Jo Ferriss has just taken up the new role of Engagement Specialist with New Anglia Growth Hub. Here she talks about how working for Suffolk Chamber of Commerce helped her to manage her depression – and why you might find her waiting outside M&S late at night, collecting waste food
I’ve had a varied working life after struggling with the academic side of school. I joined Steward Solicitors as a receptionist where my boss was very strict and that gave me a really strong work ethic, which I still have today. But my heart was in hospitality and with my parents’ business growing – Diana Barnard Catering – I soon left the legal world to join the family business. In 1992, the country went into recession and business was tough, so I applied for a job with the British Overseas Development administration, and using my organisational skills went to work in Zagreb for the UNHCR transport department. From there, I went on to work with UNHCR and UNICEF during the genocide in Rwanda. After a couple of years of working in war zones, it was time to go home and help my brother run the catering business and give my parents a chance to retire. In 2009, with another recession, we closed the business and I moved into event management and then on to hotel management.
In 2018, I was struggling with depression and decided it was time to leave the hospitality business. That was when a friend contacted me and said there was a vacancy at Suffolk Chamber of Commerce working with New Anglia Growth Hub. I joined the Growth Hub as an Events and Marketing Coordinator, organising and running training workshops and exhibition stands across Norfolk and Suffolk, which I loved. Suffolk Chamber also helped me manage my mental health to the point that I haven’t taken antidepressants for nearly 18 months. The pandemic has meant a very busy time at the Growth Hub, and I have been now promoted to my current position of Engagement Specialist.
Before work every day, I love to swim in the sea with my Labrador Darcy and hopefully her daughter Lulu will join us when she’s a bit older. I’m also the Chairwoman of Felixstowe Rowing Club and vice commodore at Felixstowe Ferry Sailing Club. Each May, my husband Mike and I visit his father in Ireland, where Mike is very patiently teaching me to fly fish. I also help with the local food bank and collect waste food one evening a week from the local Marks & Spencer Food Hall, which I deliver early the next morning to the Parish Pantry at St John’s Church in Felixstowe. My husband often asks me why I take on so much, but I am a firm believer that you have to give back to enjoy life. So, whether I’m coxing a crew on the gig when I’d much rather be rowing myself or waiting outside M&S late at night for the waste food – life is good.
What is your new role and what will it involve?
My new role as Engagement Specialist is a newly created one and the main aim is to give the Growth Hub a more approachable and visible image. I will be attending events and conferences across Norfolk and Suffolk, both online and in person. I also want to connect with business groups, business banks, accountants, and EDOs (Economic Development Officers), offering support to their SME clients. The Growth Hub is a fully-funded business growth support programme for Norfolk and Suffolk and we are managed by Suffolk Chamber of Commerce on behalf of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership. We have so much support to offer growing businesses, from general business advice, information on a range of funding and grants, skills, training workshops and the Scale Up New Anglia programme.
Are there any businesses or sectors you particularly hope to engage with?
I am looking to engage with all business sectors (except primary agriculture and fisheries/fishing). It has been really difficult for firms of all sizes over the last couple of years and business owners and leaders are not always aware they can contact us just to discuss their future business plans. Our impartial approach takes the emotion out of decision-making and can also help to flag grant or funding support for any future growth, capital expenditure or innovation projects. We are also planning some great training workshops which are fully funded and free to attend. If your business is growing, you would really benefit from Scale Up New Anglia, which can give you access to Goldman Sachs’ expert high-growth business course; or do you might need to upskill your team or need an apprentice.
Where will people be able to meet and speak with you?
If you don’t see me at an event, the easiest way to contact me is by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
What would be your message to local business owners who have not contacted the Growth Hub before?
If you are needing business, growth or training support and don’t know where to turn to, contact us and if we can’t help you, we will know an organisation which can.
Visit New Anglia Growth Hub