Jay-Z, “remind yourself nobody built like you you design yourself”.

If you enjoyed this read take a screenshot and tag me and @broodmagazine #ContentCreation

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