Helen Oldfield is a PR coach and consultant involved with the Primadonna Prize for unsigned and unrepresented new writing talent, taking place in London next week. Here she explains why it’s also important for her to champion Women in Rural Enterprise in South Suffolk
I would describe my life as like the best Cha Cha ever; two steps forward, one step back, occasionally with unscheduled moves along the way! My work has taken me all around the UK and abroad, and I’ve changed careers at least three times, so I’ve been lucky to see and learn lots of interesting things and meet people from all walks of life. All of which tells me that resilience, versatility, and a generally “glass of life half full” outlook have served me well. I adapt well to life’s messy realities and always manage to move forwards.
March 2020 looked dreadful. Almost every client paused projects and was awaiting Government guidance. Would my business survive? At least I was fit and healthy, so I felt hopeful, if only I could guarantee to pay my mortgage.
A conversation at home (“If everyone who asked to ‘pick my PR brain’ paid me something, I’d earn enough”) made me stop and think. At first, I considered a pay-it-forward model, but then I launched Affinity PR Coaching, to offer access to affordable pay-as-you-go PR and marketing expertise. Without sounding melodramatic, it probably saved my business during the two pandemic years.
WiRE is Women in Rural Enterprise, a UK-wide network of 6000-plus women in business. After frustrating experiences of traditional business networks being dominated by a handful of major employers, I searched for something more relevant to my creative business.
WiRE is the only national women’s business network for women in rural enterprise. We come together monthly via regional meetings (ours are currently on Zoom) to offer mutual encouragement and solutions to shared business challenges.
I joined eight years ago and when Sue Hall stepped back as Network Leader, she handed over the baton to me, Lynn Turner and Jane O’Riordan.
The main challenge of being a woman in rural enterprise is isolation; what everyone experienced during the pandemic. It’s also the lack of accessible meeting places, plus high costs and personal safety issues around transport (long drives alone, unreliable buses and unstaffed stations).
WiRE meetings provide “virtual watercooler moments” that connect businesswomen across the region. It’s where we can learn how to overcome hurdles, and bounce ideas off one another in commercial confidence. It’s a place of safety, inclusion and friendship.
Currently we meet via Zoom, usually on the third Tuesday each month, 7–9pm. Online is FREE to attend. For the meeting links email SouthSuffolkWire@gmail.com
Primadonna is a festival of books, ideas and inspiration. It’s coming back to Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket for the weekend of July 29-31.
It offers something for everyone with film, music, comedy, food, drink, DJs and therapies alongside its main programme of talks, interviews and discussions. The line-up gives prominence to womxn, people of colour, LGBTQI+, working class people, and disabled people: everyone is welcome, especially those that might not think an arts festival is ‘for them’.
The organisers call it “The world as it should be, for one weekend” and in 2022 it was voted Suffolk’s Best Festival by East Anglian Festival Network.
The Primadonna Prize is for unsigned and unrepresented new writing talent. It was established to open access to the publishing industry and is judged anonymously and without regard to grammar or spelling: a first for a literary prize.
The Prize will be awarded on Thursday March 31 at a live event in London, featuring Sir Lenny Henry in conversation with author Kit de Waal, plus live comedy, readings, poetry and more, with compere Sandi Toksvig. You can buy tickets for the live Awards event (£15 or £10 concessions) and for online viewing (£2.99), at https://primadonnafestival.com/prize/.
I was on the interview panel that selected Ann Osborn as CEO of the Rural Coffee Caravan, back in 2003. I’ve supported the charity ever since. Then I was a CEO of a local community law centre, and social justice has always been important to me.
The charity helps to ends loneliness with 220-plus visits to isolated villages, providing a meeting place to enjoy free coffee, cake and a chat (thanks CoffeeLink for coffee donations!). It’s where people can come together and be heard or to ask for help. The team also signposts to agencies for free and quality assured advice and support.
My hopes and dreams for the rest of the year are for my friends and clients in arts, culture, live events and tourism to all return safely to work; that I’ll meet more of my entertainment and writing heroines at Primadonna Festival this summer; and that none of us will forget how neighbourliness and community spirit kept us all going through lockdown. Here’s to more random acts of kindness!
A recurring dream I had throughout the pandemic was waking up on the Caledonian Sleeper train bound for the Scottish Highlands on a summer day, finding I’d arrived just in time for breakfast. I hope to do that one day.
The Primadonna Prize Award takes place at Conway Hall, London, on March 31, from 7pm. The Primadonna Festival 2022 takes place at the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket from July 29-31. Also, visit WiRE South Suffolk and Affinity PR Coaching.
Featured image picture credit: Simply C Photography