NIGEL EASTHAM OF SUSTAINABILITYYARD & ADRIAN ADAIR FOR MORSON. IMAGES © BROOD MAGAZINEIn this feature for BROOD, I chat with Nigel Eastham, founder of SustainabilityYard, the app that is tackling construction waste head-on. The free, self-service app enables users...
Laura Wolfe © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE
Inspirational mum in business, and events guru, Laura Wolfe, is unsurprisingly one of the most well-respected women in her industry. Alongside her flourishing career, Laura, is also a doting mum of two boys, aged 11 and 16 – and one very cute cavapoo, Teddy!
“I always say ‘the juggle-struggle is real’ – and it absolutely is!”
With a long-established career in events – particularly renowned within the footballing industry, Laura is also the driving force behind the NWFA (Northwest Football Awards). She took on the prestigious awards over 10 years ago – back when she was just a fan, but this didn’t deter Laura from her vision and desire to carve out a successful career path in a field that she loved. It’s no surprise that Laura is now working with Women in Football, who champion female talent in a bid to bring about change in attitudes to women working in the industry.
Laura’s story is a compelling one filled with incredible highs and devastating lows. Personally, she has gone through the heartbreak of a divorce and the loss of her dad, and it was only just over 5 years ago when Laura lost everything as her business went into insolvency. Consequently hitting rock bottom. Plagued with overwhelming mum guilt and consumed by the excruciating feelings of failure, Laura initially wanted to hide away, bury her ambitions, and get a job working in a supermarket. But then, with the support of her incredible family; her mother, her brother, her sister, and her partner – who have supported her no matter what; Laura courageously coached herself back into a stronger mindset, and she inspirationally jumped back into the world of business! And thank goodness she did, as it was only two years later that she embarked on an 18-month journey, that would become the highlight of her entire career. That career highlight being that Laura was appointed to manage Manchester City’s captain Vincent Kompany’s testimonial season; seeing her work alongside Vincent Kompany himself, and Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, to raise over £850,000 for a homeless charity. The fact that Laura is a lifelong City fan meant that this amazing opportunity had added meaning to her.
As a loving mum and daughter (as Laura also helps to look after her mother) and several formidable business ventures, it’s no surprise that Laura’s schedule is jam-packed. So, we asked the question so many people want to ask – how does she do it?
“I literally get to a Friday night, and I don’t understand where the week has gone!” she laughs.
We all know how hard it can be to achieve that ‘work life balance’ when you are running a business and juggling life as a parent, do you allow yourself any ‘me time’ and how do you fit that into your hectic schedule?
“I love going to the gym. The gym for me is my time – my hour. And to fit that in I have to do the 6am/7am class. It’s not always possible, like recently I’ve been too tired to get up and do it. But I do try to incorporate it into my routine as much as possible. Last week for example, I was in London on the Tuesday, my partner Daniel was away on the Wednesday in Newcastle, the kids were at their dad’s and the dog has gone to his doggy hotel – which sounds ridiculous, but because we’re all away and out, we just know he’ll have a lovely time there with all the other dogs and that’s obviously an extra weight off your mind. So, it was just me and I could have slept until 8am, but instead I got up to do my gym class. I could have used that time to catch up on my sleep, but I just know on the days that I do go to the gym; I feel much better than the days I don’t. Without a doubt. And I love it! It’s changed my life – so for me it’s a massive thing. And most of the time it’s doable until it’s half term or other school holidays, or my mum needs something, or my kids need something – then something’s got to give and usually it’s your ‘me time’!
“I always say ’the juggle struggle is real’ – and it absolutely is!”
Laura WOLFE IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD
With such a hectic schedule how do you manage to fit in your ‘mum jobs’ alongside the demands of your business?
“My children are split between me and their father. They are with me for 8 nights and then with him for 6 nights. It’s not my choice, but it’s what you have to do, because their dad loves them too, there’s no doubt about it. But I’m still their mum whether they are with me or not, and the organisational side of things still falls to me. I’m naturally a control freak and it took me a long time to let that go, but I still need to make sure everything is done and that everything is in place so that they can do what they need to. So, whether they are with me or not they will still ring me, and you still have those ‘mum jobs’ to do. I’m so lucky my partner Daniel is brilliant. He will take my youngest to football on a Saturday and Sunday. He loves that, he played a lot himself when he was younger. So, he’s brilliant, but of course it’s still challengingly. I can be in London at an event, like I was on Tuesday. My eldest calls me and he’s stressing about something – which is fine because I’m his Mum and he needs me – so obviously I have to take that time out to sort things out things like that. The kids always come first. No matter how busy I am, there are moments I don’t want to miss because they are important moments, and they need their mum there.”
Laura WOLFE with x-MCFC PLAYER vincent kompany, TAKEN FROM LAURA’S INSTAGRAM account
You have an extra role to juggle in looking after your mum, how do you manage to fit that into your busy schedule.
“Mum is 84, she’s fantastic, she’s been there supporting me all my life. So now it’s my turn. My father passed away in 2015. My brother lives in America and my sister lives in Israel. We’re a really close family, but geographically we are massively dispersed, so the day-to-day falls to me. So, during Covid again, it was down to me to look after my mum – we live 5 doors down from her – which has brilliant benefits; she’s got an incredible relationship with my children, well all of her grandchildren really, but obviously with us being so close by, she does a lot with my kids and sometimes I couldn’t manage without her support too. But mum can get herself in a bit of mess with things like her phone etc and she needs me to go and help her, which I had to do yesterday and before you know it, it’s two hours out of your working day.
I grew up in a Jewish household with a mum who gave everything to her family – and I mean everything! Before my mum had me, my parents lived in Maidstone, and she was about to be made Mayor of Maidstone. She was a woman in her twenties, with all these men in a room smoking and she was sat there looking glamourous – and this was in the days where women didn’t do that! But then Dad’s job brought them up here and since then she gave her life to family and the community. She’s got an MBE for her services to the community. So, she’s a force. At 84, she’s still a total inspiration and as involved as ever, which is just amazing!”
And you’re also a mum to a gorgeous little cavapoo, Teddy, which is obviously another responsibility that you have to manage. Tell us a bit more about Teddy and how you make that work.
“Our puppy Teddy is a lockdown down puppy. We love him, he’s like another baby to me. I would have wanted another baby – as I’m one of three and we’re so close – but it just wasn’t to be for me, as my life went in another direction. So, we love our pup, but because he was a lockdown puppy, he’s not good on his own. So, obviously we have to factor him into our schedule too. We’ve organised it really well now, he goes to doggy day care, and he absolutely loves it! It’s like playgroup he’s got a ball pit, slide paddling pool – I mean it sounds ridiculous, but he loves it so we know he’s happy when he’s there.”
Obviously, the events industry was hit incredibly hard through covid, that must have been tough, and you would have obviously had the boys the home-school too. So how did lockdown impact you professionally and as a parent?
“Lockdown was an absolute nightmare! I mean for all parents it was just so hard. My eldest was 14 at the time and he slept all day and gamed all night. He only really came out of his room to eat and grunt something, but I just went with it because I had to. He couldn’t swim or do any of the things he would normally be doing, so it was awful and it was hard emotionally. My youngest needed home schooling and at the start school didn’t actually give them that much to do and he is so ridiculously conscientious that he would get it all done straight away. And as you said my businesses then was events and football – there were no events and no football. I remember the day they said it was all happening and we had to shut the office, we thought we would all be back in three weeks. We were really busy at the time, we were gearing up to do the PFA Awards etc and obviously none of those events went ahead and lockdown went on much longer than we all anticipated. I was running – a lot – but also eating – a lot! I was baking bread – in fact my youngest will say mum you never bake bread anymore! And I’m like ‘When am I meant to fit baking bread in now?’ (she laughs)
But as time went on and I realised that this wasn’t going away quickly, I set up my concierge business – looking after footballers primarily. Like helping them find a place to live if they’re moving from overseas, or to help them find a school etc. So that was great because that kept me busy setting that up. Then I’m really friendly with Brian Horton, ex-football manager and brilliant guy and he had written a book and I said to him ‘Who is doing the media for you book? I don’t do PR, but do you want me to help you?’ He said yes, will you speak to the publisher. Which I did, and I did the media for the book for him – just because I wanted to – and it went brilliantly, and the publisher asked me how much I charged! I didn’t know what to say as I’d never really done it before. But that was October 2020 and now we’re in May 2022 and I have provided the media relations for all of those books. (Points to an array of books displayed with pride in her office) I generally do the personality led books and so it’s great to work with so many inspiring sports personalities.
Then in February 2021 Women In Football got in touch and asked if I would meet with them as their head of events was really unwell with covid. It went really well and I’m still working for them now and we’re doing some really great and exciting things.
As much as covid was incredibly hard, it gave me was a chance to rethink things and look at things differently, and without that happening I would never have done the media side, or the Women in Football and I love it, and I’m good at it!
And of course, fast forward to now and the events industry is booming again. A lot of people have left the industry too and so there aren’t as many companies or freelancers around, so its crazy busy at the minute. But I’m not complaining as I’ve been on the other side where I lost everything! I’ve made some bad choices, put the wrong people around me, thought I knew how to do it and listened to people I shouldn’t have, and I lost everything!”
That must have been extremely hard. Do you think that’s almost part of the process though, to be successful? To make the mistakes, to endure the struggles and then grow through them.
“Well, I feel I have a lot of catching up to do because my divorce took its toll on me, I lost my dad, and having kids is really difficult. And when things are going well it’s great, but without going into it too much, like all kids, my kids have had their issues, and as a parent you find yourself dealing with those too, both emotionally. And sometimes that has been really hard and heart-breaking. Kids can say things they don’t mean because they’re hurting and you just want to make it all better for them, and sometimes you can’t.
At the end of 2017 when everything went, I was made bankrupt and my business went into insolvency and there were lots of different reasons for that and I remember sitting at Oddfellows in the park in Cheadle, with my brother who over from the US and Daniel, my partner. And I said to them I’m going to go and work in Marks & Spencer, and I was serious and do you know my reason for that was that they give you 20% discount on the food! And Daniel was so angry, to hear me be so defeatist like that, but my brother said just let her go through it. I just thought I can never show my face in Manchester again! No-one will ever want to work with me again! It was just horrible. I was let down by some people, but ultimately, I take responsibility for what happened. And then I ended up starting up another business, but it was completely different to the business I had before in that it was me front and centre, it reflected me and that’s what people wanted and always had, but I had tried to make the other business into something it was never going to be.”
It’s very inspiring that you went back into the world of business despite going through that and it obviously takes a lot of strength, how difficult was it to get back out there and start over again?
“I had a really lucky break in 2019, it was Vincent Kompany’s testimonial season at Manchester City and he came to the NWFA to present an award to Brian Kidd with Gary Neville and I met his business partner and the guy that manages him and I got on really well with them an then after we had had a coffee they gave me the gig to run his testimonial season so I worked with him for 18 months. And as a city fan that is like your ultimate dream, like I can’t even tell you what that meant, it was incredible. And when it was over, I was kind of like what do I do now? And he said good things will come to you, just trust the process.
Then when I started working with him the trolls came out and I remember sitting at my desk and Amy, a colleague and friend who had been with me throughout it all said ‘Laura don’t look at Twitter, don’t look at it!’ and obviously I did and it was just disgusting, the things they were saying about me, about my mum, there was antisemitic stuff, there was stuff about what happened with my old business and there was stuff about my partner and this was all because I was working with Vincent Kompany and Andy Burnham – because we were raising money for the homeless. And it was just horrific and because I wasn’t expecting it, it really knocked me. Honestly? It made me not want to be here anymore. It’s tough to admit that, but it’s true. And I remember Andy Burnham rang me and said I signed up for this, this is part of my job, but you didn’t, the only reason they are doing this is because you are actually doing something positive. I know its horrible but just keep doing what you’re doing. And Vinny’s team were like, we’ve got you, if it carries on, we’ll sort it but for now let’s just ignore it. And when I started working with them, I had told them everything, so they knew everything, you know ‘This has happened to me, I’ve done this, I’ve done that, this is what happened, and it was a part of my life.’ They didn’t care, in fact they already knew about everything anyway, but the fact that I told them without them asking me, I think that showed them that I’m ok, you know. So that was extremely tough, and I blocked my account for ages and was then like sod it! And I got to the point where I though ‘I actually don’t care’ It’s actually something that we’re trying to stop through Women in Football, because unfortunately it’s something that is prevalent for women in football. I just don’t understand why, but it happens.”
Obviously 10 years ago in Football you didn’t see many women involved in football, have you had to fight even harder to carve out your career because of that?
Oh yes! Most men have probably never been asked to explain the offside rule, but I have many, many, times! We were talking about this at an event the other night and we all agreed that you don’t have to know everything, because men don’t know everything either. And I don’t know everything, and I didn’t know everything ten years ago, but I never pretended to know everything. But when you’re going into a room full of men and who already have preconceptions about you, it can be intimidating. Even going back to when I moved to Manchester, and I went to work at the Institute of Directors, I was the youngest and only female regional director they had, and that there had ever been before! I remember thinking to myself we’ve got to change this. I’ve seen some awful stuff over the years and heard some awful stories, I’m fortunate to not have experienced it too myself but it definitely something that happens. We have come a long way, although there is still a lot further to go. I’m a firm believer in women supporting other women to pave the way forward.”
What advice would you give other mums who are also striving to achieve success in their careers?
“I think you always strive for more. You always think that you’re not doing well. You always think that you could have done something better. I have the worst imposter syndrome. But I think firstly, you can’t regret anything – and that’s something I’ve had to really work on – learning not to regret things, because it nearly finished me! Secondly, know that you’re not on your own. The more you can open up and talk about things the better. I used to have this outward facing thing, particularly on social media, that everything is brilliant, everything is fantastic. Always saying, I’m fine to anyone who asked. So, no one ever knew that underneath my world was crumbling and falling apart. That I was losing everything. That I felt like the worst mum in the world, because I just couldn’t be there for my kids in the way that I wanted to be because I wasn’t emotionally strong enough, and I didn’t ask for help. But everybody struggles. Everybody fails. I failed very dramatically and very publicly. Get yourself a girl gang of cheerleaders too. Everybody needs their girl gang. Mine is ace!
And thirdly be kind to yourself, I am not kind to myself – I need to listen to my own advice on this one. I’m always telling myself I should be doing better; I should be doing more. And it’s constant and I’m always on the go until I remind myself that’s not sustainable and I’m a human being, and that something has got to give. Oh, and learn to say no as well – it’s ok to say no. You can’t be the best friend in the world, the best mum in the world, the best partner in the world, the best person in the gym, the best businessperson etc… I can’t do it! Nobody can and you just need to remember that.”
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PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD
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