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Henley Women in Business

In 2020 Henley is home to a variety of businesses, large and small, covering everything from the industrial to the bespoke. Many of these enterprises are owned and run by women and Henley Life has met with some to celebrate International Women’s Day.
International Women’s Day has been celebrated on March 8 every year since 1910. In the past 100 years women have come a long, long way.  In May of 1910 Queen Victoria’s eldest son Edward VII died and passed the throne to George V.  Women at that time, both rich and poor, were little more than chattels with few rights.
Women had no vote, even though the National Society for Women’s Suffrage was formed almost 40 years earlier in 1872.  In the early 1900s there were lots of different women’s groups campaigning for ‘Votes for Women’ and from the modern perspective we tend to lump them in together as Suffragettes. Some of the more famous women of that time, like the Pankhursts (Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia) were pursuing a campaign of action and militancy – breaking windows, setting fires, deliberately getting themselves arrested and subsequently going on hunger strike.  In 1913 Emily Davison famously threw herself in front of the King’s horse at the Derby, and died from her injuries.
When the Great War broke out in 1914 the Suffragettes quit their more provocative tactics in order to support the war effort. When the war ended in 1918 women finally got the vote, well the ‘right sort’ of women did. The Representation of the People Act (1918) gave the vote to every man aged 21 and to women aged 30 who met minimum property requirements.
As a result of the 1918 General Election the first woman was elected to Parliament. Countess Markievicz (née Constance Gore Booth) was an Irish revolutionary who refused to take her seat.  In the following year, Nancy Astor won a by-election and became the first woman MP to sit in Westminster. It wasn’t until 1922 that other women were elected and in later years Astor described her early years as an MP as “hell”. In 1928 parliament changed the law to allow both women and men aged 21 to have the vote.
Although women could now vote, the business world was still heavily biased against them.  The ‘Marriage Bar’ – a rule vetoing the hiring of married women (and often widowed women) existed in some industries until as recently as the 1970s.  The ‘Marriage Bar’ also required women to resign from certain jobs – often in the Civil Service and banking, once they married. 
Women are still underrepresented in both business and in parliament which makes our Henley Women in Business even more exceptional – they are bucking a national trend and succeeding whilst doing so. In this month's issue, meet some of our fantastic Henley Women in Business including Ailsa Bosworth MBE who founded the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, Debbie Atkins who turned redundancy into opportunity, lawyer Punam Denley who started her post-divorce life by launching her own law firm and Suzie Hobbs who has helped steer the well-known Henley boat firm into new (tonic) waters by launching Mr Hobbs Gin.
Ailsa Bosworth founded the award-winning charity the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) in 2001, following a struggle to access the treatment she needed. She received an MBE for services to people with rheumatoid arthritis in the 2016 New Year’s Honours List. Based in Maidenhead, NRAS is the only patient organisation in the UK with a specific focus on providing support and advocacy for the 400,000 people with rheumatoid arthritis and more than 12,000 children and young people with juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Ailsa led its development into an internationally respected and influential membership organisation for 18 years, before standing down as CEO in June 2019 to take on a new, parttime role as National Patient Champion (NPC), and to have more time to devote to her family.
As NPC, she contributes regularly to national and European guidelines and standards. NRAS is leading the way in the provision of supported self-management services and resources in rheumatoid arthritis, and Ailsa is currently developing a unique new e-learning programme, so that many more people can access the help they need, easily and conveniently. Name: Ailsa Bosworth MBE
Charity: National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS)
Position: Founder and National Patient Champion
Telephone: 01628 823524
Punam Denley set up Blanchards Law eight years ago, a family law practice.
“My intention was to spend more time at home with my children in Henley, away from the daily grind and commute to London,” she says. “I had recently been divorced myself, and my new partner (now husband) encouraged me and gave me the belief that I was capable of running my own business.
“He has been my mentor, my constant supporter, cheerleader and shoulder to cry on during those few tough moments.
“I probably ended up devoting less time with my children in the early years, and I think I was pretty naïve about that. Now that my firm is established, I’d like to think that I have a better work/life balance, and I hope that I am a good role model for my children, now in their teens with their own challenges.
“I never believed that it was possible to ‘have it all’ as a working mother, and that has not changed over the years.
“I recall the guilt about leaving my little boy in nursery when he was eight months old, but he doesn’t remember anything!
“A properly funded childcare system would make a dramatic difference to families’ lives, but that seems a long way off, and many companies are the poorer when their employee feels that they have no option but to leave to look after their family. “I want to create a better working environment in my company, and to support them when they need it. Having also experienced marital breakdown myself, I can have particular empathy for my clients’ situations.”
Name: Punam Denley
Company: Blanchards Law Ltd
Position: Partner, Solicitor, Mediator & Collaborative Lawyer
Telephone: 0845 658 6639



How would you describe your business and what you do today?
Hobbs of Henley is a family-run boating business in Henley-on-Thames which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. My husband Jonathan is the fifth generation. We have more than 50 boats in our fleet ranging from rowing boats to a 175 passenger Mississippi-style paddle steamer ‘The New Orleans’. I am the Business Development Manager at Hobbs of Henley, but also the co- founder of Mr Hobbs Gin which we launched three years ago to celebrate the founder of our business, Harry Hobbs (Jonathan’s great, great grandfather) and this year we will be commemorating our 150th anniversary by producing a new London Dry Gin ‘Mr Hobbs 150’.
How have things changed for women in the course of your career and what further changes would you like to see?
I think quite dramatically, thankfully with the Equality Act in 2010 there is now equal pay for equal work however I think we still have a long way to go. With a large share of care responsibilities continuing to rest with women, childcare support is a huge issue as childcare in the UK is the most expensive in the world. We do not make the same state investment in this sector as other European countries such as Finland. Half-day preschool education is free in Finland and full-day child care is heavily subsidised. They also have a female Prime Minister in her thirties and a cabinet which is predominantly female, they are really closing the gender gap there, I think we could learn a lot from them and as a mother of three daughters I am a huge champion of equality especially in the workplace.


What are your goals for the future?
We have a very skilled workforce at Hobbs but it is predominately male, I would like to see more women in our workforce and maybe even one of our daughters taking the reins one day! We also are becoming more and more aware of our carbon footprint, with the British Marine Federation setting a target to make the boating industry emission free by 2050 we have started the ball rolling here at Hobbs by looking at electric boats. Mr Hobbs Gin is continuing to grow and we have fantastic local support. In 2020 we would like to build on this and hopefully with the imminent launch of the Mr Hobbs 150 we can expand our distribution across more of the UK and potentially overseas.
Debbie Atkins is the Regional Director for the Reading and Henley Athena Network – connecting, training, inspiring and supporting women in business. She also has a Personal Training and Nordic Walking business.
“My business, now in its 10th year, has no perfect client,” she says. “If you possess a human body, I can help you achieve the unimaginable! “I do this using an ‘umbrella’ approach: Firstly, I deliver Nordic Walking sessions in Swallowfield and Whitchurch, and personal training sessions in Windsor. These two fitness offerings are supplemented with Synergyworldwide Health and Wellbeing products, of which I am a representative.
“Like many people, I found myself struggling to maintain my 17-year-long corporate career alongside raising two young children. “Redundancy then presented an opportunity to achieve both. While qualifying as a PT, I was introduced to Nordic Walking, and then a PT client later introduced me to the Athena Network.
“I instantly fell in love with the group’s vibe, and within a year, I had bought the Reading franchise. I have now been a Regional Director for six years and have six groups of 100 members across Reading and Henley. Being a member of the Athena Network has been life changing, and I am so grateful to be part of the ‘tribe’. “I am driven to connect people and businesses in order to achieve maximum success, and this is part of my role at Athena.
“I believe that the second half of your life can be the best. Throughout life, we accumulate valuable experiences which we can learn to repurpose and share with others. There is no work / life balance – all you need is to live your life to its fullest potential, be kind to yourself and all around you.”
Name: Debbie Atkins
Company: Reading and Henley Athena Network
Position: Regional Director
Telephone: 07834 861827
Sarah Pye is an artist creating large impressionist contemporary paintings, inspired by nature, life and light.
Colour is always foremost in her mind whether it’s a woodland scene, an explosion of wild flora or a coastal view, always created with a playful sense of fun. Her aim is to make you smile and she arrived at this point in her life via a very scenic route. She started working life as a hairdresser, but after a decade decided that she needed a change. Her father is a horticulturist and she had always loved the garden, flowers and having her hands in the soil generally, so she ‘swallowed’ the RHS guide to plants and planting and went into soft landscaping. She loved this job and was very happy and busy doing it for 15 years. But painting had started to creep into her life as her children grew up and here the passion began.
She’s been self-employed from the age of 18 and has never had very much business guidance, other than her own over exuberant enthusiasm and drive to move forwards. She admits she’s made mistakes along the way and she’s continually learning. Working for herself and being a woman has been a very empowering experience throughout her life. She says she has always been very lucky to have support from family and friends.
Time and business don’t ever stand still and she feels the moment that you do pause, someone else will just drop in to your space. Although her art is a job it is also something she loves with a passion, so it really doesn’t ever feel like work. If she can continue to paint and make people smile with her work, then she’s happy with her lot, but she will continue to stretch herself and hopes to reach just a little further afield as each year passes.
Sarah Pye Fine Art (contemporary impressionist)
Located - The Studio in Sonning Common
Contact -
Facebook- sarahpyefineart
Tel 07810 833617




For the past 11 years Laura Poole has owned and run Woofits Walkies --a friendly, professional dog walking service with doggy daycare and puppy visits around the Henley area. Having always loved and wanted to work with animals, and having a particular passion for dogs, she took a part-time position with a dog walking company called TwoDog whilst attending BCA college studying Animal Care. The owner Helen Whitaker eventually decided to sell up and so she took it on, expanded and it became Woofits Walkies.
Laura says: “I am grateful to have had a lot of support and encouragement from family and friends while developing a business I love.” She is incredibly proud of her company and the hard-working, conscientious team she has working for her. She continues:  “Over the years I have met some great people and enjoyed connecting with mutual doggie lovers and of course all the amazing doggies.”
Laura says she loves to support the community in any way possible and was so touched by the amazing turnout for her charity dog walk last year for the Sue Ryder Hospice in Nettlebed. She is organising another walk this year and looking forward to welcoming an even bigger procession of walkers and woofits. 
Tel: 01491 682580
Mob: 07947 828 367
Rebecca joined Philip Booth Esq, a local boutique estate agents, in 2019. Having grown up in Sonning, Rebecca moved to London after studying English Language and Literature at university to embark on a career in advertising and has worked with the directors of some of the
largest brands worldwide. Having started a family, Rebecca moved back to Berkshire, realising the commute into London was challenging. Rebecca combined her passion for property, interior design and face-to-face communication by seeking a career in real estate.
Rebecca says: “Being a mother and still managing to have a successful career was something I also wanted to do.
“Phil has provided me with a wonderful opportunity and I can honestly say I’m the happiest I have been for many years.
“When you work to a very senior level in any industry and have to potentially give up all that you have achieved, it is extremely difficult, both personally and financially.
“Working with Phil is one of the best experiences I have had, not only because I respect him as a person, but what he has achieved is nothing short of admirable and I am proud to represent his business.”
Phil Booth says: “As a family man myself, I am a strong advocate of flexible working arrangements.
“The world we live in is no longer just nine to five and many families need to have two sources of income and traditional gender roles have become more flexible. “It should no longer be the case that you should sacrifice your career, while looking after your family. I was happy therefore to work with Rebecca in creating a role that works with her current family situation, which I hope will evolve over time.
“We have a strong ethos of providing a highly personal service at Philip Booth Esq. The feedback I have received, from our customers, about Rebecca has been consistently positive and I believe she represents my company with energy and enthusiasm.”
Name: Rebecca Summerfield
Position: Senior Negotiator, Philip Booth Esq
Tel: (01491) 635343
Email: Website:


This Month's Issue

Henley Life March 2020