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Julie, 44, is the award-winning Director of KIH Products Ltd and founder of the Single Mums Business Network. She lives with her nine-year-old daughter in Herefordshire and is very happy with her single status.
Resilience, hardship and the pandemic: one single parent business founders’ story and how she uses her experiences to help other single parent founders.
I was a “socially acceptable” woman in my 30’s, married, in full-time work, a homeowner with a couple of cars and a couple of cats: I was doing everything by the book. But then in mid-thirties I miscarried, split from my husband, moved into a cheap flat and rented out my home, keeping only my full-time job. While letting off some steam, I was blessed with another pregnancy and – despite an absent father – was determined to be the best parent I could be and provide for my child.
During my maternity leave, my employer sold her business to a less family-friendly employer. Suddenly I was unable to fulfil the rigid 5:30pm finish – and my flexible working request was denied. Without wraparound childcare, I had no choice but to leave… but with a strong 20-year career history I confidently embarked on my search for part-time work. This was when my world turned upside down: suddenly, I learned I was up against thousands of mothers needing the same hours. My only option was a very low-paid and low-skilled role.
For the first time in my life, I needed support. I had no idea how to claim income support or housing benefit: it was a whirlwind of stress. Worried about being a landlady, I confided in my mortgage lender who, after establishing my lack of funds for a broken boiler advised me to withhold rent, so that they could take charge of the property – which meant that, as well as collecting rent, they would cover essential maintenance. I was delighted…but it was a trick. I didn’t understand the small print and my home was repossessed as soon as they had legal charge of the property. They sold it at a loss, leaving me with £20k of mortgage debt.
I then had to move out of my flat – but now, as a single mum with income topped up by benefits and a ruined credit file, no landlord would have me. I didn’t have a guarantor or access to loans. The only landlord I could find was a six-month let (as the property was on the market). As soon as we settled there, we had to move again. More moving costs into an overpriced and damp property – and then again, and again, moving from expensive or unsuitable homes. Whenever I found that perfect £500-rent, the landlord wouldn’t have what us because of what I was on paper.
I embarked on a law degree – and fought hard to set up my business after I designed the KIH bed – but my life was so traumatic with insane time pressures of study, work and constant moves. Of course, I couldn’t get business finance: my idea or work ethic didn’t matter – it was only my credit score that mattered.
Eventually, I went from part-time to full-time work and I was so excited to call tax credits and tell them… but that phone call only led to an immediate halt of income. I was completely destitute, without means to borrow money for food or fuel. My car broke down before my first pay cheque came in and I lost my car. In time, I graduated in law but, again, I couldn’t find qualifying employment without wraparound childcare – the SRA permits 20 hours’ work but I just couldn’t find it anywhere.
My ever-changing homes and work status meant that, despite my honest declarations, my council tax was miscalculated. I was faced with a bill backdated two years and because I couldn’t settle it within 26 weeks, the bailiffs showed up at my door. This was my lowest moment. I had a degree, I had a business, I’d won awards and fought so hard to work but here I was with my daughter in my arms and that man wanting to take whatever I had in my home.
That was when I felt dangerously close to committing suicide.
I gave up: I was beaten. But my child… my child kept me here.
Throughout all those years, I knew that all I needed was business exposure. Without disposable income for PR or business finance, though, all I could do was beg. I begged every celebrity, every paper, every exhibition, every person with a reasonable social media following for help but help was not forthcoming. I battled on and figured out ways to freelance using my skills. I managed to exhibit, which increased my business sales and, finally, I managed to find work in sync with my skillset and salary, from 10am to 4pm.
Knowing how close I was to suicide, I couldn’t bear to leave other women to suffer as I had. I set up the SMBN (Single Mum’s Business Network) to help fight for business exposure and for access to finance, homes and work with decent salaries and in sync with skillsets that could be worked in childcare hours.
For me, not struggling to pay rent or car tax makes me rich; and so, every penny over that, I spend on PR for my members to help their fight and to help change things for the millions still left behind. I am still met with resistance when it comes to support but that’s why I work so hard: to help others.
I have helped many members during lockdown with eviction or bailiff threats and with some PR that gives them hope and lets them know that they’re not fighting solo. I beat the system that could have almost killed me and I did that with resilience, strength and determination. It breaks my heart that exposure could be so easy but that, instead, it seems it’s only given to those who need it least.
I am proud to be a single parent and I am proud of what I have done and what I do to help others. I will rest well when my time comes.