SisterHub founded by Helen Rutherford-Gregory is a networking group aimed at supporting women in business. Offering support via meetings and facebook, the Hub has 60 members including an Independent Travel agents, a Narrowboat cruising holiday company, Katie from the Weasel and the Bug toyshop and the Foregate Garage. Helen who came to Chester seven years ago was inspired by a frustration and desire to help others in similar circumstances.
” I’d worked in call centres all my life. I was never really happy with what I was doing. I was a manager for Northern Rock. I got a degree in politics and psychology specialising in counter terrorism. I came back out the other end and ended up back in a call centre. I was super frustrated and decided to give it all up and train as a nail technician. One of the things that was promised was lots of advice on how to build a business but it never happened. Helen’s co founder, Steph, who had her own skincare brand: “I was looking for customers and couldn’t find them. So we got together. She was on universal credit and we said “what can we do for people ?” I was stuck out of the loop. It was really difficult. I had a dream and it was something I really wanted to do, and I couldn’t do it. We wanted to network and build our circle.” Helen says that Steph has since parted ways with SisterHub to spend more time on her own business. .
SisterHub launched in November of last year at Alexanders, with the launch party attracting 90 people and high profile support from the regions MPs, Chris Matheson and Justin Madders. Also known for her political activism, Helen says that she seeks to keep politics out of SisterHub but that “everything’s political. The reason why there are so many women who are struggling in self employment is that the workplace doesn’t take into account the flexibility needed, to be a woman, to work and to raise a family. A lot of women are turning to self employment so that they can manage it around their family, and they’re not earning minimum wage. Perhaps they’re being exploited and they think that’s the best that they can get. I am in the Labour party so I get involved, but the SisterHub is open to any women with their own business. ”
She says that social isolation is also a massive factor for women. “You wake up in the morning and you dont speak to anyone you’re just typing away you dont speak to anybody. Social media can be very distressing. You go to work in an office or a call centre and you’ve got colleagues you can bounce our ideas off. If you’ve got your own business, you’ve got none of that.”
SisterHub offers two levels of membership, with free to join “little sisters” and £10 a month “big sisters” The fee is good value compared to other networking groups says Helen. Two meetings take place a month. In April SisterHub partnered with Brio Leisure to focus on health and wellbeing, with Anna Jackson, known for her wheelchair basketball, giving a motivational talk. Also launched in April was SisterHubs support for the Code Red project- a campaign aimed at ending period poverty which sees SisterHub working with Chester Voluntary Action and Healthbox, Testify, Flipside radio and Amble. In a busy month Helen also spoke at Storyhouse’s Garret theatre as part of the Cheshire Enterprising Women project.
In May activities will include a talk on the new data protection laws and a talk from Professor Emma Rees from the University of Chester. ” We’ll have Emma speaking, and then we’ll have all the girls showcasing their businesses and meeting each other, sometimes they’ll bring along products and samples.
“Its about creating a community so you’re not on your own. I’m getting feedback now that everybody’s using each others businesses.” The sisters have also been on Flipside radio. “We take the girls on air and they get to talk about their business, get media training and increase their confidence.”
Of the need for a specific female networking group Helen insists that “it’s very different how men and women network. In a typical network its very corporate. men have a tendency to build themselves up, but women will talk more about mental health . I’ve found that creating a female only environment give them the safety to talk to each other on a real and relatable level. Only once or twice I’ve had abuse for being women only. Trans women are welcome. If anyone wants to start a brotherhub we’ll help them out!
With the current concerns about independent businesses in the city, Helen is philosophical.” Its a difficult one because you cant change peoples shopping habits. You cant remove the convenience of driving the quiet roads to Sealand Road and coming home with exactly what you want. You can’t delete that. But what independents can do is a build a community. The independents need to come together and support each other , and create a hub where people can rely on them and trust them.”
Next events are 11th May GDPR session at Chester Uni
31st May Vulvanomics at Chester Uni with Prof Emma Rees
Facebook – /sisterhubcheshire