International Women’s Day: Celebrating #SELondon Women

This International Women’s Day (March 8) all over the world women will be celebrated for their achievements; from the work they do, the people they care for, the innovations they create, the opportunites they give to others: a revered and celebrated way of recognising the social, cultural, political and economically achievements globally.  Rosanna Head

Here at south east London blog, we reached out to the community to hear from female heroes, innovators and entrepreneurs, working and striving to give value and support back to the community to make it a better place to live.

Tracy Douthwaite

I started my own business Happy Life from my spare room in Herne Hill in 2018; providing Mental Health Awareness, well-being and mindfulness training and support to businesses and communities. Part of the change from senior management in a mental health small charity to going it alone was to live my values and have a work/life balance, at the time my husband was ill and juggling work, home and caring was taking it’s toll. I think unfortunately this burden still mainly falls to women, either with small children, older parents or both we are still expected to be able to do it all and I think this is a dangerous myth.  When I provide training to businesses it is mostly women in the room.

I’m so lucky to be doing something I love and I’m passionate about making a difference to local communities and workplaces, connection is a key to well-being, be learning, sharing and connecting together small change can make a big difference.  I have been working with Bell House  in Dulwich over the last year delivering a series of talks and workshops around mental health, looking at ways we can make changes to support ourselves, the most recent one was .How to develop confidence though self care’, we always have bursary places available so no one is excluded. I would love to partner with other community locations to deliver events.

A year ago my husband died suddenly during an operation, the shock and the grief was overwhelming. I also realized a large part of my identity as a carer, a wife had been taken away from me overnight, I felt adrift.  Although this last year has been unbelievably challenging I found a strength and determination to carve out a new identity. My work has been part of my process of recovery, connecting with people, to talk about how we can learn to lead healthier, happier lives whatever the circumstances, dispelling myths about mental health and grief and making my voice heard. Over the next year I’m planning to write more and develop a network of community events supporting women to have the confidence to make life changes and learn about themselves, because until we really know ourselves we cannot know our path in life. Alongside continuing my work within organisations challenging mental health stigma and enabling us all to feel comfortable having a mental health conversation.

Nikki Spencer

I’m Nikki Spencer and I am Director of D.I.S.C.O at Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet! We put on feelgood 70s & 80s disco nights for grown ups in London and the south east and also do private parties and corporate events and festival sets. 

Why should the kids have all the fun!? There is so much emphasis placed on youth and getting older is seen as a bad thing, but it’s actually a good thing because it means we are still here! Just because we are in our 40s and 50s & 60s doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be able to go our dancing and enjoy ourselves. In fact one of the things I like most about HSDY is when you get mums and dads partying with their older kids (anyone over 18 is welcome) and different generations are all dancing together.

Someone said the other day that HSDY makes them feel so good I should be on the NHS & that kind of sums it up. Our nights, which happen most months somewhere in SE London and three times a year in North London too, mean people have somewhere where they can go and have fun and forget about their troubles for a night and just dance their socks off. Dancing is so good for our mental health & physical health too.

We are a big supporter of the local community and always use local small businesses whenever we can from DJs and dancers and sound and light suppliers to printers face painters. We sell tickets through local indy shops as well as online ( and we also give 10% of profits to Cancer Research UK.

I started HSDY in my late 40s because I wanted to go out dancing and couldn’t kind anywhere to go. Much as I love my daughters I didn’t want to feel like I was gate crashing one of their teenage parties! I can’t believe that we are now celebrating our 10th birthday and my disco journey has not only included nearly 100 parties for anything from 150-800 people but also doing events everywhere from Boxpark Wembley to St Pancras International.

Our future plans are to keep partying and providing a safe environment where women (and men) can enjoy themselves without judgement. We keep adding more nights at more venues and we have no plans to stop dancing any time soon!

Shona Chambers

I am Shona Chambers, I am a Marketing Consultant who helps small business owners. I also run Space at 61, a creative space for hire in Nunhead, near Peckham, which I use to run Networking and Training events for Small Business owners. The venue is also used by other people for classes for children, supperclubs, art exhibitions, film work and lots of other things!

Many small business owners are female. The stats are rather stacked against us in terms of business financing, its a known fact that women are discriminated against by banks and other lenders when applying for business finance. It is also often harder for women to make a start in business as they are often the primary carer for small children in the early years.  My networking group Self Employed Club which runs in 3 SE London Locations now, is primarily attended by women, although not just for women. I hear often from attendees that just knowing there is a friendly, supportive group, that they can attend every month, and grow relationships for their business from, helps them so much with their confidence, and connections. I feel in this way I support many women every month.

In the last 10 years I have self funded a cafe ‘The Dish and the Spoon’ that was used by many people in the Nunhead area from 2012-2016. Since then (2016-2020 ongoing) I have founded a Creative Space for hire ‘Space at 61’ used by many start ups to try out new ideas they may not find affordable space for otherwise.

In the last 2 years my networking group, recently rebranded to Self Employed Club has run every month providing a focal point in the SE London small business community. I am now expanding the network into Lewisham and Lambeth, from Southwark, and hope to continue expanding over the coming years helping more people

Having worked in the corporate world for 10 years in Marketing, in 2011 I was made redundant and as a new parent myself decided to renovate a run down business unit in SE London, to provide a community space Cafe Deli – The Dish and the Spoon Cafe.  I was turned down for business finance by the banks, so decided to raise the money myself by selling my family home. I feel in the time I have been the tenant at 61 Cheltenham Road, from the Cafe to the Event Space now, I have helped many people in the local community to find each other, be a little less lonely and provide a focal point in the SE London area.

My plans for the future? More of the same, I may go wider than London with the Self Employed Club brand, as having set that up on Instagram with an Insta Challenge in January, I had people all over the country reaching out and asking when I was coming to their neighbourhoods. There seems to be a real gap in the market for a friendly, community driven group that embraces everyone, and fosters collaboration over community. Most of the people who attend are women.

Joyce Cronin and Louisa Bailey

The Bower is a community interest company and a collaborative project between Louisa Bailey and Joyce Cronin. Based in a former public toilet and old park keepers hut in Brunswick Park Camberwell, we organise exhibitions and events and produce books with artists and writers on site. We also run a community cafe in the park every weekend open Fri-Sun.

Joyce is a gallery manager and organiser of exhibitions and events, having worked with galleries and art organisations such as Matt’s Gallery, Studio Voltaire and Afterall. She also teaches Contemporary Art Exhibitions & Event Management at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. Louisa worked as Book Buyer for the ICA Bookshop before setting up Luminous Books and is the Sales and Distribution assistant at Book Works. We began collaborating in 2013 and 2014 consecutively, we set up Finishing Touch, a pop-up project based in a former barber shop where we programmed a series of events, screenings and performances – a precursor to The Bower.

Our artistic programme responds to the context of these unique properties and the locality and is driven by our interest in sociopolitical and feminist practice. We are a woman-run feminist organisation, programming the work of women artists which is in part financed by the cafe.

We work with local suppliers in the cafe. We renovated two derelict buildings in Brunswick Park, bringing new life to them for the benefit of artists and the local community. We organise a range of free events in the park including the annual Brunswick Park film screenings 2018 and 2019

We found the empty and derelict buildings and ran a crowdfunder to renovate them. We have had no private backing or financial support other than grants from Arts Council England, Southwark Council and trusts and foundations. We have defeated all the odds to get the project off the ground, when everyone said it would be impossible, as the building had no electricity, water, windows or doors- and we continue to juggle other commitments – other jobs, family etc. in order to keep the project going.

In 2019, we received a Civic Award from Southwark Council and the Mayor of Southwark – the Honorary Liberty of the Old Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell- for our contribution to art, culture and the community.

Our plans for the future include a programme of exhibitions including Olivia Plender’s work which looks at the impact austerity has had on women, working with women’s groups to read a play by the Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst. A radio project with Rosa-Johan Uddoh developed from her research into Una Marson, a British/Jamaican activist, radio producer, presenter, and poet; the first black radio producer at the BBC in 1942. And developing our project for children Bower Builders – a radical brownies initiative engaging children with issues around empowerment and social justice, more info here. As well as that we have just been awarded a grant from Southwark Pioneers Fund to develop our work at the cafe, expanding our opening hours and applying for an alcohol license and outdoor pizza oven.

Jessica Rimoch

My name is Jessica Rimoch and I’m the founder of Jarr Market, a zero waste shop in Herne Hill that allows customers to cut down on their consumption of packaging and food waste. We sell a large variety of unpackaged food, toiletries and cleaning products, as well as a range of reusable items such as water bottles, coffee cups and other items that are eco-friendly. We are a women-run company with four women running the business and we’re open six days a week.
I believe in forming my business around my own values. The first of these values is a concern for the environment, for this reason we sell most of our products without packaging, and allow customers to bring their own. We also source plant-based, ethical and independent suppliers who share our values and are doing their part to provide organic, ethical and biodegradable products in a circular loop system. For example, our cleaning products, our granola and our oils are sent to us by various suppliers who will provide bulk tubs of product for us, which we can send back to be cleaned, refilled and sent back to us in a completely zero-waste system. However, we also believe in providing a healthy working environment for our employees and pay London Living Wage to support them.
As concern for the environment grows, communities are faced with limited options for shopping sustainably. As supermarkets do little or nothing to curb the problems of waste, Jarr Market steps in to provide a solution. We also plan to begin having events and workshops in the shop for our community to allow for a place of learning and growing together. The shop also supports the community by sourcing from local independent suppliers who share our values.
Two years ago, I was working in a normal office job, and I was growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of sustainable options available in London. At some point I decided to quit my job and tried to think of the way one single individual could have the biggest impact on environmental causes. I started Jarr with my own savings and it has grown in six months to sustain itself as well as four employees. The shop is dedicated to my mother, who I remember being an eco-warrior when I was little.
The success of the shop has meant that we’re ready to expand, we’re currently looking at properties around London and plan to open another few shops at least in order to provide Londoners with sustainable shopping near them. We’d also love to start hosting events with female speakers on sustainability topics, start building up our newsletter and blog and continue building the business around our values.

Sarah Parrott, Write Sparks

Sarah Parrott is the owner of Write Sparks, an organisation committed to inspiring writing for pleasure. As an experienced teacher and English Leader, Sarah supports schools and organisations with the teaching of writing and leads innovative creative writing classes and events for writers of all ages. This year, Sarah has launched Creative Writing for Creative Mothers, an online course supporting women to document their experience of motherhood through writing poetry, memoirs, letters, stories and more. A donation is made from every place booked to Panda’s UK, who support families coping with prenatal and postnatal mental illness. Everyone is welcome on the course and I offer free and subsidised places for anyone who needs them, with no prerequisites. 

I’m a South Londoner born and bred; my family and I love living in Forest Hill. I taught in SE London schools for many years and I now run my creative writing classes for children at Moon Lane Books, SE23. Every school holiday I run Wild Writing with another fantastic SE London female entrepreneur, Holly Dabbs of Foxglove Forest School. They are days filled with creative writing, art, team games, den building and campfire cooking for 4-12 year olds and we’ve run at sites across SE London. 

I was a teacher in SE London for many years before going on maternity leave. I loved my job and, although it’s by no means easy, I never wanted to do anything else. I had every intention of returning to my job, however, life had other plans for me! Before our baby was born, we knew that he wouldn’t be well. He is beautiful, funny and spirited, but he has complex medical needs. It soon became clear that I wouldn’t be able to return to teaching in school, as he needs more care than most and we spend lots of time in hospital. 

Despite adoring my job, it wasn’t a difficult decision to leave my lovely school, as my boy now needed me more. During one of the seemingly endless night feeds, I realised that there was a way that I could still teach and share my passion for writing, but work around my son’s needs. Soon after, Write Sparks was born. For the last couple of years, I’ve loved teaching weekly creative writing classes for young people, working with schools and organisations to promote and improve the teaching of writing and delivering writing workshops and events at a huge range of settings and festivals.

One of the true joys of building Write Sparks, other than finding work that works for my family, has been embracing opportunities that would never have otherwise come my way and meeting and collaborating with some wonderful women; business owners, leaders, authors, illustrators, web designers and teachers. 

This year, I will be expanding my online Creative Writing for Creative Mothers course to enrol more women and to widen our community. It’s been an absolute joy to watch the women on the course interact with each other and support each other on their journey through motherhood. I will also be continuing to work with children and young people across SE London to inspire them to write for pleasure! I’m looking forward to more collaborations with SE London’s community of strong, inspirational women.

Teresa Holmes and Ana Gomez – co-owners of ‘L’Oculto Cocina’ Restaurant, Wine Bar and Shop at 325 Brockley Road SE4 2QZ
Ana and Teresa source and import small-batch, natural, organic and biodynamic wines direct from producers across Spain as well as artisan, raw-milk cheeses and charcuterie. In 2019 their wine list wine them the ‘Best Specialist Spain Retailer at the Decanter Awards for the second consecutive year.
Our restaurant on Brockley Road serves, tapas and racciones (larger than tapas) alongside their award-winning wine menu from Tuesday to Saturday evenings and Friday and Saturday lunch times. With all wines, cheeses and charcuterie available retail.
We have created a lovely little place for people to come together, to enjoy good food, good wine and good times. Our wine list has grown from a huge amount of hard work, time and dedication and we love sharing it with everyone that comes in. We bring wines that are hard to find and each with their own story to tell. Some of our wines have a total yearly production of less than 1,000 bottles per year. We love nothing more than sharing these with the community and introducing something different.
I’m not sure we are the right people to say that our story is inspiring. All I can say is that we can look back and know that we worked as hard as we possibly could to create a neighbourhood restaurant with a difference and in that time, gained a good reputation for serving good food and an original and award-winnning wine list, from scratch and we did it because we believed in what we were doing.
Our plans are to introduce even more wines to our list that have been produced by women. We have several now but we are looking to grow the offering as they are doing incredible things in Spain right now, as they are all over the world. We are also looking to introduce lots of new events to the restaurant for 2020.

The image, Tricia Keracher Summerfield of Portrayed Photography.

Emma Fulton
I am a career coach, supporting women with children to finding meaning and purpose from their work particularly after they become parents. I am especially passionate about supporting women to find work that brings them into closer alignment with who they are and allows them to contribute to the world while also earning a living.
I work with women! I support women to work out what they really want, what will give them fulfilment and meaning and that also allows them to make the most of their talents and interests.  The world needs many more women that doing this!
I work with a lot of women in the local area and offer support. I also collaborate with a local (Greenwich) nursery and run group programmes for some of the mums there. I am also launching a series talks for local working women, which will focus on the myriad issues that we face as mothers who work.

I became a single parent when my son was only 6 months old, which threw my life into a crisis and had a huge impact on my career and my ability to do my job. As is often the way, this crisis also contained the seeds of growth and transformation in my life and through it I realised that I was not well suited to my work and I went on a bit of a voyage of discovery to find work that felt good. I discovered coaching and breathed a huge sigh of relief. It was then a logical step to set up a coaching business supporting other women with children to find work that they love.  I absolutely love my work now, which I do around caring for my (now) three children. My story is here (

I am launching a series of talks on subjects that will support women with their careers. The talks will inspire and uplift and also be really useful and a great opportunity to meet other local women. I’m holding  be held at the Cafe of the Conservatoire in Blackheath.

Lorraine Liyanage

My name is Lorraine Liyanage and I run two South London businesses. The first is the SE22 Piano School that I established back in 2007. The second is one I set up more recently to bring gut health and fermentation skills to South London (and abroad!). It is called South London Ferments and I run workshops on all things fermentation including making kimchi.

I have an 11 year old daughter and I passionately believe that it is my job to be a role model for her. To show her how to use her own skills and passions to create the career she wants, to be financially independent and live life on her own terms.

I have been a part of this community for over 12 years and am proud to be able to contribute to the education of not only the children at SE22 Piano School, but also the adults who study with us and the growing community of South-East Londoners looking to enhance their wellbeing, personal growth and development.

My story is one of big life changes when I turned 40. Spurred on by a marriage breakdown and potential health issues, I set about finding ways to not only look after my own well-being, but also provide a secure and stable financial situation for myself and my daughter. My passions in life are music and fermentation so to be able to create sustainable business ventures in both those areas is something I am very proud of. I am very fortunate that they also allow me to meet and collaborate with so many amazing people within our fantastic South London community.

I work with a fantastic team of women at the SE22 Piano School and offer flexible working opportunities. Having set up the business just before I became pregnant in 2007, I’m fully aware of the challenges of juggling childcare and work. I am very excited to expand my fermentation business and will be recruiting someone to work alongside me later this year so watch this space. Profile image by John Iona.

Annabel Jeffcoate

Yourstyle Fitness empowers women to step into their confident self, connect as a community so that they and their children can live anxiety and depression free. We do this through local fitness classes, motivation and confidence coaching and nutritional support. As a holistic lifestyle studio in south east London we support you to find out what you require as an individual to feel fitter, healthier, happier and more confident in terms of health, relationships, finance and career. One step at a time. Let us get there together.

We are a female led company of women supporting women. Self funded and build from success stories and females stepping into their confident self and understanding how to get themselves back on track no matter what life throws at them.

We have created open community events such as ‘Take control of your life in 2020 to feel fitter, healthier, happier and more confident’ and ‘Meet thy neighbours’ a successful event to bring the community together to lower rates of isolation to prevent feelings of depression and anxiety. 

Yourstyle fitness was built by myself whilst recovering from a relationship breakdown that left me homeless and in 20k worth of debt. Now that debt is cleared and I am financially independent with a profitable business that serves the community. The lessons I have learnt have structured our teachings and served many women to Get that Body Back and Get confident one step at a time. Together. 

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