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Girl Power linking Harpenden community

PUBLISHED: 11:03 11 November 2014 | UPDATED: 11:04 11 November 2014

Mum's Guide to Harpenden at last year's Hertfordshire Business Awards

Mum's Guide to Harpenden at last year's Hertfordshire Business Awards

Archant

From making life easier for busy mums, to connecting homeworkers and creating a pop up night club to get back in time for the babysitter, women in Harpenden are creating social and business links that are improving life for thousands in the town. Julie Lucas reports

Harpenden High StreetHarpenden High Street

A lawyer, IT specialist, marketing expert and music teacher seem an unlikely business partnership, but when these four women met at a children’s music class they came up with an idea to make life easier for busy mums like themselves.

Katie Fenner, Angela Woodhead, Alison Fox and Carol Rule founded the Mum’s Guide to Harpenden website two years ago.

‘It all started when my husband was asked to work in San Francisco for six months, explains Katie. ‘The other girls gave me a book on the area written by mums - it proved to be a godsend.’

The book sparked the idea for creating an online version – with up to the minute news on events and services.

Caroline JonesCaroline Jones

‘Over several cups of tea and a lot of biscuits we decided to see if this new concept of having all the information for families in one place online might actually work. We had spent our fair share of time scouring the internet to find details of local facilities and realised we had all had the same experience - the information can be difficult to find.’

The four women spent five months researching and gathering information to create a free comprehensive site that people would use regularly. The mumsguideto.co.uk site offers mums with children from bumps to teens a one-stop shop on a wide range of services from clubs and children’s activities to pampering for parents and eating out. Since its launch in June 2012, the founders have been thrilled to see unique visits grow to around 6,500 a month, while the site also generates money through advertising.

‘The feedback has been incredibly positive’ says Katie. ‘We particularly love stories such as a family who relocated from Hong Kong to Harpenden. They needed information about local schools and activity classes for the children so that life could continue as quickly as possible when they arrived. Previously you would have had to spend hours trawling the internet to get all the information.

‘We have learnt that there is an awful lot going on in this small town. For instance there are over 250 activities and clubs for under-18s. We love to promote family events and local charities for free because we know as mums how isolating it can be if you don’t know what’s going on in your area.’

The green in HarpendenThe green in Harpenden

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Harpenden mum Caroline Jones loves music, but couldn’t find the club nights she wanted on her doorstep. So two years ago she launched Rewind, a pop-up disco, bringing her ideal dance event to the town. ‘I only set Rewind up so I could guarantee myself a night out and then be home in time for the babysitter,’ laughs Caroline. I thought I can’t be the only one that wants a night out and doesn’t want to travel into London.’

With this in mind, she worked with a friend and designer Chris Walker and created artwork using her beloved old cassettes as an image. ‘I used to love recording the Top 40 and was forever rewinding the tape recorder in pause/play mode, which is where the name comes from.’ Targeting fellow parents at the school gates, word soon spread and in October 2012 Caroline hired a local church hall and the first event was launched.

Rewind continues to grow, regularly selling out to 300 capacity crowds. Private bookings are also taken and the disco often pops up at school PTA events. ‘Rewind is about playing cool tunes right across the decades,’ explains Caroline. ‘You may hear resident DJ Vinyl Ritchie playing Little Richard, followed by the Stone Roses, followed by Run DMC - we mix it up and the crowd love it. We also encourage feedback and our request blackboard is much in use.’

Jo Norman and Victoria ChamberlainJo Norman and Victoria Chamberlain

Rewind can be found at facebook.com/Rewindpopupclub.

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Two women who have made it their mission to bring local business people together are Jo Norman of administrative support business Clockwork PA and Victoria Chamberlain owner of Harpenden’s The Little Village Cakery, who together run the Harpenden Connect Group.

The pair took over the group in February last year with a database of 40 members. This has now grown to more than 300, who make use of the free online network and attend monthly meetings.

Victoria says the group provides a friendly, professional and relaxed environment particularly for small business owners working from home. ‘We both saw that working from home can be isolating, and that chatting over a coffee improves business relations. The group gives those who work alone an opportunity to meet others in a similar position and discuss issues in common, exchange ideas and create new professional relationships. We encourage a style of networking that helps to promote our own businesses while supporting other businesses in our community.

‘Many of our members came to us following recommendations of existing members and we receive regular offers of help from individuals giving their time and expertise for the benefit of the group. We made a decision at the beginning not to charge any fees as we felt that would hit the very small businesses that had no budget for such events. We understand how hard it is to start a business from scratch and as such wanted the group to be inclusive to as many people as possible.

‘As two working mums, running our own businesses we don’t see Harpenden Connect as our second business but as a community initiative.’

For more information, go to facebook.com/groups/548542885182073.

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