Our strapline at WiRE is that the countryside is alive with business –a rich tapestry of small and tiny businesses woven through the villages, farms and market towns which give jobs to local people, sustain farms with an additional inflow of cash, and sustain communities with innovations and activity.
These businesses are small – many are so tiny they can only just be seen with the naked eye – but collectively they are a greater force than the occasional big boy and individually of great value in keeping individual families, communities and small farms going.
And many – most – of these fantastic little businesses – are set up and let by women.
Of course at WiRE we are most interested in the businesses run by women because that is our passion and it is our case that women’s contribution to rural economies is vastly under-rated and rarely considered by the providers of business infrastructure or the makers of policy.
WiRE came out of a time of crisis in the countryside, as Foot and Mouth decimated livestock farms and rural areas were closed down and shut off from the outside world. At that time a huge amount of support was sent out to help farms to diversify and to renew the economies of areas which had suffered such devastating economic impacts. The support was sent out in the form of men in suits who sat down with Mr Farmer while Mrs Farmer made the tea and hopped round in the background “But I have this idea…I have this business….speak to me…AAAGH!”
That all changed when research conducted at Harper Adams University identified that most farm diversifications were established by women and that these businesses were effectively keeping many small farms afloat. We also found that away from farms, many women were setting up their own business as a way of solving the conundrum of how to earn money from the middle of nowhere whilst juggling children, parents and 101 other roles and expectations.
These female entrepreneurs were coming up against a number of barriers, including lack of access to finance, lack of confidence, not being taken seriously, rural isolation, and lack of rural business support. The first WiRE conference attracted almost 500 women from every remote corner of the UK and showed that the countryside was alive with female entrepreneurs; ambitious to overcome their isolation to improve, innovate and grow their businesses.
After many years working with these businesses, WiRE is even more passionate about their importance and amazing contribution to rural life. Not only do these businesses provide jobs and collectively contribute vast sums to the country’s GDP – but they do it whilst embedded in their communities, whilst their owners nurture children, care for elders, run the local scout group and help with early morning milking. These female entrepreneurs keep small farms afloat, remote communities alive and families in the black.
WiRE is now a national organisation, helping rural women develop and grow their business. We have evolved over the years from a fully funded support organisation, offering free training and support groups all over the UK (thanks to EU funding), to the women’s business network we are today, with probably the widest reach across the UK. Over 70 local groups meeting monthly and creating almost 10,000 networking interactions every year – powerful stuff!