Monday, 29 February 2016

Women in Business

As you know I am passionate about empowering women to reach their full potential be it in their business life, family life or their personal life and as I have three daughters and a daughter-in-law I will never give up the fight for equality for women in both education and employment. Equality is not a luxury it is a right that we as women deserve.

We can be our own worst enemy allowing those internal feelings of self doubt paralyse us and stop us moving forward. We often lack confidence but as Shirley Conran says "Self confidence is the most important thing and comes from identifying your goals, knowing your limits and roping in all the help you can get". That's where women's associations and networking events are so important for women to attend so we can share ideas, discuss our problems, support each other and have fun.

International Women's Day is on March 8th and this year's theme is Pledge for Parity. So how do we want to celebrate International Women's Day? We can all pledge to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly and that is both women and men. We can try and help women and girls to achieve their ambitions, call for gender-balanced leadership and help them to realise the limitless potential they offer in all areas of life. It is estimated that the gender gap will not close entirely until 2133 as there is already a slowdown in the pace of progress we are making. We cannot and will not wait that long so we must continue to take action.

Women in Business Southampton are holding a conference 'She Leads' on Saturday March 5th at the University of Southampton from 10am until 5-30pm.

The next Wessex Women's Network meeting will be held at the Cloud Hotel on Wednesday 16th March at 6-30pm the speaker is Professor Jo Adams and her talk is about her research into Arthritis health.  I look forward to seeing you.

Remember if your 'dreams' don't scare you they are too small!

Life Begins At The End Of Your Comfort Zone'   Neale Donald Walsch

Get out of your comfort zone and fulfil your dreams


Tuesday, 9 February 2016

BBC Radio Solent Interview - Avril Owton MBE

In this BBC Radio Solent interview, Avril discusses 40 years at the Cloud Hotel and her experiences as one of the famous Tiller Girls.

Click here to download the interview.



Friday, 29 January 2016

Celebrating 40 Years in Business at The Cloud Hotel

This lovely article from the Southampton Echo was written following our 40th Year at The Cloud Hotel celebrations.

“I DIDN’T know the difference between a chorus line and a bottom line.”
Those are the words of Tiller girl turned Hampshire hotelier Avril Owton who celebrated 40 years in business this week.
New Forest District Council’s leader, Cllr Barry Rickman; chairman, Cllr Alison Hoare; chief executive, Bob Jackson; and the employment and tourism manager, Anthony Climpson, were among guests at special event to celebrate Avril’s four decades at the Cloud Hotel, Brockenhurst.
Avril’s husband Tom took over the hotel from his parents when they retired in the 1970s.
She learned the trade from the bottom up, starting with the washing up with a quick promotion to room maid and then helped her husband, who was the chef, with the cooking as well as caring for her four children.
In 1991, disaster struck: her husband died of a heart attack. “I soon found out there was no life insurance – he didn’t believe in it – and that I was stuck with a hotel we couldn’t sell because of the recession at the time.”
However, Avril, inspired by a magazine article which said “you are the steering wheel of your life” and decided she would take on the hotel.
“I always say I didn’t know the difference between a chorus line and a bottom line,” she says, recalling the days when she was a member of the celebrated Tiller Girls dancing troupe, famous for their high-kicking routine, performing at the London Palladium alongside the like of Judy Garland, Cilla Black and Bruce Forsyth.
Avril had to borrow heavily from the bank to update the premises: “It was a bit like Fawlty Towers in its d├ęcor – my late husband didn’t believe in en suite bathrooms or TVs in the rooms although I knew this was what people would want,” she says.
The investment paid off – the Cloud’s profits increased by 800 per cent and Avril became Hampshire Businesswoman of the Year in 1995.
“I attended business seminars and got proper training,” and she was eventually asked to join the prestigious Everywoman network.
She also founded the Wessex Women’s Network and in 2008 was awarded the MBE.
Now in her 70s and still running the hotel and her network.
“When I started our busiest time was the months of July and August, when people would come for their main summer holiday,” she says. “Now we’re a top destination for short breaks and the main season extends from March to October, you can drive here from London, or come on the train and be here in time for a walk before lunch,” she says.
Cllr Alison Hoare said at the event, “Avril is the most inspiring woman I have ever met. She is a woman who when the worst thing possible happened, rolled up her sleeves and turned the Cloud into the wonderful, award winning hotel it is today. She has raised incredible amounts of money for MacMillan Cancer charity and even found the time to write a book in 2007, ‘Delighting Your Customers’. Avril epitomises the values of the New Forest and the special unique qualities of the people who live here, success through hard work, but finding the time and commitment to help and inspire others.”
Anthony Climpson has known Avril for thirty of her forty years at the hotel and describes her as, “the inspirational hotel proprietor who is one of the New Forest’s greatest advocates.”

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Equality for Women!

I am a feminist. A feminist is someone who believes in the equality of women in all areas of life, political, economic, cultural, personal and social rights. Equality is not a luxury it is a right for women the world over and having watched the programme recently on the Power of Women and Hilary Clinton's speech in Bejing we still have a long way to go before we achieve equality.

As a business woman myself I have to be twice as good and twice as strong as men to get the respect in business a man would receive. I am then accused of being a hard woman but you have to become tough in business to run a successful and profitable business even in todays world of so called equality.

I have 3 daughters who are all intelligent hard working and excellent at their jobs but they too experience unfairness especially when it comes to equal pay! I will continue to fight for equality for the future of my daughters and granddaughters as this is the right of all women.

I founded the Wessex Women's Network in 2003 for women in the New Forest and surrounding areas to get together once a month to share their experiences, have fun and network and build their confidence. Thanks to Jan Hoy who now books the speakers the Network is still thriving and we have enjoyed many interesting and entertaining speakers this year. One that really stands out is Maureen Rose who was the dressmaker to the Queen,  her talk was so interesting and amusing we could have listened to her all evening but we had to leave time to enjoy a 2 course dinner with wine giving the ladies time to network whilst enjoying their coffee. Our next event is our Christmas dinner on December 5th when the ladies can bring their husband, partner or a friend to relax and enjoy the evening. We hold a raffle every year and this year proceeds will go to Wessex Heartbeat. There are still places left so if you would like to come along and enjoy a delicious Christmas Dinner with likeminded women call reception on 01590 622165.

I will be attending the NatWest Everywoman awards at the Dorchester Hotel in London on Dec 2nd. This is one of my favourite events of the year when we recognise women of all ages who have achieved and often overcome adversity to do so. I have been a judge for these awards for 7 years but this year missed the judging day due to illness, I was gutted.

I attended the Women of Our Time luncheon at the Chewton Glen on Friday November 6th. This event is held annually in aid of Oakhaven Hospice in Lymington. Sally Armstrong stepped in at the last minute to be the speaker as Lindy Woodhead  who had been booked had been taken ill. Sally spoke about her time as a stewardess on Concorde, she had never done a presentation before and it was interesting, amusing and fascinating. Well done Sally. I have just started reading her book 'Vintage Champagne on the Edge of Space'  about her life on Concorde, it's well worth a read I'm really enjoying it.

Finally I was delighted and honoured to be the recipient of this year's Woman of Our Time award. It was a complete surprise and quite unexpected I will cherish the beautiful glass bowl I received and I will continue to support Oakhaven Hospice and the wonderful work they all do to look after the patients.

It will soon be Christmas [where has this year gone?] and a New Year to look forward to.


Lisa Sowards

Take care



Friday, 27 February 2015

International Women's Day 'Make it Happen'

'Make it Happen' is the theme of International Women's Day which is on Sunday 8th March. All around the world International Women's Day represents an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality. I believe we still have a long way to go before we achieve equality but we must never give up and must keep fighting otherwise we will never make it happen for ourselves, our daughters, granddaughters and future generations.

At our last meeting on Thursday 26th February Sara Scott spoke to us about the history of the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton. It was not only a very entertaining talk but also very interesting and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Wessex Women's Network meets every month and I have watched many of the members grow in confidence and succeed during the past ten years since I founded it. We were able to congratulate two of our members at this meeting for their recent achievements. Jane Pitt Pitts was one of the original members of the Wessex Women's Network and I have watched her develop her business Confusion Glass and grow in confidence during this time. She has just been voted a trustee of the Royal Lymington Yacht Club, quite an achievement as she's the first woman to hold this position. Congratulations Jane, we are all very proud of you. Natasha Jones has just been voted Tesco Community Mum of the year 2015 for her baby Resuscitation Training that she founded after nearly losing her baby. Another great achievement and something to be so proud of.

We welcome women of all ages and all walks of life to our meetings,  it is not necessary to have a business because we are a support group for all women so as well as networking we have fun.

The next meeting is on  Tuesday March 24th when our speaker is Miriam King  She will be telling us how to make the most of our skin as we mature! Very important because to feel confident you need to feel good about yourself.

Don't forget to celebrate International Women's Day on Sunday March 8th and to wear purple. Purple symbolises justice and dignity- two values strongly associated with women's equality.

'Self confidence is the most important thing, and this comes from identifying your goals, knowing your limits and roping in all the help you can get' Shirley Conran author of Superwoman

Be confident!


Sunday, 10 August 2014

Inspirational Women

I feel very guilty that I have not written a blog for the Wessex Women for so long! We have had some very busy events with some entertaining and inspirational speakers thanks to Jan Hoy and we have welcomed many new members. On August 5th we decided to have a meeting dedicated to the members who were given the opportunity to promote their business and it is interesting to hear the variety of businesses that our members run. Some of our members are retired but they are able to pass on their experiences as well as be interested in the ladies stories. We always have alot of fun and as you can imagine it's not always business that is discussed! After the presentations we enjoyed a two course dinner with wine and lots of chat.

As probably most of you who know me, know how passionate I am about encouraging women to fulfil their dreams and reach their full potential. I still attend conferences and seminars to hear inspirational women speakers and continue to develop my own skills as I feel I still have alot to learn. I attended the Women 1st conference in June and was blown away by some of the speakers who had achieved so much often with quite a struggle. An example of how a women can achieve against all the odds is Jacqueline Gold of Ann Summers. I had the privilege of speaking to her and not only is she an inspirational woman but also a lovely lady. If you haven't read her autobiography
 'A Woman's Courage' can I suggest that you do. Courage is something we all need if we want to succeed.

Women 1st supports women in hospitality, travel, leisure and tourism and I am delighted that I have been shortlisted for the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Women 1st Shine Awards 2014 especially as I didn't even know I had been nominated! The prestigious award ceremony and dinner  will be held on September 16th at the London Marriott Hotel and I am really looking forward to an enjoyable evening.

I am also a great supporter of Everywoman Ltd and am looking forward to judging the NatWest everywoman awards in October these awards recognise women from all walks of life and all of ages who have succeeded in business and have often overcome amazing adversity.

The next Wessex Women's Network meeting is on Wednesday September 10th 6-30 for 7pm. Speaker is Marion Emery who is a professional speaker I look forward to seeing you.

Finally don't forget to put Friday 26th September in your diary and come and support the World's Biggest Coffee Morning to be held at the Cloud Hotel from 10-30 til 11-45pm all proceed go to Macmillan Cancer Support.

Take care and burn brightly but don't burn out!


Monday, 17 February 2014

Rain, rain go away and don't come back for many a day. I'm sure you are all fed up with the weather and I am really fed up with the reporting of the media who dramatise everything and affect businesses. My sympathy goes out to all those people whose homes and businesses have been flooded [my home was flooded 12 years ago so I know what it's like] but the whole of the South of England is not suffering from the floods so I wish they would be more specific. The New Forest is a large area and Brockenhurst is not flooded and the roads surrounding Brockenhurst are clear for people to visit. Not only is this negative reporting affecting businesses but it is also affecting people's jobs.

On a positive note the Wessex Women's Network met on February 13th to listen to Trevor Sapey give us an interesting and amusing talk on the Mary Rose. It was a very enjoyable evening and he certainly encouraged me to visit the Mary Rose Museum.

On Tuesday 11th February I went to the Mayfair Hotel in London to attend the Women 1st Top 100 Club reception and heard Carolyn McCall OBE Chief Executive of easy jet give an inspirational and thought provoking talk on her career and life as a working Mother of three. She took over easy-jet in 2010 and has transformed it into a successful airline. I always meet inspirational women at these events who motivate me and often give me new ideas for my business.

The next Wessex Women's Network event is on March 20th when author Shelby Locke will be giving a talk entitled 'What If' I look forward to welcoming you to the meeting and hopefully we will be experiencing some better weather by then.


"Giving people a little more than they expect is a good way to get back a lot more than you'd expect"

Robert Half

Til next time