"This situation has forced me to think more about my services and re-route it in a new direction."
Ashley Spencer Founder of Phenomenal Woman Fitness
With workplaces and venues forced to close to ensure social distancing, many ventures have had to rapidly reassess their whole way of working.
Here, we meet four Liverpool City Region businesses that have successfully transitioned to maintain a valuable service for their clients by ‘reacting and adapting’ to the current crisis.
All have received guidance and support through Liverpool City Region’s “one front door” access point for business support, Enterprise Hub, led by Liverpool social enterprise The Women’s Organisation.
Enterprise Hub helped freelance art educator Jennie Keegan set up her Outline Arts business two years ago.
Initially she provided courses and workshops in visual communications and worked with organisations including National Trust Formby, Tate Liverpool, Alder Hey and Aintree Hospitals, as well as schools and festivals.
Jennie works with youngsters, and adults.
Since social distancing was introduced she now reaches her classes digitally through an Online Arts Club, posting daily creative art prompts on social media, with more exciting projects in the pipeline.
Jennie said: “My sessions are planned around experimenting with materials and techniques, encouraging exploration of ideas and confidence so you switch off, be creative and enjoy the session. This aim has not changed. It is the way I do it which has.”
Recently, she was approached by Grow Liverpool and other Liverpool businesses to launch #streetgallery #frommywindow – inspired by the movement in Spain and Ireland – to encourage children, and adults, to create artwork and share it in their window to give passers-by something positive to look at.
And last month Jennie launched a free eight-week Online Art Club for children and adults which has been a resounding success.
She said: “The idea is you have an art session every day of the ‘working week. It's completely flexible so you can do as much, or as little, as you like, when you like.
“Each Monday subscribers receive a video for that day’s session, along with a handout of resources for Tuesday to Friday. There are also research activities included so students can start to gain a wider understanding of artists, organisations and galleries.”
Jennie set out with the aim of signing up 20 people, but there are now more than 90 taking part, which has inspired her to continue the programme after lockdown is lifted.
She has also been awarded a bursary from Curious Minds, the Arts Council England bridge organisation for the North West, to develop her work and adjust her teaching in response to COVID-19.
Jennie said: “Don't get me wrong, it's been a tough, uncertain time and I have moments when the thought of the future scares me, but focusing on my online courses, creating videos and positive social media content has been good for my business with my followers increasing by 15% for both Instagram and Facebook.”
Crosby-born yoga teacher Megan Halewood has been running virtual yoga retreats since the start of lockdown to help support people’s mental health during the pandemic.
Enterprise Hub helped develop her venture, Megan Marcelle Yoga & Retreats, last year.
Megan’s passion for sharing yoga stems from supporting mental health and wellbeing, having graduated with a Psychology degree in 2012.
She believes that getting on the mat to practice yoga can help people manage their everyday stress and anxiety.
So, when the UK went into lockdown, Megan knew that her classes, workshops and retreats could provide an all-important escape and support system to help people through the difficult months ahead.
Having set up a virtual yoga retreat Megan offered classes seven days a week, from 7am through to early evening.
She said: “My aim was to inspire people to get up early and make an active start to their day, giving them purpose and establishing a routine. Each day I provided tips and tools people could take off the mat to help manage stress, anxiety and fear – emotions many people are currently experiencing.”
Her online community has attracted a wide audience, extending from local clients in Liverpool to India, the US and Australia.
Megan said: “It has been a journey adapting to ways of doing business in the current crisis, and not always a smooth one, but I always come back to my intention to support others, and it is this which keeps me going.
“We are very lucky to have access to online platforms which can help us reach our clients and I highly recommend trying it out, it can be a rather strange transition for those in a customer-facing business, but people needed your business before the crisis, and will need it after, if not now.”
Payment is on a donation basis, but all sessions are free for NHS workers.
Ashley Spencer found herself in a similar situation to Megan.
The founder of Phenomenal Woman Fitness, she wasted no time in adapting her business model and taking her services online.
Having spent most of her adult working life in the corporate world, and the associated negatives of long commuting times, long hours and poor eating habits, she designed a healthier training plan that suited her lifestyle, then founded Phenomenal Woman Fitness in Wirral two years ago, offering a combination of 1-2-1 and online health, fitness and lifestyle coaching for women.
She said: “We all want to look and feel phenomenal, but for many of us this doesn't seem attainable when we are trying to grow our career, look after a family, have a social life and maintain a work/ life balance.
“As a coach, I get to the root of my client's goals and identify what's preventing them from achieving them. From there, I design their training and nutrition to suit their lifestyle, implementing small changes along the way to replace poor habits with healthy ones.”
Along with thousands of others in the leisure and fitness industry, when the Government’s COVID-19 measures meant gyms had to close, Ashley had to be flexible and innovative. And fast.
She said: “We received the news at 5pm on Friday, March 20, ordering all gyms to close that day. After visiting the gym for the last time to say goodbye to the team, I realised I was completely on my own and needed to act.”
The following day she arranged video calls with all her clients and over the weekend planned programmes for them.
She said: “I now train a handful of clients virtually via Facetime or Zoom and have transferred others temporarily to full online clients. I have also introduced free live group training sessions with clients to keep them motivated and active and am planning another for my boot camp clients.
“I had already built a strong WhatsApp community within my 1-2-1 and online client base, and had recently started a Facebook group for them, called Team Phenomenal Community, and my boot camp clients to receive useful content and support each other.
“I knew that this news was going to bring down the morale of many people and steer people away from their goals, so, during the weekend of the closure, I decided to open up the group to any women who needed help and support. In one day, the group grew from 25 members to over 80, and now has over 130.”
Since lockdown, Ashley has attended online seminars run by The Women’s Organisation, through Enterprise Hub, to scale and launch the next stage of her business. She said: “This situation has forced me to think more about my services and re-route it in a new direction. I have been challenged to communicate more frequently and openly with people, and it has massively boosted my confidence as a coach and a business owner.”
Lockdown presented more complex problems for Rosie Whittington when social distancing was introduced.
She launched The Me2U Centre in Kirkby two years ago to provide valuable support for families looking after relatives with dementia, helping them maintain their independence and remain in their own home environments, with their families, for longer.
It also provides respite, giving family carers the chance to take on normal work, home and family routines safe in the knowledge that their loved ones are in expert hands.
Once the Government’s response was launched Rosie applied to care watchdog, the CQC, to become an emergency crisis facility, offering six hospital beds for high risk dementia patients, which provides specialist dementia care, while freeing up vital capacity in NHS wards for coronavirus patients.
The centre is also offering emergency back-up, such as a crisis phone line, a shopping service, and a prescription pick-up service for its 60 clients.
Rosie intends to retain these services once lockdown is eased.
Jo Mountford, Rosie’s business advisor at The Women’s Organisation, said: “I have found it inspiring that in a time of crisis, people are working tirelessly to flip their business model with a genuine passion to support the vulnerable people in the community and their loved ones.”
Rosie responded: “I’ve got a fantastic team – I’m the face of Me2u, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the people I’ve got around me. They are so loyal and adaptable.”
Throughout the upheaval caused by lockdown, Rosie and all the other businesses supported and coached by Enterprise Hub, through The Women’s Organisation, continue to receive help and advice from their business mentors.