Beating the odds: Local, female-led businesses during COVID-19

 As countries imposed restrictions to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, 2020 saw the majority of businesses worldwide shut their doors for a prolonged period of time. 

 While the impact of a complete lockdown on the British economy has been severe, with gross production levels in June being 17.2% lower than in February, female-founded businesses have taken the hardest hit. A study conducted by The Entrepreneurs Network Female Founders Forum in partnership with Barclays discovered that 21% of female-owned businesses have struggled during the pandemic, compared to 18% of male-owned firms.

Despite contributing £85 billion to the national economic output, the study reveals that companies with female-identifying founders raised approximately half the equity capital compared to male-founded businesses. 

While the current business climate is not particularly favourable and promising, it is not all a story of doom and gloom. Against all odds, these local, female-established businesses paint a picture of resilience and innovation. 

The Post Box Deli 

After acquiring the business in 2018, owner Rachel Bielby turned the former tea room into a delicatessen selling sandwiches, cakes, biscuits and hot drinks made with locally sourced products. 

When the UK government imposed a nation-wide lockdown, The Post Box Deli became the only place in Thornor where residents of the village could pick up fresh bread, milk or meat. 

Even though she had to self-isolate while the business was  growing, the appreciation she received from customers who experienced little human contact during quarantine made it worthwhile.

Despite the uncertain and rapidly changing situation, Rachel is looking into converting the space above the deli into a tearoom where customers can sit, unwind and enjoy the delicacies that The Post Box Deli has to offer. 

Woodland Walkers

Being restricted to one daily form of exercise a day, Naomi Nicholson and her wife decided to start their dog walking business as a way to help dogs socialise and maintain their fitness during lockdown. 

What sets Oakenshaw-based Woodland Walkers apart is its commitment to social responsibility. For every mile walked, the business donates £1 to charity. 

To put a smile on the faces of those affected most by the pandemic, Woodland Walkers has made donations to Oakenshaw Residents Association and Woodlands Church of England Primary School since its establishment in June 2020. 

Despite struggling to get hold of the appropriate PPE before launching her business, Naomi believes that her initiative is making the dogs happier and uplifting the spirits of the local community. Looking further ahead, the couple’s post-pandemic plans include opening an animal shelter for lost or mistreated pets alongside their dog walking business. 

Akila Dolls

After quitting her job as a receptionist in 2019 Olivia Thompson started ‘Akila Dolls’, her own disability and diversity dolls business, to produce toys which represent children with special needs and children coming from a variety of backgrounds. 

Despite finding it difficult to secure investment as a female business owner, Olivia’s commitment to making a difference in people’s lives and the support she has received from other female entrepreneurs across the UK have encouraged her to set up ‘Akila Dolls’ will be releasing its inaugural collection of dolls in early 2021, with the first doll being named after Bessie Coleman, the first African-American and Native American woman to hold a pilot licence.

Being aware of the impact of the pandemic on the economy of Leeds, Olivia is committed to working with professionals in her local area. So far, she has employed a local illustration company and a Leeds-based web designer. 

‘Akila Dolls’ will be releasing its inaugural collection of dolls in early 2021, with the first doll being named after Bessie Coleman, the first African-American and Native American woman to hold a pilot licence. 

Photo Credit: George Coppock