Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

We’ve come a long, long way together

Through the hard times and the good
I have to celebrate you baby
I have to praise you like I should
(Praise you,

Gooood morning everybody!

This seems an appropriate song to be thinking of this morning, as we are now officially passed our first birthday and have had our very first AGM. It’s strange, we have so many firsts – the day I started work on this full time (1st July 2008), first day in premises (February 2009) first training session (May 2009) launch (1st December 2009) and first AGM (21st May 2010). I like that our AGM was on the two year anniversary of the day I left Rape Crisis – anniversaries are important to me and it’s nice to link an end and a beginning.

I didn’t write last week as I was out due to an important family thing, so I’ve quite a bit to catch up on with you. Let’s see, what’s happened since the 12th May? Loads! I’ve been busy almost every day and night, what with work, family support and events, and am very much looking forward to the bank holiday weekend to get back in touch with my house and garden. Things are running pretty smoothly here, though we are starting to lose volunteers for a wee while due to the exam season and might lose more over summer if people go home. You may have seen my wee blog post yesterday on this, and we’ve already had a response so it looks like we might not have any gaps of coverage. We are so reliant on our amazing volunteers here – they do so much and let me and Della just get on with what we need to do. Maryam is back from Iran, as glamorous and cheerful as ever. She’s one person who always looks like a smile is just waiting at the corner of her mouth. Maryam is working on some internal database stuff for us, records of all our worker, volunteer and other contacts. She’s built the database and is also doing bits of systems administration, or at least is learning to. We’ve a visit from another IT volunteer BW on Thursday night, hoping to get the computers we have here all finished and labelled up so we know what we have. We have about 12 machines in total, some bought, some donated, some in bits, and we want to get them turned into about 8 really decent machines. So thanks Maryam, Gareth and BW for all your work on that stuff.

In other news, yes, let’s talk AGM! How exciting, eh? Last Friday we had three meetings in one afternoon, the first to accept our accounts, then our AGM and the our regular Committee Meeting. I am delighted to report that our newly elected Committee is

Me – Chair
Joy Conway – Secretary
Norman Rides – Treasurer
Allegra Carlton, Della Cunio, Amina Osman – Committee Members.

We’re going to have some training or work done on roles and responsibilities of Committee members as Allegra, for example, is a trainer by DNA it seems, and we’d like her to have a Role title that reflects that. But there we are, a shiny new Committee! We also have an Annual Report and (very nearly) accounts, which I will be posting up somewhere for you to read once final agreed amendments have been made. It was a real push to get all the business done, but we did it, and thanks to Della and Aimee for bringing the supplies (triple choc cookies featured quite highly) and to the fantastic Andrea Allam who stepped in with 40 minutes notice to present our accounts when our Treasurer was unable to.

Last night I was in London for an UnLtd Celebration event and it was absolutely brilliant. I did a bit more elephant hunting on the way there and saw three on the South Bank. When I’m not with UnLtd people I forget how brilliant it feels to be so supported by them. They talk about the entrepreneur, the person in the middle of everything, with such passion and caring, and when they say it to my face, I can’t deny that they mean me. I find it very easy to circumvent praise and then feel unsupported just because my own brain has been silly and pushed it all away. But anyway, it was a joy to be there last night and to see the heartstoppingly amazing http://www.choirwithnoname.org (made up of people who have experienced homelessness) sing. Please do check them out – Marie, their Musical Director was an UnLtd award winner at the same time as me, and is doing a really wonderful thing. Seeing the choir sing, and seeing them relax into it and enjoy themselves was absolutely thrilling – I was almost in tears throughout it all. THAT is what social enterprise can do, that’s what it’s for. Its a way of running a business that makes a real, tangible, demonstrable difference to lives. Power to Marie and the Choir and do, please, if you are free on the 19th June in London, go along to their 2nd birthday,7.30pm, The Drill Hall, 16 Chenies Street, London WC1E 7EX. Go!

We were also treated to a recital from Leanne (apols if I get the spelling wrong) from the http://www.hiphopshakespeare.com, led by another Award winner, Kingslee Daley. When he told me that iambic pentameter (basically, a way of writing where each line has ten syllables, in five pairs, one of which is stressed, eg, shall I comPARE thee TO a SUMmer DAY) is the rhythm of the human heart, I was hooked. Such a great idea and a side of Shakespeare that I’ve never known. Lovely. They’ll be at camp Bestival this summer – check them out if you’re there. And finally, we had a goody bag including perfect cake and cereal from http://www.foodworksuk.org run by Kelvin Cheung, another award winner. He asked me how I was, as a person, and it struck me that I rarely think of ‘me’ – I think of me, as pants. This has to change!

It’s time for a break with the trainees, so I’m off. I think it’s about time I did another round of thanks, actually, to the people who support me to allow me to do what I do, not just the pants team. Without them, as well as the people who do work here, I’d be lost. Mr Stuff feeds my cats when I have to be away in London, or work late. My cats bring me dead things and give me something to think about other than pants. There’s someone very kind who sent me a cheque. My parents, who surprise me with their pride.
UnLtd, always UnLtd, who I should lean on harder.

And now, to break. More next week, when hopefully I will be less tired!



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Power to the Small Massive, 2 Faces and a 52 day old sweetheart

Morning everybody,

Today’s blog is brought to you by the Asian Dub Foundation songs 2 Face, largely because my experience of today has been one of two distinct halves already, and Power to the Small Massive because I feel that we are tiny in a giant sea, and the number 52 which is how many days whomadeyourpants? baby number 2 has been outside his mum and in the world.

I wrote the first part of this this morning, and the second part after 52 day old young man came in. He lifted my spirits and the love and joy on his mum’s face reminded me of why I do this. So while I make no apology for the downbeat nature of the first part of this, the second needs no explanation. I suspect you clever lot will see where the join between the two parts is and where he came in!

Blimey, what a day I am having. I can hear laughter from the sewing room, and I’m glad the women are having fun. But I’ve been having a hard day. I was undecided about whether or not to share it with you but I thought, we’re all about honesty and this is the truth. Today has been, already, very hard.

Out of the 15 women we expected today, 10 arrived. Four let us know they would not be in. They are due in at 9.45 to be ready to start at 10. Four were here before 10, the rest late. We’d dealt with this timekeeping issue, and so I’m really worried that it’s slipping again. Why is it indicative of, I wonder? I had planned to have a talk with a few of the women one to one just to review last weeks meeting and see how they feel about things – I’m aware that we heard a lot from a vocal few and want to make sure the quieter people have a chance to speak. But they weren’t here in time for me to do that. So I couldn’t. And I still have no idea how they feel, or whether they are happy to keep on training. I really want them to understand deeply that they are key to this and that we need them, and they need themselves – we’re not a support agency, we’re one that rewards putting in and once they are qualified and able to work without a teacher, that will mean they are capable of producing enough product to support their wages. Right now that is not the case and I’m entertaining all sorts of possibilities – will they all leave? Are they erally unhappy, are their families? Do they really expect to be paid when they can’t do the job? We can’t support passengers, especially not at this early stage.

Alongside this, on my to do list for today is: prepare our Annual Returns, our AGM, our next Committee meeting, our invoices. Map attendance, fix computers, finalise six policies and associated procedures, find new suppliers and arrange visits, prepare for another co-op AGM I’m speaking at, work on writing four funding bids and trawl for more opportunities. Do the Quality check of all pants made today. Work out how to get the NVQ we have been promising delivered. Find a college partner. Contact our new Sector Skills Council. Task volunteers with getting an answerphone, scanner and computers working. Build a year plan of key dates including training, intakes, sales, production, designs volunteers. Customer Service. Website development issues and planning. Plan some marketing and sales, do some of each. Work on some broad refugee issues and one specific query from one of the women. Send details of people who have approached me as about volunteering to one of our team who collates approaches and arranges inductions. I feel like I am drowning and I have spent much of this morning gripped by panic. I don’t give up easily, and I don’t want to give this up, but there are some days when it feels very very hard and it’s really difficult, lemon difficult, to feel that this is cared about by the people it’s being built for. And then I feel terribly presumptive – no-one asked me to do this, I decided to do it and I’m not in it for glory or fame or money – but I’d like to think people actually wanted to be part of it. And I can;t help but feel a bit hurt when there’s an intimation that it’s all about the cash.

I’m clinging to the fact that I know a lot of this is down to the fact that right now every aspect of EVEYTHING here is hard and do there are no safe and easy areas I can retreat to and reassure myself they are going well. I know it’s would be easier to cope with the difficulties if we were more stable financially. I know I’d be less worried about money if we were producing masses of saleable pants. But we’re broke and producing just enough to cover our current orders. To grow and succeed, we need to get me out selling pants and that’s just not possible right now.

Ooooh… what a lovely interlude! One of our lovely women has just popped in with her little boy, whomadeyourpants? baby number 2. He is GORGEOUS and was doing that determined sleeping that babies do. Mum decided that I needed to see his big brown eyes and so poked him gently til he woke up – in a very loving way, but there was poking. He’s adorable. They were able to stay for lunch and so everyone cooed and looked and congratulated. The women shared stories of what cultural things happen around birth where they are from – in the Sudan, apparently, in both Muslim and Christian areas, the mum stays home for 40 days after birth. Visitors are allowed, but mum stays home. In the Emirates, where some women have lived, this is not the case and mum can go out but often stays home for a week to recover. We had a lovely lunch together again, and now the women are back to work and so am I.

So, let’s think, what’s been going on over the last week. I’m sure there’s been some big story in the news.. oh yes, that’s right, there’s been that small matter of the election. I’m very unsure of how things will pan out, as of course are we all, we’re none of us soothsayers. I have to say though, I am very reluctant to think that Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ idea will clean up all the problems. I found it very odd to hear a Tory campaign talking about worker ownership, and on reading their Manifesto ( I am such a policy nerd, really) I found little to persuade me that it was about anything more than cheap outsourcing of service delivery.

In other news, I had a long weekend and needed it. I cycled to Winchester and back on Friday with a friend, and had vegetarian fish and chips for lunch, which was fun. And I had a smashing day in a bluebell wood singing the teddy bears picnic song at the top of my voice with my niece. We also went to the Romsey Green Fair, organised by Transition Town Romsey, which was fun. I had a day to myself on Sunday, which nearly drove me spare – I cope badly with having nothing to do – and then on Monday I did chores and met someone who has applied to be a Committee Member for dinner. We’ll find out at the next meeting if she is to be elected but I will certainly vote for her – she has a wealth of commercial experiences that will be really helpful, and she ‘gets’ me which will also be fab.

I’m feeling far better now than I was earlier (and thank you my twitter friends for the advice and support) and I’m riding a wave of calming tranquilliser-ish hormones. My wonderful counsellor at the Rape Crisis used to say that tears had a reward, a dose of natural calming tranquillisers. I like them. I’m still worried though. It seems that fully one third of our lovely women have serious hospital related ongoing health issues. This seems hugely disproportionate to me. And, to be very frank, when they have appointments on Wednesdays, as many do today, we really notice that they are not here. As this group only come in on Wednesdays, losing one session really hits productivity and ongoing learning. And it baffles me – how can people say they want more lessons, they want longer lessons – and then not show? We’ve talked about trying to get hospital appointments on days that are not Wednesdays, and we’ve also talked about letting us know about appointments in advance, for example, when the letter arrives. But it’s always last minute and that makes it immensely difficult to plan.

This is all a learning curve for me and for us, and no doubt for you too. I hope my honesty about how hard things can be comes across as it is – a report on the reality rather than a whine. Please let me know. I want to be open about what we do, and how we do it – and I think that means sharing the highs and the lows, the successes and the slog to get there Today of all days I want to say thank you for reading and supporting. Even when the office is full, I can feel very alone here and knowing there are people out there cheering us on really helps.

Excerpt from Power to the Small Massive

This one goes out to the people
Under pressure Under ground
Out to the voiceless to the restless
Stirring the nation with their sound
Can you feelin the vibe generate new energy
Got to rise up from the ashes got to restart history
Power 2 U if you wanna break loose

Until next week


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X marks the future.

Good morning everybody! And what a wonderful day to go and exercise your democratic right to put an X in a box. Have you been and done it yet? Don’t forget – I did forget one year and still feel the shame and so now get a postal vote so I will never let down Mrs Pankhurst again. Vive those amazing brave women who, LESS THAN A CENTURY AGO, fought for me and every woman here to have the vote. I’m quite humbled by their actions and suffering for the cause – please do read more about it if you’ve time – wikipedia has a very readable article here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suffragist and I heartily endorse the Fawcett Society and their excellent ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ T shirts’ http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/

Onto matter pants related, before I well up any more. Quality is still improving – when I look at how far the women have come in a few months, I’m thrilled. This does recognise that the pants a few months ago were.. not all great. In recognition of this, we will be offering everyone who bought pants from September 2009 to an as yet not agreed by Committee date, a discount or freebie or special offer sometime in the future to asy thank you for supporting us.

So, what’s happened over the last week. We’ve had visits from the Hilden Charitable Fund, from Alan Whitehead MP, from Jonathan Cheshire of the Wheatsheaf Trust, from my fab mentor Rob Bentley of Wessex Partnerships, and yesterday I had what felt like hundreds of meetings with the women, someone from Serco, and Hyde Housing.

Hyde Housing are interesting me. It would appear that Housing Associations are tasked with providing similar services to those provided by councils/the state – support into employment, debt advice, all kinds of stuff. And Hyde locally have a high number of tenants who are likely to be the same sort of people that we want to support. This is really interesting – from day one, I have wanted to support the women who are most marginalised, the ones not accessing mainstream support services. Right now we are working with women at a higher level, as otherwise we’d have even more problems getting going. But to backtrack, it’s always hard to get to these most marginalised women as most of the access routes are via support services. However, the possibility of access through their housing is a real breakthrough – those women who are stuck at home all the time will be showing up on the HA lists lists of people who they are tasked to support most, so we should be able to offer some really good stuff there. I hope! It’s long term, but a great relationship to kick off.

Serco came along to see me about a personalised employment plan thing they are looking to develop. It was a reasonable meeting but I’m not entirely sure it’s for us. As much as anything I like working with smaller groups and Serco are MAMMOTH. The woman who visited did make it plain from the start that they run places like this http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/managingborders/immigrationremovalcentres/yarlswood http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yarl%27s_Wood_Immigration_Removal_Centre which, to be honest, I want us to have absolutely nothing to do with. So we shall see.

We’ve had some good news on funding. £5k from Lush has arrived into our bank account – thankyou Lush! And we have got through the first stage of an application to Ford. And Hilden and John Paul Gettys have had the further information they have requested. And we have been awarded £674 from the Co-op bank customer donation fund for computers, and £400 from local learning exchanges. So it’s trickling in.

It’s not easy though. I am not being paid at all, but am living off my UnLtd award. Which is fine til you do maths and work out that my mahoosive mortgage and having to buy a new washing machine when mine broke (erk) mean I am poorer now than I have been since I started this. I’ve even run out of overdraft. So I can empathise with the few women who, yesterday in our review meetings, made it clear that they want wages. NOW.

Remember a few months ago, I wrote this post https://beckypants.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/rolling-rolling-rolling/ about how the women came up with their own plan about how we’d progress when we couldn’t pay them. Well yesterday, we had a review, two months into the three, to see how things are going. One woman spoke for a few and made it very clear that they think they should be getting paid. She said they think they are good enough to work without the teacher now. The fact that she then went and ran her four thread machine for half an hour without noticing it only had three thread in would suggest that this was not the case. And we are still producing as many pants that need repairs, hand stitching or are seconds as we do ones that are saleable first time round. It’s really hard. I want to pay them, really. I’m no gangmaster, I’m no slave driver. But while we are ticking along with sales through the website, they are not making enough good pants for me to do any sales and marketing pushes and so we are not generating enough income to pay them. We can get grants to pay for training, but we have to show receipts from the trainer so we can’t divert money or use it for different things. We just do not have the money to pay them, and it’s really hard to get that message across. Not all of the women feel like this, and that’s great and wonderful. I do struggle with the idea that, as this woman said, ‘when you pay us we will be better but until then we don’t care’ – that’s NOT co-operation inaction, but something driven by very different motives or perhaps subject to very different pressures. I know that one women became subject to dramatic levels of domestic violence after she engaged with us (and ultimately had to leave us as she had to move away) and so it’s always in my mind that this is a real possibility, even if it’s unlikely. I also struggle with the idea of the women having to leave – it may well be that there are family pressures on them that make going out and earning ok, but going out and having fun less ok. I don’t know quite what to do here and am very glad I have my Committee to go to for help. I’m also glad that we had a very sociable lunch after this meetings, with lots and lots and LOTS of cake.

Think that’s all for today. It’s freezing in our office, again, and we are too poor to put the heating on really. I’m a bit tired of being broke, both here and at home. It seems so barmy to me that something as arbitrary and invented as money can cause such problems. I know it’s relative and that I have a house all to myself (well, I say that. Two cats take up an awful lot of sofa/bed and leave so much fluff everywhere I tend to sit down only rarely) but it’s hard when things like roofs/floors/ceilings/fences/sheds/bikes/heating/showers all break at once and I can’t afford to fix them 😦 And hard when we’ve no money t pay people. Someone find me a lottery ticket or a leprechaun, please.

Goodness me, I’ve written a lot today! Just a last few things. I had a brilliant opportunity to go and meet the wonderful folk of the Mark Thomas Mailing List on Friday night. They have very kindly supported us by donating money and paying for our lovely finance system for a year, It was great to be able to say thank you in person (and drink gin and wiffle at them of course) Big thanks to our smashing bookkeepeer Helen for the ticket and making it possible for me to go, and for the sterling work she is doing on our accounts – we are very nearly ready to have our first ever AGM, nd our first ever accounts. It feels very grown up and totally bewildering but Helen does a very good job of getting me to understand it.

Ooh, those of you who follow me on twitter will know that I have been sadly bike less for a few days. Well, my trusty steed is back with me and riding like a dream. The bottom bracket had failed catastrophically and apparently took quite some effort to remove. My very generous brother paid for the wonderful wonderful chaps at Rock and Road Southampton http://www.rocknroadcycles.co.uk to get the bit and fit it and I picked it up yesterday. We had a joyful cycle together the Common and I feel quite myself again.

Happy voting everyone, more next week… when we’ll know who’s behind the big black door.


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Pants closed Thursday 8th and Friday 9th April

Hi everyone,

In haste, a very quick note to explain why we are unexpectedly closed for a few days. The short story is I have to take some time out else I’ll burst, and Della, the other keyholder, has been evacuated from her flat due to fire and kind of has other issues on her mind right now. Long story below.

I have worked myself silly over the last few months, and so an old friend, the lovely itchy delight eczema, came back to see me. A lot. To the extent that a week ago I couldn’t open my eye. Ew! After paying almost £60 for prescriptions of pills, potions and creams, I reluctantly admitted defeat and took some leave. I was due to come back in tomorrow. Yesterday, blissfully, I started to relax and remembered what it was to feel enthused and energetic. I like it.

Then, at half eleven last night, I got a text from Della. If you live in Southampton or even Hampshire you may well have heard about this fire http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/7987499.Two_firefighters_die_tackling_blaze/ Della lives in that block. She and her partner had been evacuated, and are thankfully safe, but that meant that I had to come in today to open up for the sewing session. Losing my last day of leave.

Now I have to say, I feel a bit greedy and indulgent for taking any leave at all, particularly when we’re talking about raging infernos, evacuations and firefighters losing their lives. But I know I need to rest and I know I’m not very good at relaxing, so I’m going to have to explain myself to salve my own conscience. I did had a fairly spectacular breakdown a few years back, due to working myself silly to forget about my past. It’s not wise kids. And I didn’t spot the signs but I was doing the same thing again. My Committee pointed out to me that a significant risk to the business was me going off sick for a month with stress, so I think that, all in all, it’s wisest if I consolidate the leave I have had with two more days now, than risk going doolally again.

This means that we are going to be closed from about 4 today until 9am Monday, and I’m sure that you, lovely people that you are, will understand.

In brief other news, the women who are in today had a great day and we had a fab and interesting conversation about the election. They are really interested in it, so we’re goign to have an info session on it. Anyone got any suggestions for where I can get info on the main parties?

Thanks everyone


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