Strength in Numbers. Strength in Women.
I went to see Gina Yashere in Balham 15+ years ago. Of Nigerian background, she talked about the stark difference between mourning a pet in England (they cry, can’t get out of bed, too upset to carry on) and in Nigeria (“ahh, your dog dead? Put it in the bin…”) I think if someone was telling my younger self about opening a cat shop, I wouldn’t have understood – I would have just smiled.
I attended an opening day for a Women in Business course with my Healing Friend. Both rather anxious. My concern on the one hand was maybe I wasn’t ready. On the other – perhaps this wasn’t right for me, perhaps I was trying too hard to make something happen. But, we parked our concerns outside and went in.
Funded by One Manchester, Jenny Matthews was our teacher; a tiny yet fabulous woman, who skilfully weaved in and out of our ideas. She seamlessly enabled a phenomenal group of 20 powerful women. Many of us were women of colour; the youngest of whom was just over 30. Most of us had fairly conventional working lives, but for whatever reason were searching for something else. Sometimes, in the wrong garden, you just don’t bloom.
None of these women were weak or had failed. I guess that was how I saw myself at the time. I acknowledge now, that for a short time, I was numb, I was a little bit dead. They say you have to treat yourself the same way you would a friend when you’re feeling like that; you’re more patient with others. I wasn’t feeling particularly friendly or patient with myself – but amongst these women, I re-learnt how to do that.
No one would have suspected that in that small room in Gorton, there lay an unbelievable strength. We didn’t perform magic, but magic happened in there. Their positivity lifted me, whilst my own slowly began to unravel again. I’d dared to venture out and it didn’t feel all that scary anymore. A handful of these women are still in my life – but not all of them. I guess sometimes people come into your life just to point you in the right direction. And then they disappear.
That’s not to say that my idea of a cat shop went down well. No one stood on tables, whooping and cheering the idea. Far from it. I was asked to repeat my idea several times in those first few weeks – I think the women were trying to make some sense of my overflowing enthusiasm.
My background: an Asian, Muslim woman – so for me, pets were pets. Dogs were terrifying – I swear I was programmed to sniff one out circa 2 miles away so I could prepare an almighty run. Cats were unpredictable, therefore, pretty scary too. I never grew up with pets. (Well, that’s not strictly true. We had a cat when I was titchy, but he was, you know, just a cat. At the vet’s, dad was asked his name. Of course, our cat was nameless, but for the sake of the visit, dad named him *Saunaa (translation *Gold). That was the only time our cat was called Saunaa – never before and never since. My general memory of him is rather hazy, but what I do know for certain is that I was pretty terrified of him).
Conscious of Gina’s words, conscious of the makeup of my audience, conscious of my younger self and how I thought, I admit, it was a tough idea to sell. But, it didn’t matter what anybody else thought. I believed in my idea and I was going to clutch on to it; it was all I had. And the more and more I talked about it, (I talked about it a lot), the more and more they believed in it! I had a vision and I was going to make it happen. Not because that’s just what I do, but because at the time, there was comfort in the idea, comfort in that future. My cat shop gave me a purpose; it gave me hope. After such a long time, my renaissance was beginning to take place. I could feel it beginning to happen. The vision was becoming clearer.
Jenny Matthews and the Women in Business Group – thank you.
Want to know more about the Women in Business Enterprise group? Contact Jenny Matthews.