Women who mind their own business

Along the length and breadth of our beautiful coastline, a collection of determined women are shaping and creating highly successful East Anglian businesses.

Along the length and breadth of our beautiful coastline, a collection of determined women are shaping and creating highly successful East Anglian businesses. DEBORAH WATSON meets just a few of them to hear their stories.


CHARLIE ASHWELL, 32, has found her way back home to our region by taking on her own hospitality business.

She and husband, Richard, own and run the Blyth Hotel in Southwold.

She says: “Having grown up in Norwich, I'd always appreciated the county of Norfolk even when I was living elsewhere.

“I loved to come back for visits, so it's a great feeling to be back in the area again and to genuinely feel like a local.

Most Read

“Having attended Norwich High School, I moved to Jersey at the age of 15 because my father worked for the BBC and was offered a job managing the Channel Islands coverage.

“After sixth form there, I went to the University of Central England to do a media degree and then started out as a runner for Sky Sports.

“It's a long way from what I'm now doing, but this is absolutely what feels right to me.

“Richard and I met in 1998 and in 1990 we discussed the idea of moving out of where we were in London, and heading back toward Norfolk. That led to us looking at all sorts of businesses we could invest in, and eventually we bought the Gamekeeper in Old Buckenham in 2001.

“At the time, everyone was saying they would give us three months before we gave it up, but we completely threw ourselves into turning that place around - and we were there for four and a half years.

“The Blyth Hotel came about by pure accident, really. We had begun to feel we had served our time at the Gamekeeper, and then, with my daughter Lily just six weeks old at the time, I saw an advert in the EDP advertising the Blyth.

“Literally the minute I stepped through the door I knew it was the right thing for us. We started a 12-week renovation project, living on site and with me having 7am meetings in my pyjamas with the building team to ensure everything went smoothly.

“Looking back, I suppose it seems a little crazy to think we took all that on when I was still so new to motherhood, and in the knowledge that we had to get it open in such a short timeframe to enable us to start making money. But I don't regret it.

“We spent around £250,000 on the renovation, largely financing it ourselves and with help from my parents - and now we have a very busy hotel that I love passionately.

“I suppose the thing that makes me a good businesswoman is that I never want to settle for anything but the best. I strive to be successful and failure is something that simply isn't in my vocabulary.

“Personally, I think women make the best multi-taskers and are therefore perfect for running businesses - regardless of whether they're also juggling a home, partner, children and extended family.

“I'm delighted to have a business here in a part of the world that I love so much and I'm really excited about the future.”

SHARON ADNAMS, 46, is the owner of Market Garden, a much respected floristry and greengrocery business in Southwold. She took over the enterprise 18 months ago.

She says: “Running a business isn't exactly difficult - but it is 'all consuming'. That's the bit I probably hadn't fully grasped before I found myself doing it.

“Particularly in the early stages, it can be really difficult to know which aspects of the business to pass on to other people, and where and when to get help.

“One of the things that I did from the very first instance was to insist on having a book-keeper to keep on top of the financial side.

“I'm absolutely convinced that that was a good and very important decision in enabling me to be seen up-front by customers and concentrating on the business activity.

“I am delighted with having made the decision to take on the Market Garden. It's turned out to be very successful so far, and that's reflected in the fact that we've put 25pc on the business since coming in to it.

“A lot of people seemed to be concerned that we were just going to turn this into a florists rather than keeping the greengrocery side going, but I insisted on maintaining both - and actually that benefits the business very well.

“I've found running the shop incredibly rewarding, but obviously a huge commitment too. I've gone about it in such a way that I want to provide a level of service that I expect when I go shopping, and I think that ensures a provision that I can be really proud of. I'm also particularly happy about being here in the town of Southwold.

“I realise that it's a place where locals still like to buy local, so they appreciate the fact that we go out of our way to try to source locally for them. I like building up relationships with people and feeling that people return to you because they trust you and like what you provide.

“There's no doubt in my mind that as women we're actually very good at running businesses. We're the kind that watch all aspects of what's going on, and we seem to be driven to improve on what we do and to be appreciated by those we serve.”

CHARLOTTE NICHOLSON, 33, not only runs a business but also juggles life as a mum to three-year-old Harrie and one-year-old Maggie. She and husband Jonathan took on the Carlton Manor Hotel in Carlton Colville, Lowestoft, in November 2005.

She says: “Both Jonathan and I have experience in the hospitality industry - he as an ex Conran chef - so we were both keen to find a business which could allow us to work together.

“Our roots are in Norfolk and although we'd been in London for about eight years, we were keen to get back this way.

“Carlton Manor seemed perfect to us because of all the planned redevelopment in the Lowestoft area. We felt it was great timing in so many ways. Since taking the place on, we've completely refurbished it and recently achieved an AA rosette for food and three stars. That's a great accomplishment in such a short time and I'm really really proud of how it's come together.

“What makes me good at what I do? Well, probably that I'm dogmatic!

“I'm a hard worker and I stand firm in that there is nothing I ask other people to do that I wouldn't do myself. I think to be successful you have to show that hard working ethic and the enthusiasm for what you're doing. Those things are vital.

“Certainly I'm conscious that for a woman running a business there are extra issues, particularly if, like me, they have children. I took the decision to leave having my first child until I was 29, which meant I'd had my selfish period in my 20s and been able to be more spontaneous about where I worked and what that entailed.

“Now, far from being a problem with having children as well as running a business, I think it works well for me.

“It's all about getting the balance right, and as far as I'm concerned, that means ensuring that when I'm with the girls I'm purely with them, and when I'm in work, that's my focus. I think this is a great time in East Anglia and I feel really happy to be running a business here which is thriving and enjoying the sense of enthusiasm about the region.”



VANESSA COLLEN and CLARE ADKINS established a boutique in Southwold after leaving behind their London-based corporate careers. The pair have been hugely successful, extending their offering to include menswear, taking on a team of dedicated staff and attracting orders and visitors from all over the UK.

KATE ADEY originally ran her own catering company and is now using her skill as a home economist to be the driving force behind Trinity's in Southwold.

The eating establishment in the town is incredibly popular and has gained great respect since Kate and her husband Robert took it on three years ago. She is responsible for the day-to-day running of the enterprise - and plenty of making cakes.

The couple have recently also purchased One St James Green, which enables them to sell cakes and sandwiches from an additional outlet under their respected name.

LYN KNIGHTS is the highly respected woman behind the 156-year-old Denny of Southwold store.

Owner of the shop, Lyn has worked tirelessly to maintain a collection of ladies, gents and childrenswear which appeals to a broad range of people from the local area and from much further afield.

TERESA BAGGOTT is landlady at the Red Lion Inn at Southwold, but also the current Town Mayor.

She is a hugely popular figure in the community and has ensured the public house is always thriving.

SOPHIE DORBER runs the Anchor Inn at Walberswick. As well as being a mum, she has used her chef experience to create a business which is now a must-visit for both Norfolk locals and those from all over the UK who visit during the holiday season.

ASTRID FOURNEL is managing director of Fournel Jewellers, with shops in Aldeburgh and Bungay as well as the Amber Shop and Museum in Southwold.

This enterprise has received great national recognition and remains highly popular with collectors and gem admirers from all over the country.