One year ago I began Her Mark. Whilst in the midst of house renovation having recently moved, and still in the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought it'd be a great idea to reduce my hours at my full-time job and set something up for myself, where I was my own boss for the first time. I wanted to create space and programmes of support for women at all stages of life, through 1-2-1 sessions and group coaching. I also wanted creativity to play some kind of roll, given my background in the arts. However I wasn't entirely sure what Her Mark would be, I just know that I was interested in doing something good for other women, and for myself. I wanted to write this blog as a way of celebrating all that the last year has brought me, to share my journey so far and where I am now.
Before setting up Her Mark I had always worked in organisations with freelancers and artists. I had always admired those who were freelancers, and looked up to those who set their own business up. So many times I thought to myself that I wouldn't, or couldn't, do it. The financial side scared me. I really didn't know how I would do it. The thought of always having to be 'on' and promoting myself also made me feel apprehensive. On the flip side, the thought of managing my own time, making my own work and developing my own ideas for myself and not an institution was really attractive. I had always wanted to do it, but the scary stuff had put me off - I mean, how would I pay the mortgage?! One other thing that scared me was whether I would be taken seriously. Not because what I do is deadly serious, or special, but because putting yourself and your ideas out there is scary and made me feel quite vulnerable. For 16 years I had the comfort blanket of an organisation to fall back on. What would I do without it? But, too many times had I seen others do it and feel inspired. I had worked with and found out about businesses and work I wish I had set up, and that I knew I could have. And, as I move into my late 30's I wondered how much longer I would load off on doing things for myself that I had wanted to do for so long. In March 2021, I reduced my hours in the comfort blanket of the organisation I worked in (and still do, I mean, like I say, I was scared and going cold turkey just wasn't an option!) and gave myself a day a week to figure out what Her Mark could be.
The first obstacle - thinking of a name. I knew I wanted to have a name for what I was going to do. I didn't want it to just be my name and for me to be known as a freelancer. I wanted a name that gave my work a platform. It was also something I could pass on, and if I'm honest, hide behind and give me the sense of comfort that I had been so used to. It was also a brand that announced to the world what it was that I wanted to do. Thinking of it was tough for all of those reasons too. I knew I wanted it to say that it was for females, and I also knew that I wanted it to include some for of intention and nod to creativity. 'Her Mark' was born. 'Her' - the female, 'Mark' - the marks we make, the marks we leave, and the marks we create. I worked with the amazing designer, Lucia Harry, who created the logo, and suddenly it seems to make sense. On International Women's Day, 2021, I launched Her Mark on social media. and so it began.....
Next, what I wanted to offer and what I wanted to bring to the practice. I had 16 years of working for charities and arts organisations under my belt and I knew that I wanted to do something that gave me purpose. I wanted to spend my time doing good and surrounding myself with things I feel passionate about - art, the collective power of women, and the food can heal, help celebrate and nurture. I wasn't quite sure what that meant, but I knew I loved working one-on-one with people and I knew I loved making things happen and organising programmes and events. I decided quite early on that coaching in formal and informal ways would play a role in what I offered through Her Mark. I started by running trial group coaching sessions with women I admired, who were mothers, business owners, founders and influencers. They helped me gain confidence in what I could offer could be a thing. I also put it out to friends that I could do 1-2-1 nutrition advice sessions, as I have a diploma in nutrition. I wanted to help people, and I get a real kick out of cheering people on to overcome, grow and progress. I put my intentions together onto this website, I made business cards and even postcards. When I started to see it written down it started to be real. I also set up the social media accounts. the practice of writing a bio and creating a public facing space online that shared what I do, I started to hone in on what I could do.
Next came the partnerships. As I'd been putting myself out there some amazing friends and family members started to bring me into their folds and suggested partnerships that could help both my profile and bring something to their work. I had the honour of working with my best friend and sister, Katy Oliver (known to me as 'Kit') - the brains and beauty behind Minno Kitchen. Kit's food is utterly phenomenal and I was beyond stoked to have worked together on projects that Brough her cooking and my knowledge of nutrition together. I was also privileged to be asked by a colleague and friend, Issie Lloyd, to work with her and her friend, Sophie Grosvner, on a project they were launching called 'The Goddess Project'. They too wanted to create space and time for someone to have access to supportive programmes and workshops. Issie and Soph asked me to run a nutrition session as part of their launch programme. Little did I know that I would gain so much from these two partnerships - I gained confidence in my skills, I found my voice in how I speak about what I could offer and I gained a new friend and trainer - Soph. (Read an interview I did with Sophie last year, and trust me, you'll love her too!).
In the last year I also ran my first programme of group coaching for early career creative females. I had the pleasure of meeting bi-weekly with four astonishingly talented young women. We created a space to support one-another and I gave them tools to understand and carve a way forward towards the things they were passionate about. I now get the pleasure of seeing them and working with them, knowing that since our programme there have been exhibitions of new work, funding granted, new jobs achieved and articles published.
In November 2021, eight months since starting Her Mark, I went into Cardiff MADE to meet their Director and Founder, Zoe Gingell. One of the ideas I had had at the start of setting up my own work was coo create a breakfast club ask networking sessions, without the networking (let's face it, who actually likes networking?!?), but a space to meet, share and connect. I had also wanted to meet new people in Cardiff, where I had been living for 11 months by then. I was right back were I started, feeling nervous about putting my ideas out there and in a new city, where I feared I would be stepping on toes or would be judged. Instead, Zoe welcomed me with open arms and not only did she agree to allowing me to use Cardiff MADE for these events, but agreed to work with me on them. We spent 2 hours speaking and getting increasingly excited about what was to become, The Female Line. I left Cardiff MADE and drove into Cardiff city centre to meet two women I had heard lots about - Nia and Becky from Spit and Sawdust. I had another idea that I wanted to share with them - an international women's day event in 2022 to mark the anniversary of Her Mark. I had been wanted to speak to them about this, but also to meet them as two women working in the arts in Cardiff. at this point, let me say, I don't find speaking about work hard. in fact, I've gotten so used to it over the years that I can roll a mission, vision or summary statement of intent of some work off of my tongue very naturally. I have stood up in front on hundreds pop people and presented, and I am one of those weirdos that quite likes it. However, speaking about my ideas to women I didn't know and feeling vulnerable was hard. I felt self-conscious and felt unknown, and I felt a little like I didn't know what Iwas speaking about. That has a name, 'imposter syndrome'. But, once again, Nia and becky put my mind at rest straight away. They were encouraging and supportive and I left with a 'yes' to my event idea, as well as a list of people and places I should also meet and link in with. A network of women were growing, and I was gaining more and more confidence that what I had wanted to do with Her Mark was needed and there was space as well as encouragement to do it.
I felt at this stage that I had started to come full circle. I had been interested in figuring out what I wanted to do with Her Mark. I wondered who I could be without being in an institution where I 'had' to work in a certain way towards certain targets. But what I had begun to realise is that my work as a Creative Producer had always been what drove me. Whether it was falling into auto pilot, or staying within my comfort zone, I don't know, but I know I'm good at it, and I love it. I realised that my role in Her Mark was to be a Creative Producer. To use my role to bring women together and to make things happen. It had taken almost 9 months to realise that what I was figuring out is that what I do is what I want to do, but for me. I had to go on the journey I've been on and try things out, set things up, and put my ideas out there. If I'd learnt anything, it was to do the stuff that scared me. With that in mind, I wanted to stop talking about it and start doing it. So, at the start of 2022, I wrote my first independent Arts Council Wales funding application for my event at Spit and Sawdust, which actually become more than one event, but turned into a 5 month long project of commissions and coaching for female artists. I also set the dates for The Female Line with Cardiff MADE, I organised our first guest speaker and I started to promote it. It was happening! On the 8th January, my funding bid was submitted, and on the morning of 27th January the first Female Line event took place with 15 women coming. It was a hit! By the time we got to the February event we had 26 women signed up and it was really beginning to be something very exciting. With the one year anniversary of Her Mark around the corner, I knew that the announcement of the funding wouldn't be far off. Then on the eve of the anniversary I had the email I had waited for, and it was good news, I had got the funding!
So much has happened in a year, and I feel like I have got a lot under my belt. From doing one thing it led to another and that's continuing with every woman I meet at The Female Line and more. With the programme of commissions and events that the funding from Arts Council Wales is helping to fund, to plans for exhibitions and a continued programme of events with partners, including The Female Line, the second year of Her Mark is already shaping up to be a really exciting time and I cannot wait to see where it leads me next. My ambition.... well if I'm honest, it may change by this time next year, I know the last years one changed on a monthly basis, or sometimes even daily it seemed. But what I do know is that I want to do more and I will continue putting it out there to see who wants to work with me to make it happen. I know that partnerships and working with other women is what makes me feel stronger, so here I go, in the coming years I would like to......
- organise retreats for women
- curate exhibitions and sharing of female artists' work
- commission new innovative work by female artists
- diversify my work and bring in women from different backgrounds to coach and mentor other women
- bring women together from different backgrounds and different ages to share, tell stories and connect
- create ways that bring people together with art and food
- support female led charities
Who knows, maybe the person reading this would like to explore one or more of those ideas with me. If that's you, drop me a line. It seems good things happen when we do this together! One thing I do know is that I couldn't do this without the women in my life, that have come before me, that stand next to me and that are yet to come in to be with me. But I am making my mark and all I can hope for is that the mark I make has positive impacts on others.
Thanks for reading, thanks for your time over the last year, and thank you for your support.
*logo by Lucia Harry