Women dig new careers as companion gardeners – Henley Standard

Monday, 23 January 2023
Delivering the news from Henley on Thames and South Oxfordshire for over 100 years
23 January 2023
THE founder of a gardening company has launched a new platform to help more women start their own businesses.
Janet Wood, of Boston Road, Henley, created WeWeed in August 2020 when her previous company lost its clients due to the coronavirus pandemic.
WeWeed hires women as self-employed, professional and companion gardeners to help customers with their gardens while also being someone they can talk to.
Ms Wood has spent the last year creating a new website to support more people nationwide to become self-employed by creating profiles, including their qualifications, insurance and pictures.
It offers advice on the different aspects of starting a business, including managing clients and customer service, and also enables people to create invoices.
Ms Wood, 48, who lives with her partner Richard Pereira, said: “It became clear to me that there was a great need, not just for gardeners in general, but specifically women gardeners who could offer companionship just as much as physical help or creative flair.
“A lot of people don’t have confidence to start on their own. I want women to be able to say, ‘Yes, I can do this’, even if they don’t have any gardening experience.
“It also doesn’t need to be a full-time job, it can just be a couple of hours a week.
“There are so many benefits this job has for mental and physical health which I hadn’t realised when I started.
“It gets you outside, it can be a way to do something different when you burn out from your corporate job, it’s so creative and it gives you time to think and time to talk. It’s so good for people with confidence issues as well.”
She came up with WeWeed after Silent Customer, which she founded 14 years ago and specialised in helping pubs and restaurants improve their customer service, was no longer making enough money.
She initially started a craft business, Decoupage Days, for friends to learn to make their own Christmas decorations at workshops and supplied DIY kits for them to host their own days.
She also sold pots, furniture and other items she had decorated but it was still not enough.
Then she thought about her love of gardening and “allotment life” and made a Facebook page. This led her to landing her first client the next day.
Ms Wood said: “I kept getting more and more enquiries each day so I started bringing on more women who were just looking for a way to make a bit more money to work with me.
“Since we work side by side with the clients who know their gardens, those of us who were less experienced with gardening learned a lot from them. For me, that’s way better than sitting in a classroom doing a course.”
The gardeners can work one-to-one with clients but there are also bigger projects which require more hands, such as one assignment to plant 5,000 trees in a garden.
Anna Roberts, 54, from Caversham, has been working for WeWeed since February when she saw a post on Facebook from Ms Wood who was looking for more “weeders”.
She used to help her husband with landscape gardening more than 15 years ago and was also a part-time teaching assistant and book-keeper.
When she developed rheumatoid arthritis 10 years ago she had to stop working at schools due to the immunosuppressants she was taking.
Mrs Roberts then stopped gardening because her joints were “falling apart”.
However, after her wrists were fused and she began some new medication which stopped her getting flare-ups and inflammation, she decided to try again. She said: “I got on with Janet extremely well. I told her all of my physical limitations but she was just pleased with my knowledge.
“I now get to work on some incredible gardens and although I’m a bit slower than other gardeners, my knowledge is pretty good.
“I work about 20 to 25 hours per week gardening and I still do book-keeping. Nobody has complained yet about me being too slow and people seem to be happy with the work I do.
“Sometimes I have someone with less experience who will work with me so that they can learn from me while also giving me an extra hand.
“I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed it. I learned to work around my limitations so, for example, I can’t lean on the ground properly because my wrists are fused so I lean on my knuckles.
“I think it’s fabulous that Janet has created this website to get more people doing this. She even invited me to help with the making of it so I did proofreading and testing. I’m so proud to have been involved.
“I hope with all my heart that it takes off like I think it should. The main thing is getting customers to go look for weeders on the website.
“Quite a few new people have registered. We’ve had a couple of men saying it was sexist that we were looking for women but anyone can join, we don’t want to exclude anyone.”
Sammi Davenport, 52, from Swyncombe, is a freelance embalmer who had already been doing a bit of gardening work before she met Ms Wood.
She came across her post on Facebook and wanted to know more. Mrs Davenport said: “We spoke on the phone for about half an hour and I felt like I’d known her my whole life.
“The nature of my job meant there were days when I had no work. Once I spoke to Janet, I got to work straight away and quickly had regular clients as well as the one-off jobs working with the other girls — it’s lovely also being able to work together.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction in the job when you walk into a garden and it looks a real mess as the owners don’t spend time out there and then being able to make it look nice for them.
“A lot of them enjoy gardening with you, which is nice.
“This website is a great idea. It’s nice for people to know they can have someone come along and make their garden nicer and it’s great if more women get into gardening as a career because it’s good for the mind and soul and it’s a good form of exercise.”
Suzanne Thetford, who lives in Henley, was always big on gardening but had to stop doing much work in her garden due to age.
Her daughter, Sally Cross, contacted Ms Wood after she was recommended to her by a neighbour.
Mrs Cross said: “My mum is quite specific so we needed someone who was good at listening and working to exactly what my mum wanted.
“It has been great for her because she has always loved her garden and she has a massive one, which she can’t manage herself.
“She has a lot of knowledge on gardening and has done courses throughout her life.
“It has also been so great for her to have some company from Janet, who is very personable and good with my mum. She lives on her own and she’s fiercely independent and thinks she doesn’t need any help but she accepted the help for her garden.
“Her only worry was that, being a woman, Janet wouldn’t be strong enough to do all the things she wanted done but I’ve always been an advocate for strong women, being a strong one myself, and she proved that she was completely capable.
“Janet goes on a Friday and sometimes I’m there and I have a chat with her. I really value knowing that she’s there with my mum.”
For more information, visit www.weweed.co.uk
community , groups , gardening
23 January 2023
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