As childcare costs rise, two thirds of mums surveyed* said they would love to run a business from home. Taste Derbyshire spoke to three mums who have made the dream a reality by turning their passion for food into a family-friendly business.
Sitting in a sun-drenched café in Derbyshire, Michelle Belsom and I are talking about our love of food and whether to indulge in a cookie with the giant Maltesers, the brownie with the cherries on top or plump for our mutual favourite; the fruit scone.
Michelle offers to treat me as she’s not had time to eat. “I work lunch-times as a cook at a nursery school. I do 18 hours a week so I’m around to do the school pick-up and drop-off for my five-year-old son Jack,” she smiles. “It also gives me time for my side-hustle.”
The side-hustle is her fledgling business Pickleberry Preserves, inspired by her son’s baby nickname ‘pickle’ and the berries she packs into her jars. Michelle, of Mickleover,is one of the increasing band of mothers attracted by the flexibility of becoming their own boss. The mum economy has grown by 30 per cent since 2013 according to a survey commissioned by eBay. Far from being a side-hustle, mums are helping to generate £7.2bn in revenues and support 204,000 jobs.
“I always wanted to have a business related to food – it’s something I’ve loved doing ever since I was a child cooking with my nanna June. She was a game-keeper’s wife who made everything and when I got married in 2010 she gave me her preserving pan,” says Michelle (36), who was originally from North Yorkshire. “I’d always made cakes for family and friends and people were always telling me how much they loved the jam and curd fillings. When Jack was due to start school last September, I launched Pickleberry Preserves and realised I’d found my true passion – and a use for nanna’s pan.”
As Michelle describes the process of perfecting her range of jams, marmalades and chutneys – she often rings the changes seasonally so look out for a summer special flavoured with Buck’s fizz – it turns out she must be the only woman in the country happy to spend Saturday nights in a hairnet slaving over a hot stove.
“I spend a lot of time over steaming pans of sugary fruit, I’m not sure it will catch on as a facial but I love every minute,” she laughs. “I studied criminology and I’ve had corporate jobs but, throughout everything, I’ve had that deep connection with cooking and food. It’s at the heart of every family event, happy or sad – it’s what makes those occasions memorable. When I’m cooking, I’m at my most relaxed. If you’re going to run a business around your family, it may mean a lot of long hours – so make sure it’s something you really believe in.”
She claims not to mind the packed time-table. “I get such wonderful feed-back and it’s great when customers send me pictures of my preserves on a table at someone’s Christmas dinner or party and I realise something I made was part of their life,” she says. “Running my business means I can plan my hours around Jack. He’s such a sweetheart. At one of the fairs, he stood by my stall yelling ‘It’s red so buy the jam’. I call him my helper-elf. My husband Rob is also a great help with my labelling, accounts and setting up at food fairs. He’s also there to say ‘You’ve got this’ when I’m having a wobble.”
“Support from family, friends and a network of business people can make the difference between success or failure,” says Jenny Ryan, mum-of-two and founder of the Derby-based Women Rocking Business social networking group. “There’s a misconception that working from home means sitting on the sofa in your PJs and playing around on social media. The reality is lots of early starts and 2am finishes and it can be very isolating. I meet women who’ve only spoken to their children, partner and the postman all week. It’s not the easy option.”
Jenny, a self-employed photographer, has been there and suffered burn-out as a result. “I think women are still seduced by the idea of ‘having it all.’ It’s tempting to think you can run a home, family and a business and have the house perfect again when your partner gets home. You have to make peace with the fact you can only do one thing at a time. If that means turning down work so you can help the children with homework or go to the park – that’s fine.”
Ali Wand (38), who runs the Beautiful Food Company from her home in Quarndon, can testify to the benefits of Women Rocking Business meet-ups. “They are very informal, often held at coffee shops, and it’s great to feel part of a community,” she says. “Working from home can be isolating.”
Although her mum is an ‘amazing cake-maker’, Ali discovered her talent for baking almost by chance.
“My mum was retiring and her colleagues were talking about getting her a ready-made cake and I just thought a badly baked homemade cake would be better than a shop-bought one,” says Ali who is mum to Charlotte (14) and Lucy (12).
“I used mum’s old Mark and Spencer recipe book to make a fruit cake and it worked beautifully. From then on, I always made birthday cakes for my girls, and friends started to ask if I’d make ones for them. But I was too self-conscious to charge very much and I realised selling to friends was a non-starter as a business.”
When Ali moved to Quarndon in 2017 with her partner Chris Hands and his children Lexy (12) and Madison (10), she realised all those years perfecting her baking and sugar-craft techniques presented a ‘now or never’ opportunity.
“We moved from South Normanton to Derby just before Charlotte was due to start at senior school. I didn’t like the thought of her coming home to an empty house so I left my sales and admin’ job to start-up the cake business again with the plan of doing corporate afternoon teas,” she explains “The turning point came when I had a stall at a Christmas fair in Ashbourne and made some iced gingerbread biscuits in shapes like reindeers and baubles. They were a sell out and so I made some ballet themed shortbreads and posted pictures on social media and got an immediate order for twenty boxes from a dance school.”
Ali realised she had stumbled across a gap in the market for bespoke biscuits; “Unfortunately, it took about 15 goes to recreate that first batch,” she laughs. “The mixture was either too hard and cracked or too soft and it would lose its shape. I think I cried over a pile of crumbs a few times until I perfected the recipe.”
Looking at Ali’s social media pages, it’s hard to believe these picture-perfect bakes – wizards, dinosaurs, rabbits and rockets – are all from the kitchen of a hard-working mum. Or that she felt nervous about taking her wares to local cafes and shops.
“It took a few months for me to pluck up the courage to take a basket of biscuits around shops and cafes. The first one was POINTSIX on Kedleston Road in Derby. I turned up without an appointment and with a little speech prepared and I think all I manged to say was I live up the road and make biscuits. The owner, Jen Simmons, was so great and just said her children would love them and placed an order. This gave my confidence a real boost.” “The children have been wonderful – not just as tasters. They help me to box and label and they still love my bakes. I asked Lucy if she’d like a cake for her birthday and she said she’d rather have my biscuits.”
Katie Botha (37), of Risley, is another mum whose flair with food lent itself to a business idea; “I have always been a foodie. My husband Ant is from South Africa and I’m from Australia so we’re both used to a culture of eating outdoors and enjoying healthy fresh food,” she says when I ask how she came to launch Graze Derbyshire, which offers bespoke gourmet food-boxes, platters and special occasion table spreads. “Ant is a cricket coach and I’m sporty so we’ve always eaten well and our children eat what we’re having. I try to chop the fruit and vegetables and mix them up so the plates are colourful. When friends came over with their children I’d put out a table of healthy food, dips and nuts as well as a few sweet treats and they’d eat the lot. That’s when they said I should do this professionally.” Katie began her business 18 months ago, initially making-up boxes and platters. “I started with delivery boxes for date nights and teachers’ end of term presents and the business grew by word of mouth. I was asked to do bigger events and parties. In fact, it did get a little crazy with orders at the end of last year but I’m lucky to have a network of friends who can help and I get to meet some wonderful people,” says Katie who is mum to Jesse (10) and Jonty who is three.
“I still work four days a week as a project co-ordinator for a building firm so it’s important not to over-commit as time with the family is so precious. I go to Jesse’s sports fixtures and support the children as much as I can so it helps to have a structure to the week.” She smiles; “My advice to mums who run a business from home is to cut yourself some slack. When Jesse was younger, I used to like my house to be perfect but I know there’s more important things than a bit of dust.”
Contact Jenny Ryan of Women Rocking Business through her website
Contact Katie Botha at Graze Derbyshire by email; firstname.lastname@example.org
To commission Ali Wand for cakes or biscuits, contact via the website
For information of stockist or to order from Pickleberry Preserves; email Michelle at
• Survey by Direct Line for Business