The Women in Rural Enterprise network grew out of research carried out at Harper Adams – and two decades ago, it went national.
Since then, WiRE has grown, developed – and supported thousands of businesses. In this guest blog, WiRE director Polly Gibb OBE explains more about the network, its history – and its ongoing mission.
Our rural landscapes are alive with enterprise, and in the initial research from which WiRE grew, it was discovered that, nine times out of 10, women were driving farm diversification forward – working to develop new businesses.
The research also found that these women had no opportunities to link up with other entrepreneurs, were not able to access business training, and often lacked confidence despite having ambitious visions for growth. A conference was organised, and hundreds of people came along, travelling from the furthest tip of Cornwall and the far north of Northumberland.
It was clear that WiRE’s mission was striking a chord.
From there, our WiRE network grew and grew – as we went national, events began to take place all over the country – from East Anglia to Yorkshire.
Within a year of our national launch, we had more than 700 entrepreneurs signed up as members, and by the time Harper Adams secured funding to expand WiRE’s work in 2004, that network had doubled again to 1,500.
From there, the networks grew – linking women across rural communities, sharing knowledge, celebrating their successes, and providing a focal point and hub from which our members could access news, information and opportunities.
We continued to offer that practical business support – including access to WiRE networks across the UK where women in business share expertise and knowledge, build new skills, help boost confidence and support each other to build better businesses – throughout the following two decades and WiRE gained a reputation as a dynamic and positive force in the rural economy.
Networking continues to be the most important business benefit to women running rural businesses –?and at WiRE, we firmly believe that networks are by far the best vehicle for enabling business improvement.
The changes wrought by Covid affected our members, and inevitably had an impact on WiRE – and in the Autumn of this year, we decided to make some changes and return to the best place for a rural business network – the grassroots. We will be going into 2023 launching a new membership structure and a new format for network groups – more news on that soon.
But one thing was clear when we came to review everything we’ve done – and what we plan to do in the future: now, more than ever, women in rural businesses, and those thinking of starting one as the main or additional source of income, deserve our admiration and support.