Meet the founder of Pelham House Care Home:

Roger Waluube is the owner of Pelham House Care Home and Aspire Home Carers . These organisations provide outstanding care for people with mild dementia and people in need of palliative care. As well as his great work in social care, he is also known for his appearance on the BBC Panorama special titled ‘The Forgotten Frontline’. In this heart-breaking TV special, he opened up on the tragic events that saw half of his residents killed by corona virus and the lack of government support for care services like Pelham House Care Home.

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Roger’s career in health services started when he joined the NHS graduate scheme, following completion of a masters in Human Resource Management. Whilst at the NHS, he worked in a number of roles, some of which were management positions. After his 4-year stint at the NHS, Roger felt he wanted a change and so joined Ernst and Young, where he worked as a consultant on healthcare companies.

“I travelled a lot for work when I was at EY and truth be told, the role was very focused on finance”, explains Roger. He realised that he didn’t enjoy the financial focus of the role and therefore left the company. He used the knowledge he’d obtained over the years to work as an independent management consultant to NHS hospitals, a role he enjoyed and thrived in.

However, it wasn’t long before he had the itch for a change in direction again. “I really enjoyed what I did, however, when I started thinking about my future, I recognised that I wanted to own my own business”. It was at this point that Roger decided to buy Pelham House Care Home. “I wanted to be at the fore front of a business that was making people’s lives better and adding value to it, therefore owning a business within Social care was in line with my back ground and it meant I would continue doing what I enjoy the most”. Roger bought Pelham House Care Home in 2010 because he could see its potential and how he could make it better.

Roger Waluube

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Based in Folkstone, Kent, Pelham House Care home is surrounded by beautiful gardens and has rooms with stunning views of the sea. The care home specialises in mild dementia and has been assessed as ‘Good’ by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), a public body established to regulate and inspect health and social care services in England. Pelham House Care Home received a lot of positive feedback from the general public following the panorama show, “It was really nice to get that feedback because when you are in it, you very rarely step back and appreciate your own work. This showed me that we really are a good care home”, explains Roger.

Shortly after purchasing Pelham Care Home, Roger also founded Aspire Home Carers, a service that provides tailored home care and support to people who live in and around Folkestone, Hythe and the surrounding area.  The company is focused providing palliative care and care to people with dementia, in the comfort of their own home.

However, running a social care business has not come without its challenges. Businesses within health and social care sector tend to be heavily regulated. Although necessary, it can often slow things down and perhaps outweighs a focus key business functions. When Roger first took over the business, he also quickly realised that staffing was a very important aspect and one that can be challenging at times. “At the end of the day my business is about people and the people around it. So, it’s really important to build those relationships and understand how your staff work”.

As a new business owner, Roger focused a lot on the customer service and operational side of the business. “Your desire to work in any capacity, within the social care sector, must be driven by the value of putting people first”. “However, I wish I had been more committed to developing my marketing strategy and to this end wish I had found someone I trusted and found convincing much soon than I did”.

Roger Waluube

Click here to donate to Pelham Care Home crowd funding campaign

Like most care services Pelham House Care Home has struggled during the Covid-19 Pandemic. ‘The Forgotten Frontline’ panorama programme explored the government’s handling of care homes during the pandemic, after it was revealed a resident at Pelham House was discharged back to the Home before receiving the results of his positive test.  Following this, Pelham House lost 10 out of its 20 residents in the space of a 9 weeks after the virus spread to 18 residents, forcing nine staff to self-isolate.

“It has been devasting, especially watching people, friends and residents, you have cared for die prematurely”, says Roger. These devastating events put Pelham House Care Home in a dire financial position meaning it was 10 days away from closing. In an attempt to save the Home, Roger launched a crowd-funding appeal in order to help pay ongoing costs at the Home. In the end, Pelham House was able to receive short-terms funding from IWOCA, a peer to peer business lender. Pelham House is currently operating under capacity, housing only 14 residents out of the 22 that it has capacity to look after. This deficient is causing a loss of £15k-£20k per month, and it is likely that these financial challenges will continue if the Home is not fully occupied soon.

The future of Pelham House and the care services sector is a bumpy one especially given the ongoing concerns with underfunding in social care and the inability of successive governments to address this longstanding issue. There has always been a negative stigma attached to care homes and COVID-19 19 has made it even worse and more challenging. In the short-term, its likely that we’ll see a lot of care homes close their doors for good. However, in the long term, with the recent news of a vaccine, hopefully we’ll see some of them survive. Could it be time to shake up the sector? The pandemic has definitely made that clear. Perhaps care homes need to relook at their business model and ask if they are fit and ready for such a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) future.  “If we don’t develop a more convincing business proposition and marketing strategy, together with strong leadership, we will have a difficult time changing opinions and public appreciation for our work”, explains Roger.

So, what’s next for this sector? Leave a comment with your views and suggestions on how to improve things.

If you would like to support Pelham House Care Home, visit their crowd funding site here to make a donation.

Conscious Skin Care: Meet the founders of Earth to Earth Organics

Earth to Earth Organics is a sustainable skin care company that was started by husband and wife team, Tenesia (Tee) and Danny (Dan) Pascal in 2016. The company produces and sells a range of body oils, body washes and body butters via their online store.

These products were created out of necessity by Tee, who at the time had developed health and skin problems, following her relocation to England from Guyana. The change in climate, hardness of the water and processed foods had led to rashes all over her body. The couple couldn’t find anything in the market that was cost effective and that healed Tee’s skin.  This took Tee on a journey of research and experimenting with different products, until she found a winner in flagship body butter called “Magic Cream”.

Earth to Earth Organics is an environmentally conscious alternative to chemical- containing skin care products that are widely available on the high street. The company’s body butters do not contain water, thus providing the rawest and most natural product and experience to customers.

I caught up with Dan and Tee on a mildly warm Sunday afternoon to discuss skin care, Aunties Magic Cream, environmental sustainability and the couple’s journey with Earth to Earth Organics thus far.

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What is your background and what inspired you to start this business?

Dan: I started working at the BBC straight after university. I co-run and manage the studios for some of the shows that we produce across our sites at Elstree Centre, Television Centre and BBC White City. After we got married in 2014, I had an epiphany to want to do something that changed the world for the better. I wanted to lead a purposeful life and felt that with Earth to Earth Organics brand, we would be able to build something that was aligned with our ethos.

Tee: I worked at Marks and Spencer and was responsible for shop floor layout and team management. I embarked on this journey after developing health and skin problems shortly when I moved to England from Guyana. I didn’t want to use anything that was not natural to heal my skin, so I tried to solve these issues by changing my diet to a more natural one.

When we changed our diet, we became more conscious about environmental issues. We started understanding more about the natural environment around us and realised this was our passion. As such, as part of our ethos, we plant trees with ‘One Tree Planted’, we are helping clean up plastics through our partnership with ‘Clean Hub’ and in Guyana we help children who have lost their parents by supporting them through school. These activities as well as our products reinforce our focus and passion for environmental sustainability.  

What is the unique selling point of Earth to Earth Organics Skin care products?

Tee: We don’t use any chemicals, chemical preservatives and additives in our products. Our products have no age limit, so anyone can use them, you just need to have skin. We believe this makes us stand out in the market.

Dan: Aside from our products, sustainability is something that is very important to us. You can see this for example in our packaging, which is 90% plastic free. We also partner with Clean hub, to clean up plastic waste in some of the most deprived places in the world. This I believe also makes us unique from other skin care brands.

How did you start developing these products and how did you know which ingredients to use?

Tee: I couldn’t find anything on the market for my skin rash, that was natural, cost effective and that could heal my skin. Therefore, I started researching natural ingredients and took some courses to further my knowledge. After trying different combinations of products, I found a winning formular that worked for me.

This was cemented by my nephew, who developed eczema and used my body butter to cure it. He coined it ‘Aunties Magic Cream’. Dan also fell in love with the body butter so we stopped using any shop bought products and only used products that we created.  For me, this was a sign that we were onto something and encouraged me to develop more products, which have been greatly received by our customers.

Are there specific certificates that you need for your products before you can sell them to the general public?

Dan: All our products are safety tested and suitable for public use. Due to the fact we don’t use water in them, the safety verification process is more straight forward for us.

What are some of the challenges you faced when you started?

Tee: Knowing how to run a business. We knew there would be a regulatory aspect, given we are in the skin care business. However, there was a lot more to learn about running a business, such as finance and marketing. It was a steep learning curve for us, which involved talking to experienced people, research and then implementing best practice.

Dan: We both have backgrounds in customer services, so we knew how to deal with customer issues and queries when they arose. However, everything else has been new to us. For example, we didn’t know that when labeling a product, you have to use the scientific names of all ingredients used. Although it has been challenging, we have learnt a lot along the way.

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Earth to Earth Organics

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What were some of the mistakes that you made in your earlier years?

Dan: We made some mistakes when we first started, which is to be expected. One of our earlier mistakes was when we sent our first order to a customer. I made a mistake on the shipping, which meant that postage was more expensive than the product I was sending.  It was a small difference of around £1 but of course it’s not something I wanted to repeat.

Tee: When making our product labelling, we hadn’t considered that our bottles could get wet, depending on where customers were storing them. This would affect the quality of our labels over time. We learnt from that experience and as a result, we make our labels waterproof.

How did you handle marketing when you first started selling your products?

Tee: At the moment we’ve only used Instagram, where we ask our customers a lot of feedback as part of our marketing strategy. This has helped us make a lot of changes, for example having consistent branding on our website and Instagram page.

What is your bestselling product?

Tee: Our magic butter, which is our first product, is the best seller. Most of our new customers are introduced to our brand via this product. A lot of our customers with skin problems like eczema have found that our magic cream helps them alleviate it. Subsequently, they then recommend our magic butter to their family and friends.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a business in the same space?

Tee: I would say be authentic to yourself, do your research and be transparent with your customers. One of the things that our customers like about us is that we are always honest with them and we listen to their feedback.

Dan: My advice would be don’t worry about every little thing, just start it.

Where can people buy your products today?

We sell all our products via our website

Matugga Distillers: Scottish rum with an African Soul

Rum distillery isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Scotland, and that’s a big part of why husband and wife team, Paul and Jacine Rutasikwa established their Livingston based distillery, Matugga Rum in 2018. The company produces a multi award winning range of distinctive, artisan rums from scratch using 100% copper pot distillation. Matugga’s products are distributed across the UK and EU from its family owned distillery in Livingston, Scotland. “This is a unique undertaking for the UK, as currently most companies involved in the rum business usually import it from the Caribbean or South America”, explains Jacine Rutasikwa.

“We have chosen the very hard undertaking of making it from scratch in a much colder climate and all the challenges that that brings”, says Jacine Rutasikwa

The company’s portfolio of rums is a clever fusion of the founders’ heritage – Paul was born in Uganda and Jacine has proud Jamaican roots. To date, Matugga distillers produce a range of rum styles, such as white rum, spiced rum and cask aged golden dark rum. These are all sold directly to the public via their online store. The couple also hold rum tastings, and tours of their distillery in Livingston, where you can enjoy some of their produce while learning about the rum making process.

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How did it start?

The idea for Matugga rum took seed in 2014, when the couple were due to spend Christmas with Paul’s family in Uganda. They had just had their first child and Jacine, who worked in corporate marketing was looking for ways to achieve a better work -life balance. “I wanted to spend more time with my daughter when she was still young” she recalls. “I felt bad going back to work when she was nine months old and putting her into nursery”. The couple spent 3 months in Uganda and “by the end of the three months we decided to start a business”, says Jacine.

That business was making rum. “I married into a beautiful Ugandan family and spent a lot of time in Uganda where I had seen lots of sugar cane”.”I was asking for rum and I was never able to get any. I found this very confusing and it got us thinking”. ’Why is there no rum coming out of Uganda, when there is sugar cane here?’ she says. “When we started doing our research, we couldn’t see any spirits that were linked to Africa on the world stage, and certainly not in the rum category. There was also a lack of representation in terms of black owners.  It became our mission to showcase Africa in the world of fine spirits but at the same time, we also filled a number of voids.”

“We had the idea to launch Matugga not having any experience in the sector”

Together the couple began to learn more about rum, while pondering how to make their own East African variety. “We had the idea to launch Matugga not having any experience in the sector” says Jacine, “We saw a gap in the market and went for it”. The rum represents an interesting duality between the UK and Africa, which no other brand was doing at the time. “The one thing that is spiced across East Africa is tea,” says Paul. “It doesn’t matter where you go, you’ll find masala chai in all homes and restaurants around East Africa”, he added. “We therefore selected five spices from this – ginger, cloves, vanilla, cardamom and cinnamon – plus the tea to go into our Matugga Spiced rum.” The couple also had the innovative idea for Matugga Golden rum. A smokey rum, which combines the flavours of whisky and rum, appealing to fans of both spirits.

“Our business went from selling mostly over weekends to an exporting business in less than 6 months”

They launched in August 2015, producing their flagship Matugga Golden and Spiced rums through a contracted distillery in London. “I was in charge of the tasting side of things and Jacine led the brand and design development” Paul reflected, “Between us we managed to put out a really good product which we launched not knowing how it would be received”. Matugga rum was showcased six months later at the London rum festival, where its bold and distinctive taste lead to the couple securing their first export contract with a French distributor. This early success gave Jacine and Paul the validation to consider running this business full time and on a bigger scale.

“Our business went from selling mostly over weekends to an exporting business in less than 6 months. It was at that point that we realised that we had something serious that needed our full devotion” Paul explained.

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Matugga rum

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Moving to Scotland:

“Paul being the engineer, I kept telling him that he’d make a great head distiller”, says Jacine. Already a self-confessed ‘sprits geek’, Paul was able to hold his own when discussing rum production and flavours with rum authorities but felt he needed a formal education to solidify his knowledge. “When we looked around at where I could get that education, it was only Scotland”, says Paul. They moved their family to Scotland, where Paul began to study for an MSc in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

“We didn’t know anyone and the only certainty we had was Paul’s place at university and the vision of what we wanted to create” explains Jacine. “Moving to Scotland was a huge change and dislocation between us and our big close nit families, but we could see that we could bring this vision to life in Scotland”.

visit matuggarum.com

[Read: Female restaurateur, from working in a bookshop to owning a restaurant and property portfolio]

Matugga rum distillery:

Following Paul’s completion of his degree, the couple secured a facility in Livingston where they started production of Matugga rum in 2018, making it the first rum distillery in central Scotland. This was no mean feat, given the challenge of running a distillery and the lengthy process of obtaining all the required licenses. With Paul taking the reigns as master distiller and Jacine managing the marketing and branding of the products, this formidable team managed to persevere in order to achieve their dream.

One of the other challenges that they have faced over time, is having to change the reputation of rum from a commodity drink to something that can be as complex and classy as cognac or wine. The company achieves this with their inventive flavours. Recently they have introduced a new brand called ‘Liv’, a white rum who’s name means ‘life and living’ in the Nordic languages. “It’s very much our Scotland forward brand and highlights the natural produce of Scotland”, explained Jacine. It’s clear to see that Matugga is helping to create an identity around Scottish rum, therefore bringing leadership to the rum category in Scotland.

The ongoing situation with the global pandemic presents a new and challenging trading landscape for Matugga rum. At the beginning of the pandemic the company pivoted to making hand sanitizer to support the Scottish health Services. However, with the business environment continuing to change for Jacine and Paul, this has meant adapting to the situation by providing more digital experiences and focusing on the ecommerce side of the business. “In Scotland we are part of a network of distillers, which has been really helpful as we have learnt to adapt and bounce back as a community”, says Jacine.

Not ones to be defeated, the couple plans to continue pushing boundaries and innovating. They plan to strengthen the brand’s ties to East Africa over the next 3 years, by growing their own sugar cane in Uganda. This will be turned into molasses, which will then be transported to Scotland and used in the production of Matugga rum. Paul explained that “this will link Matugga and Liv to ‘Teebwa’, which means soil and climate of Uganda”

Visit matuggarum.com

This Entrepreneur went from flipping burgers to flipping multi-million Assets in London

I never imagined to be nominated for or winning any awards, I just wanted to have an impact on my community, says Sanmi Adegoke. His latest latest nomination comes from the Black British Business Award, a prestigious award in the UK.

Growing up in Nigeria, he learnt the importance of faith as being the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Fortunately, this conviction was reinforced in Sanmi by his parents at an early age. His parents instilled the culture of faith, hard work and discipline, values that have shaped him from the early days working on the grill at McDonalds to the recent success in property investing. His firm, Rehoboth Property International, has grown exponentially in deal size from its inception.

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Undoubtedly, the growth did not happen overnight. While studying, Sanmi worked the hot grills at McDonalds, a job that left a lasting impression on him. As a result, he started learning about how McDonalds was structured and how it made money.To his surprise, he realized that the company was a lot more than the burgers he was flipping and that the company was, oddly to him, a real estate company. Property, as a formidable investment vehicle, emerged again as Sanmi worked as a security guard watching over multi-million pounds worth of assets in Knightsbridge and with every chance he got to speak with the owners he will ask questions about how they started their journeys. One of the owners was kind enough to recommend that Sanmi go read “Rich Dad Poor Dad”. Now, the Property Investing seed has been planted!

After finishing his Business and Management degree, Sanmi worked with a variety of start-ups in the UK as well as in Africa. One of Sanmi’s memorable experiences was working with a UK car racing startup trying to penetrate the African market. During his time at the start-up, Sanmi learnt a lot about the importance of building business processes and systems, seeing around corners and carving a niche by either being first or doing what others cannot or don’t want to do.

With the words of Rich Dad Poor Dad still ruminating in Sanmi’s mind, armed with fundamental business principles and after months of research, Sanmi launched into the property investing world in 2014. The main quote from the book that inspired this major move was:

“You are only poor if you give up. The most important thing is that you did something. Most people only talk and dream of getting rich. You’ve done something” – Robert Kiyosaki

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Woolwich Magistrate Court

Woolwich Magistrate Court and shortly thereafter Bow County Court were two of many court buildings acquired by Rehoboth Property International. The firm was founded on a premise of creating a bespoke service, providing our clients with solutions unique to them.

Purchasing a court building and repurposing it into a place of worship was revolutionary and quite frankly frowned upon at the time. However, our clients, mainly religious leaders, felt that they were running out of options. So, we got creative for our clients!

Starting a property investment company in a competitive property industry was no doubt challenging. However, our success stems from understanding the power of a niche market from the very beginning.

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Historically, black church leaders did not have much choice but to seek out predominantly white commercial real estate agents to find these leaders new buildings for their growing church. On the surface, this approach seems ordinary. Except, many of the brokers were unable to understand the needs of these churches and more importantly were struggling to relate to the cultural and spiritual aspects when dealing with pastors, a subtle yet important piece to the puzzle.

At Rehoboth, it was quickly realized that there is a niche in the market that can be filled not only by appreciating the perspective of these leaders but specifically catering to their unique needs while being able to relate to these leaders on a deeper level.

Sure, the approach did not work at first, but Sanmi persisted and over time the firm went from starting with no clients to growing their client base to over 3,000 clients in just 6 years.

Sanmi Adegoke in front of Dartford magistrates court

After solidifying the firm’s position in the marketplace, it was time to shift gears into development. Legacy that comes with ownership was at the forefront of Sanmi’s overall vision. Not long after, Sanmi acquired Dartford Police Station and Magistrate Court. The idea was to transform these structures into vibrant co-working and private office space that can accommodate over 120 businesses, first of its kind. Taking a place from its historical chapter where many people were sentenced and locked up, their hopes and dreams cut short to building an ecosystem of creativity where entrepreneurs, businesses and communities can thrive together

Now, Sanmi was under no illusion that this multimillion-pound deal was going to be a walk in the park. That said, this adaptive reuse project is on target to open before the end of 2020.

More recently, Sanmi, and his team at Rehoboth, just acquired 392 Camden, another major development project, right in the heart of London.

[Read: Female restaurateur, from working in a bookshop to owning a restaurant and property portfolio]

Looking into the future, Sanmi plans to build a city with affordable homes in Africa for families who would not otherwise be able to own their homes. Here in the UK, Sanmi desires that every family understands the importance of owning a home. To pursue these lofty goals, Sanmi understands that his unwavering faith in 4 September 18, 2020 God has been the key in his success and he truly embodies the philosophy that ”All things are possible to him that believe” and “You Can Do It Too”!

On a personal note, Sanmi is acutely aware that success comes from family and relationships built over the years with people who love us unconditionally. So, coming home after a very interesting day and seeing the smiles on the faces of his kids brings him some much solace and joy in being a father, a loving husband, and a faithful servant to God.

The 2020 BBBAwards finalists will appeared in a digital campaign throughout UK Black History Month, from 6th of October with the winners revealed on the 30th October. The BBBAwards will also  give a tribute to Black frontline workers for their commitment and sacrifice during these difficult and uncertain times.

A spokeswoman for BBBA said the finalists have been picked as they “embody the Black British community’s ability to prevail, excel and lead through adversity”.

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From Environmental Scientist to Pottery business owner

Naked Clay Ceramics is a collection of tactile, minimal style tableware and is owned by Carla Sealey. Using a combination of handbuilding and slip casting, everything is made by hand in Carla Sealey’s studio in Bedfordshire.

I started this business because I wanted to make something that was special and intentional. I am all about being intentional “, explains Carla. Her passion for art can be seen in her exquisitely handmade home-ware, which she sells online.

We spoke to the woman behind Naked Clay Ceramics to hear about her background, starting Naked Clay Ceramics and her passion of ceramic.

1. What is your background?

I originally qualified as a geologist and chemist followed by 14 years of working in the environmental sector. In my earlier years I worked for a private water company based in the West Midlands, where I was the only black woman and 1 of only 3 women who were in a non-clerical role. I later moved to the Environment Agency, where again for most of my employment I was the only black woman until another black woman was employed as a PA a couple of years before I left. In my scientific and managerial position, I was responsible for the prevention of pollution of groundwater supplies for drinking water.

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2. How did you get into that profession and what was it like?

This was back in the 80s, so it was a very bold move by the guy who hired me at the water company in the West Midlands. I was an anomaly on so many levels because I had come from London, lived in a house share and I was not married, which was very weird for them back then.

It wasn’t a hostile environment but people were certainly ignorant and would say stupid things, which made it challenging at times. You just had to take it in your stride and deal with the ignorance as best as you could.

I enjoyed my time working at the National Rivers Authority. I loved getting out to the countryside. As field officers we spent our time driving around the country talking to farmers, landfill owners, scrap yard dealers and I loved it.  However, after merging with several organisations, we became part of the Environmental Agency. I realised that I was the lowest paid middle manager despite the fact that there were other people with less experience and qualifications than me.

[Read: How this black business man started his business during a recession]

3. When and why did you start Naked Clay Ceramics?

I had what they call a perfect storm where all things fell apart, so I took that opportunity to rebuild and refocus. In 2003 I decided to go back to university to train as an applied artist. Following that I started a glass studio and also did ceramic sculptures. In 2015 having moved to a new studio, I realised that I needed to rethink the commercial side to my business. I had been buying handmade mugs for 20 years and so I thought ‘You spend money buying them, why don’t you make your own?’. That’s why I ended up developing a range of ceramic cups, plates and bowls in 2017.

We all have our little morning rituals around food and drink that ease us gently into the day, whether its tea, coffee, juice, a favourite breakfast. I wanted to make something so that first thing in the morning you have something that pleases your senses. Something that was tactile, so that it feeds into your senses. For example, it looks beautiful when you see it, feels beautiful when you hold it, you use it when you are eating something that tastes good or smells good. My homeware products provide this peaceful experience.

Carla Sealey

4. How did you start?

After graduation from my Art degree I started making glass and jewellery in my utility room but eventually found studio space where I could also do ceramics. A friend kindly lent me some money which I used to buy a kiln. The equipment you need can be expensive, so I had to adapt my way of working to what I could afford in order to get things done.

5. How did you market your products when you started? Is it different from what you do now?

I do most of my marketing through my Naked Clay Ceramics Instagram page. Before the pandemic, I was doing a number of regular selling events where I could catch up with my customers face to face. I keep my community updated on all my events and my online shop openings via my newsletter. I have also used paid advertising, in a magazine called 91 Magazine, an independent interiors and lifestyle print magazine that’s very supportive of small businesses. Thanks to the work of a photographer friend, I was also featured as maker of the month.

Recently, since that start of Black Lives Matter movement, there has been a sudden interest in black owned businesses and a lot of free advertising for my business. It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand it’s great that small black owned businesses are finally getting the attention they need. Especially given the difficulties in getting support from institutional lenders, and the lack of access to other traditional funding sources that black businesses have to overcome when they start out. On the other hand, it hurts my soul that it took the very public murder of yet another black man for people to wake up to the racial inequalities that are still very present in our society and institutions.

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6. What makes your ceramics different?

I don’t glaze the outside of my pieces and I am one of a few people who work with black clay for functional objects.

With glazed pieces there is a shiny coating that Is placed over the clay. With my pieces you are touching the actual clay that’s been fired in the Kiln. I do glaze the inside as it makes it more sanitary, especially as people use these products with hot food and drinks. Hence the glazing inside makes it easier to clean and makes it more functional.

7. Where do you get inspiration for your pieces?

I would say nature. My products are minimalist so as to create a soothing and meditative feel to them, just like being outside. I’m fortunate that my studio is on an old plant nursery in a slightly wild but lovely, peaceful, natural environment and so I use this to inspire me.

Naked Clay Ceramics

8. What is your most popular product?

There are two products which I find are popular among my customers. The mugs, (there’s always room in everyone’s kitchen for another mug!) and miniature vases, which are used for small wild flowers. They don’t take up much room and they can be collectables

[Read: Female restaurateur, from working in a bookshop to owning a restaurant and property portfolio]

9. How has your business been impacted by Covid 19?

Initially I thought it was a disaster. However, because I have my online shop, people continued to buy my products as they were at home, still getting paid and clearly wanted to treat themselves as a bit of a cheer up. Also, as a result of Black Lives Matter, I have seen an increase in orders especially from America. From product sales side, my business has fared well during the pandemic. However, I do pottery classes in my studio and due to the pandemic, they all had to be cancelled.

10. Where can people find your products?

I have an online shop and I am able to ship products internationally. My products are also stocked in Thrown Contemporary Gallery in London and the Kettles Yard Shop in Cambridge. As I mentioned I also provide pottery workshops. During the class we make functional products by rolling out the clay, forming it around shapes. The workshops last for half a day and at the end of it you have made a pair of mugs, a candleholder or a breakfast set which I then fire for you

11. What are your plans for the rest of 2020 and 2021?

My plans are to get a bigger kiln, move to a bigger studio and hopefully add to my product range. I would also like to get back into doing more sculptural work and installations.

Thank you for sharing your story with us Carla. See more from Carla on her website and Naked Clay Ceramics Instagram page.

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Have you met David Adjei?

The architecture profession tends to be viewed with a narrow scope. Most people aspire to be some version of Norman Foster, wanting to design their own version of the Gherkin. This is the perception of Architecture as an industry, with most companies focusing exclusively on design. “There are so many avenues we can pursue as an industry,” says David Adjei, innovative founder of London based architecture firm Cognition London.  “Construction is a very traditional industry and it’s plagued by a lot of problems because we are not innovating as well as other industries,” says David.

Construction is a very traditional industry and it’s plagued by a lot of problems because we are not innovating as well as other industries

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David believes there needs to be a rethink in the way architecture practices conduct their business and what they include in their businesses for that matter. He’s leading by example through his own architectural practice which he set up in 2014 whilst completing his masters degree. Before we get into where he is now, let’s look at his unconventional route into the industry.

[Read: How this black business man started his business during a recession]

How did it all start?

He originally wanted to be a graphics designer but this quickly changed when a community organisation called Construction Youth Trust came into his school. The organisation was raising awareness of the construction industry and showcasing the different career paths within the industry. Better yet, they also offered 4 weeks of paid work experience, which got then 16 year old David’s attention. “I had no interest in construction, I just saw it as a way to make some money and get some work experience,” explains the ‘archipreneur’.

I had no interest in construction, I just saw it as a way to make some money and get some work experience

David successfully secured 1 of 20 work experience places with Balfour Beatty and Moucel where he gained an overall view of various roles in the construction industry. “This was my turning point,” says David. It was during this work experience that he fell in love with architecture, leading to his enrolment onto an architecture degree course at Nottingham Trent University in 2008. However, due to poor time management, he says, he ended up getting a displeasing 3rd in his degree. This made it impossible to get a job, especially at a time when the industry was still recovering from the 2007 financial crisis.

Realising his predicament, he decided to take a job at Barclays bank and two years into it, he had another epiphany brought about by the loss of his grandmother.

“It was a mixture of feeling guilty for not spending enough time with her and the reminder that life is very short that led to my decision,” says David. Following the loss of his grandmother, David decided to go back to University to study part-time masters in architecture. Maintaining a demanding architecture and work commitments became untenable, so he left his job at the bank.

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Launching Cognition London:

Leaving his part time job gave David time to focus on his demanding course but it presented another challenge, lack of income. He had no income and relied on his mum for financial support. Determined to generate an income and make his own way in the world, he launched Cognition London in 2014. In the beginning he leveraged his network from his previous employer to secure work which was mostly house extensions at the time.

This got me through my masters which I finished with a merit

Following the success of with his masters and knowledge acquired, he continued to build his company and had developed a network of recruiters who kept him informed when companies were in need of architectural consultants. At the same time, David completed his RIBA ((Royal Institute of British Architects) chartership in 2018, which put him in a new league as he was now able to bid for substantial pieces of work. Unusually David did not have the luxury of employment with an Architecture firm as many graduates usually do. However, he is well known within the industry through projects that he’s worked on with a number of well known organisations. For example he has partnered with architecture firms such as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), tp bennett, Benoy and populous to name a few

[Read: Female restaurateur, from working in a bookshop to owning a restaurant and property portfolio]

Cognition London:The next level

His big break came when the industry implemented BIM (Building Information Modelling), a framework for working and producing architectural designs, managing projects, delivering and maintaining projects. It’s a digitised way that integrates all the construction project works on a single set of 3D live model. This can then be accessed by all those involved on a construction project.

David learnt how to use BIM and revit, the software used to implement BIM during his degree. “At the time, we didn’t know that it was going to be such a in demand skill in the industry.”I got my first major business to business contract without having an interview with the company”. His appointment for the contract was solely based on his BIM knowledge and a small portfolio of designs he’d worked on previously.

So, what are the benefits of using BIM and why was it such a game changer for David you ask. Well with BIM clients and professionals have the benefit of seeing everything associated with a construction project in one place. For example, a project manager can see the cost of materials and project life cycle; electrical engineers can use the same drawing to view all electrical wiring for a project. At the point of implementation, David was one of a handful of people who knew how to use the framework and technology associated with it. Having this edge took his business to the next level.

“After the initial contract, there was no looking back, everybody wanted a piece of me. It got to a point where I was turning down work, that’s how in demand I was” explains David.

Yet David was still facing some challenges with the business of running an architecture firm. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. For example, I didn’t know how much time each piece f work would take,” reveals David. Perhaps due to inexperience and under appreciation of the value he was adding, which led to him under quoted contracts.“I didn’t fully appreciate that I was building a space and adding value to it, so I essentially undervalued myself, which I don’t do anymore,” says David.

I didn’t have the support and network of other architects who I could bounce ideas with so I was shooting in the dark a lot of time but it was a good way to learn.

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Business model

David has broken away from the conventional architecture firm business model which usually focuses solely on design. He has created a diversified business in Cognition group which  consitis of

  • Cognition Architecture – the RIBA chartered practice that offers services such as architectural design, construction and renovation
  • Cognition estates – A property development and rental company focusing on buy to let, build to sell and build to rent markets.
  • David and Alexis – The interior design arm which David runs with his wife Alexis

Clearly not one to comform to the statusquo, David also keeps business operations very lean, which means heavy use of third party vendors  and sub contractors. “I outsource the time consuming admin work, which frees me up for business development. I have found that my model creates a competitive culture between the vendors and subcontractors because they want to do the best job so that I employ them for future projects”. This is unlike most architectural companies which tend to have all business operations dealt with in house and only deal with a few sub-contractors.

“I think in time, design focused architecture firms will be taken over by major construction companies, so for this reason there is a need for change there business models,” says David. This has always been a sensible and logical move for construction companies. A more recent example of this is Arups, a well known engineering company who recently added architecture to the list of services they provide.

David is now turning his attention to the wider architectural community. Through his recent election as a RIBA London Council member he hopes to bring his innovative mindset and energy to the council to help the profession forge a new road for the future.

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Meet UK’s only white maize farmer

“Don’t waste your time” – This is what the president of MGA (Maize Growers Association, an independent organisation that identifies information needs for its maize growers) told David Mwanaka, a black entrepreneur, in 1996. He had identified the MGA as his first port of call in helping him to understand how he could make his dream of becoming a white maize farmer in the UK a reality, but was advised not to grow it as it could not grow to maturity in the cold UK climate. “I felt so dejected after that phone conversation and decided that I was going to grow white maize to prove him wrong”

What is white maize you ask? – It’s simply corn with white kernels instead of the yellow ones that most of us are used to. White maize is a staple food in the Sub-Saharan Africa diet, with consumption of up to 450g/person/day. It’s also popular among South American countries and is commonly consumed as white maize flour, which is used to make e.g. Arepa (Venezuela and Colombia), Ugali (Kenya), Posho (Uganda), Sadza (Zimbabwe), Fufu (Ghana) and Nsima (Zambia) to name a few.

I felt so dejected after that phone conversation and decided that I was going to grow white maize to prove him wrong

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Today David is the UK’s only white maize farmer. Having ignored agronomists from MGA, David also became the first farmer in the country to grow white sweetcorn, which he supplies to Sainsburys and Harrods. Having succeeded in growing white Maize, David also owns 2 groceries stores based in Enfield and Walsall where he sells other Afro-Caribbean foods along size his white maize and maize flour.

So how did he get there and what exactly were his beginnings? I had the pleasure of speaking with David Mwanaka to understand just that.

[Read: How this black business man started his business during a recession]

Humble beginnings:

David was born and grew up in a rural part of Eastern Zimbabwe called Nyanga. Being the youngest of 10 siblings, the 20year age gap between David and his brothers and sisters meant he was the only child at home as his siblings had flown the nest by the time he was 12 years old.

“When I think about my older brothers and sisters, our relationship is more akin to a parent-child one” explains David.

Most African families in rural areas rely on subsistence farming, growing some of their own food for consumption with the excess sold to provide an income for the family. This is the type of farming that David grew up with. As a young boy, he was responsible for planting trees around the family home and it’s here that his passion for farming grew.

“This is probably the reason I became a farmer” says David.

Farming is like art. You start with a blank canvas in the form of bare soil and seeds then after 3-4 months you have art, that is a tree, bearing fruits. For me, seeing the transition of seeds to a grown tree is really therapeutic

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Moving to UK:

David arrived in UK in 1991. Frustrated by the lack of free press in Zimbabwe, he hoped to continue his journalism career. However, it proved much tougher than he thought and despite gaining further qualifications in journalism in the UK, he was still unable to find the job that he wanted.

Realising that he had to put his dreams on hold, he took a range of jobs to support his wife and young children, including working as a traffic warden a.k.a public enemy No.1. “I didn’t enjoy the jobs that I did. I basically did them to survive,” and so achieving his dream of growing white maize became an outlet for his frustrations.

I didn’t enjoy the jobs that I did. I basically did them to survive

Another disappointing aspect of life in the UK was not being able to enjoy the foods that he had grown up with in Zimbabwe, including his favourite – white maize. He tried to find it in shops and markets that sold African and Caribbean food, but nobody stocked it. So, in 1996, he decided to start growing it himself, persuading the landlord of his flat in Tottenham, North London, to use a small plot of the back garden.

[Read: Female restaurateur, from working in a bookshop to owning a restaurant and property portfolio]

Becoming a white maize farmer in UK:

David Mwanaka with wife Brenda Mwanaka

My wife didn’t take me serious and felt it would be impossible to become a farmer in the UK,” he recalls.

His first efforts were unsuccessful. In fact, it took another five years and many late nights of research and experimenting before he finally grew a successful crop in 2002. However, this success was short lived as he now faced the struggle of finding farm land to grow maize.

He began by knocking on the doors of farmhouses on the outskirts of London and asking farmers whether they had any acres to let. “They all thought no, he’s up to something. I mean, if someone comes round to your door asking if you have any land to grow white maize, which you’ve never even heard of . . . it’s very suspicious.”

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David’s luck finally changed when he put an advert for farm land in Loot magazine and was contacted by a journalist wanting to write a story. “At the time I wasn’t aware of any farmers publications and it was free to advertise in Loot magazine,” he explains. The ad didn’t bring any interest either, however it did attract a call from a journalist from The Observer who decided he wanted to support this black business man, and wrote an article about David’s efforts to become the UK’s first maize farmer. After the article appeared, two people approached David with land, one in Wales, which was too far, and another in Enfield. He went for Enfield as it was closest to where the family lived in Essex.

Who wants to buy white maize?

Things seemed to be looking up after David acquired the 10 acres of farm land in Enfield, the family planted and successfully harvested the first lot of white maize. However, as David solved the problem of growing the cob, he was presented with another problem of where to sell it. “We weren’t even sure if there were customers out there that were willing to buy our maize, “says David. He initially attempted to sell the crop from the boot of his car to a congregation leaving church but only managed to sell a dozen cobs.

It was so discouraging and I wondered if I was going to fail after investing so much time into nurturing these crops to grow

Not one to give up, once again David turned to free newspaper ads, a tried and tested method that had previously worked for him. It was through this as well as word of mouth from diaspora communities from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Bostwana that the orders grew as people came to know what he was doing. Today David has established his own distribution network which continues to enable him to sell his produce.

Now in 2020 David also sells other products such as pumpkin leaves, tsunga (mustard leaves), sweet potatoes, maize meal (dried maize that is grounded into flour) and much more from his farm shop in Enfield (North London) and Walsall (West midlands) as well as owning more land around UK , which is also used for farming. If these locations are not in your vicinity, that’s not a problem because Mwanaka Fresh Farm foods also deliver across the UK and Europe. Customers can buy products through Mwanaka Fresh Foods website.

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Theresa Roberts: From working in a bookshop to owning a successful restaurant business

Based in the heart of the entertainment and retail district in Covent Garden, Jamaica Patty Co. is the brainchild of black business woman Theresa Roberts. Born in Jamaica, Theresa moved to the UK in the 1960s to join her parents who had made the same journey earlier as part of the wind rush generation. 

The Windrush generation refers to people who, between 1948 to 1971, were invited by successive governments to relocate to Britain from their homes in Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean to address labour shortages following World War 2. The name ‘Windrush’ comes from the HMT Empire Windrush – the ship that completed 8000 miles crossing from the Caribbean and finally docking at Tilbury in Essex. This was commonly how most people from the Caribbean came to the UK, including Theresa.

The patties at JPC are freshly baked to a recipe developed by Theresa and Collin Brown, a high-profile Jamaican chef in the UK. The restaurant caters to the ‘grab and go market’ and showcases high-quality Jamaican produce. For example, as well as serving delicious patties, JPC’s menu also includes Tortuga rum cake which you can enjoy with blue mountain coffee, both are well known imports from Jamaica.

Theresa shares more on growing up in Jamaica and how she went from working in a book shop to owning a property business, building a villa in Jamaica and becoming a successful restaurant business owner.

Fun facts about Theresa Roberts

Home Town: Black River, St Elizabeth , Jamaica

First job: Working in a book company

Favourite place: The place where I am most at peace is Jamaica but home is London, where my children and grad children are.

Favorite pass time activity: I have always been a social person so I like to party

Interesting fact that people don’t know about you: I do all the cleaning in my business

Don’t know what a patty is? Checkout my earlier blog on UK’s Patty King for the definition.

What was it like to grow up in Jamaica?

Growing up in Jamaica was a great foundation for me. My mum left me and my sister in the care of our grandparents when I was 6 months old. She (my mother) was part of the wind rush generation who came to England in the 50s. I respect the sacrifices that she made and endeavour to make her proud in everything I do. This is a key principle for me and is the reason why I do a lot for Jamaica, Britain and my charities.

My grandparents were absolutely wonderful and loving and the only reason we moved to London was because my grandmother got ill, so she couldn’t look after us as well as she wanted to. We moved to London in the 60s and though it was difficult, it was the best thing that happened to us because we came to meet an already made family waiting for us.

How did you find the transition from living in Jamaica when you moved to London?

It was very difficult for me and it was the first time that my parents ever lied to me.

I got so homesick that I cried all the time and kept asking my parents “when can I go back home to Jamaica?”. My parents kept telling me they’ll send me back next month but next month never came! Theresa laughs out loud as she remembers this childhood memory.

The truth was that they couldn’t send me back anyway. My grandmother was too sick to look after me. She died shortly after we moved to London.

Did you get a chance to go back to Jamaica to put her to rest?

No. We were a family of 10 and travelling to Jamaica in those days was so difficult plus my parents couldn’t afford it. Mum worked was a cleaner on British railway trains and dad had suffered a back injury while working in a factory, which meant he was at home without a job.

Theresa Roberts enjoying a patty and blue mountain coffee in her restaurant
Theresa Roberts enjoying a patty and blue mountain coffee in her restaurant

What were you doing when you decided to start Jamaica Patty Company?

In between managing my property portfolio, I took a trip to Jamaica with my granddaughter. She was so amazed by the beauty of Jamaica that she insisted I do something there. So, I thought to myself ‘you know what, I am going to build a house in Jamaica’. I went to Jamaica on holiday and ended up buying 4 acres of land. When I came back from holiday, I spoke to my husband and family and we all agreed to build this house in Jamaica. I don’t know why I took that on but I did.

The idea of Jamaica Patty Co. was born while I was building, Hanover Grange in Jamaica. Everything I do I do with all my heart so I wanted to be on site all the time and as such ended up living on Jamaican patties. I never grew sick of them, in fact when I returned to London, I found myself pining for decent patties, freshly baked with Jamaican ingredients. I couldn’t stop thinking about them and as the weeks grew my cravings grew into a delightful culinary scheme that is now Jamaica Patty Company.

When I finished building Hanover Grange in 2007 during the financial crisis, I got such a boost, especially when everyone called me crazy for doing it at the time. Getting a stamp of approval from the Jamaican government also gave me so much pride and motivation to go ahead with starting Jamaica Patty Co.

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How did you get from working in a book shop to owning a property portfolio?

Working in the book shop was my first job but I did a lot of odd jobs after that and managed to save £5000. I used these savings to buy my first house at the age of 19 but that wasn’t my initial plan for the money.

Like most teenagers with a bit of money, I was planning to spend my savings on a sports car and mentioned it to a friend while at a social gathering. Another friend overheard the conversation and suggested that I use the money to buy a house. I thought it was a crazy suggestion because I only had £5000 and I couldn’t get a mortgage.

It turned out that my friend’s brother was dieing of cancer and had lots of houses he wanted to sell. The house that he sold to me had two self-contained flats with an elderly sitting tenant in one the flats. I couldn’t see myself ever having this opportunity again, so I bought the house for £5000 (equivalent to £15,000 in 2020) and moved into the empty flat.

A sitting tenant is a tenant already in occupation of premises, especially when there is a change of ownership. This type of tenancy dates back to 1970s, a time when housing regulations gave the tenant more protection, which came in the form of capped private rents and protecting tenants from eviction. Furthermore, it allowed for ‘succession’ of protected tenancies after the death of a sitting tenant. This was later superseded by the Assured Shorthold Tenancy that we know today

When the sit in tenant passed away, I got the whole house back but curiosity got the best of me. I decided to get the house valued and when the agent told me that it was worth £20,000 (roughly equivalent to £60,000) it was a no brainer for me. I sold the house and moved on to invest in more properties.

Fast forward to today. Setting up a restaurant is capital intensive, especially in a central location like Convent Garden. How did you find the location and was it difficult to source funding?

I was ready to start business in 2013 but didn’t open the shop until 2014. I knew I wanted to be in Convent Garden because I wanted to sell parties to an international audience but securing premises was a straggle.

Until then I hadn’t taken the time to notice that there aren’t many independent family owned businesses around Convent Garden and there is a reason for that. The landlords prefer to lease their spaces to well-known brands. As a new small black owned business, selling a product they weren’t familiar with, it was very difficult to persuade them to lease to us. This made me more determined not to give up until eventually our current landlord Shaftsberry took a chance on us. They actually like our business because it is different from all others in the area and is a good fit for their property on 26 New Row. We’ve been here for 6 years now.

From a funding perspective I had a good financial track record given my property business, so financing was relatively easy to obtain. It was a mixture of bank loans and personal savings.

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I understand that when you launched the restaurant in Convent Garden, this was part of a roll-out plan with a target to open 50 stores across the UK. How is that going?

We’ve only been operating for 6 years and it takes 10 years to build a brand. We did contemplate opening another shop last year but didn’t. To be honest I glad we didn’t, given current business environment with Covid 19.

How are you or have you adapted your business as a result of Covid 19 and lock down?

It’s been difficult for us. We started providing a delivery service during lockdown and this has helped somewhat. However, at the moment me and my grandson are running the shop because it is not financially viable to have staff. It’s not easy but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. It’s my baby.

I have had so much good will from the diaspora since lock down ended. They travel from all over to come and support us, so that’s been great to see. On the other hand, many of the neighboring shops have had to close down and it’s been horrible see that. We depend on tourists, theater goers but there aren’t any of those at the moment

What has been your biggest challenge in your business journey?

Staff. My vision was always to sell patties to an international market and employed staff that reflected this vision. They were very hardworking and good for the business but I got feedback from customers which suggested that they should not be working in the shop because they are not of Caribbean heritage.

For example, there were scenarios where if me or my son were not in the restaurant people would walk in and walk out saying its not a black owned business. I think this was customer misconception about the quality and taste of food served, which was based on the people serving it.

I took this feedback on board and tried to recruit people who would represent the business, however, I couldn’t find people who I could rely on so we’ve kept it as a family run restaurant.

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Thank you so much for that insightful story Theresa. For me this story is about surrounding yourself with the right people, seeing opportunities and taking them when they arise. When was the last time you took a leap of faith to seize an opportunity? – Share your story by leaving a comment in the comment box located at the end of article below or at top of the page.

If you don’t have a story to share, then why not use this week to seize an opportunity, which you can then share with us. It doesn’t can be anything from business related to simply using some free time to get a patty from Jamaica Patty Company at their restaurant on 26 New Row, Covent Garden.

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Interview with Joanna Trotman

Taking Care of Big Hair

Do you or your kids have big hair? Are you frustrated and tired of chlorine filled pool water getting into your hair even after your best efforts e.g. using two swimming caps at a time?  Well look no further because JoRae has got you covered.

Founded by long term London based friends Joanna and Rachel, this swimming cap company caters to people with big hair.  

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Joanna shares more:

What inspired you to start this business and where are you in your business journey?

We started the business because we found a gap in the market primarily for our children who love swimming but there were no suitable swimming caps on the market for us. We wanted them to enjoy the sport whilst keeping their hair protected. This had us thinking of all the other mothers and families that are prevented from taking part in water activities. Therefore, myself and Rachel developed this product to solve this problem.

Our small family run business is still in its infancy. We endeavor to make water activities accessible to many more families alike.

JoRae swimming cap models

Did either of you have prior experience that made you feel suitable for this type of business?

Not at all. I work in IT and Rachel works in Youth services. We just saw a gap in the market for people like us with big hair.

So how do you split the workload between both of you?

I handle all the technology and online presence and Rachel deals with the administration side of things.

Tell us an interesting thing about you that not many people know about

I competed in the long jump for team GB and was a Wimbledon ball girl during the 1996-1997 championships

Where can people find your products?

All products are available on our website

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Interview with Mark Simpson

Black History Studies

Black History Studies is a family run social enterprise that was set up to teach black history from an African perspective. Due to a lack of outlets that offered a range of learning opportunities, husband and wife team Mark and Charmaine Simpson (pictured above) decided to set the business up to educate people and fill the gaps on topics that are not taught at school.

Today Black History Studies offers a range of courses (beginner, advanced and short courses), they organise and deliver events such as, museum tours, their flagship event ‘The Black Market and Film Festival’ and other independent film screenings, which included the UK premiers of Tariq Nasheed’s Hidden colours series. Under sister company Black History Study Tours, Mark and Charmaine organise trips across Europe and Africa, where they highlight the black experience. The trips also give students the opportunity to see and immerse themselves in the environments where some of that history originates. For example, some of the trips have included Andalusia in Spain, Moorish Portugal, Black Netherlands, Black Paris and Egypt.

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Mark Simpson is multi-tasking when my zoom call gets through to him. He asks me to excuse him for a few minutes while he sets up another computer for his daughter to do her school work. This juggling act has become the norm for most parents, something that would have never been thought of until the global pandemic forced us all to spend more time at home. I say to him that his daughter can join us in the interview, to which he replies “No, because she’ll take over”.

Mark wears a red short-sleeved T-shirt with the ‘Black History Studies’ logo printed on the left pocket. He looks like a normal dad. Relaxed with a lock-sock on his head to cover his dreadlocks. There is a lot of African art and sculptures hanging on the wall behind him. It’s clear to me that this is a family that is really involved in the study and understanding of Black History and arts.

“I am ready to start when you are sista” says Mark, once all audio issues are fixed and daughter is happily getting on with her work in the background.

Thanks so much for taking the time to have this interview, especially during home schooling hours.

Mark Simpson: That’s fine sista. My daughter will be fine now that she is busy getting on with her own work.

When did you start Black History Studies and what was your motivation to start it?

We started BHS in 2006 because we felt there was a lack of readily available information on the subject matter. Therefore, we felt that rather than complain, we’d set something up ourselves and be the change that we wanted to see.

“We’d set something up ourselves and be the change that we wanted to see”

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I love that mentality and totally agree with it. Which is why I am doing this interview with you today. So, what were you doing before starting Black History Studies?

I was a civil servant for 20 years and worked in various government departments before being made redundant. When that happened, me and my wife deliberated whether to invest the redundancy pay in bricks and mortar or to pursue our passion of educating people. We chose the latter 😊

Interesting, so had you or your wife worked in education or done some work outside of your day job that prepared you for this business?

We actually used to organise small events, but had also attended a number of educational events. To be honest my wife and I just felt that people deserved better. The people needed a service that was professionally set up. For example, there were times when we’d attend an event but when we got to the venue, there was no one or the venue had not been set up yet or they’d be last minute venue changes.

We got frustrated by the disorganised manner in which these events were being delivered. We felt that a professional set up would encourage more people to attend these courses, which would help to instil confidence in the service they were getting.

Where can people find your courses, tours and books?

Everything can be found on our website. All of our courses are now online although I do miss running our face to face classes. We sell our products through our online shop.  

If people like what we do and what to support us, they can donate via the website as well.

I know people are not interested in travelling at this time, but we do organise tours and details for those can also be found on the website. All tours have been pushed back until 2021 given the situation surrounding Covid-19.

What are your thoughts about black history especially the type that you cover on your courses being included on the school curriculum?

Everything that we teach can be taught on the current school curriculum. It comes down to what the schools want to teach. For example, if schools taught about Egyptian history, they would likely only cover ‘New Kingdom (mid – 17th Century BC)’ and not ‘Old Kingdom (5717 – 4430 BC)’ and ‘Middle Kingdom (3440 – 1674)’.

It is our opinion that the reason for this is that the New Kingdom part of this history is a lot more cosmopolitan and teachers can point to themselves in history and take some of that legacy for themselves.

“The scope is there to teach all these things in the current school curriculum, its what the schools choose to teach”

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The way we look at it at BHS is that rather than petition or lobby and make noise about teaching these things in our schools, there is nothing stopping us from teaching it ourselves. It’s a better use of our time and efforts.

So how long did it take you to build the customer base to make it a viable business for both you and your wife?

To be honest we are still building as there is always room for improvement. It took us 2 years to get established. Luckily for us, we had support from Lorna Campbell and Sonia Scully from PCS – Public & Commercial Services Union. The Public & Commercial Services Union allowed us to use their office space as part of their contribution to Black History Studies. This helped us to establish ourselves because we had a place where people could find us.

Do you have a certain age group that you target for your courses or are they age agnostic?

We focus on adult education therefore our core customers, on average are adults aged 22 – 45. We do deliver programs for children as well but this is not as frequent. Interestingly, we have also found that our classes are usually made up of 80% women. This seems to be the trend in everything we do. 

“Our classes are usually made up of 80% women”

Tell us about some of the challenges you faced while running your business

Surprisingly, one of the challenges we found was generating interest for the classes from the Black community. I think this is potentially due to false stigmatization of Black businesses in the past.

Everyone is welcome to our events and we do not target a specific demographic because we believe that everyone should know this information. However, it was difficult at first to get support and trust from the Black community. For example, people would ask if our courses were approved and accredited by authorities before signing up.

What advice would you give to future entrepreneurs?

The only advice I would give anyone wanting to set up their own business is to:

  1. Make sure that you research the market
  2. Do it for the right reason
  3. Put 100% into what you are doing, otherwise it will fail

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