This is the first of three Groundswell Innovation profiles of women leading businesses in the North West who are creating change, generating social inclusion, and truly demonstrating inclusive innovation.
Nickala Torkington is the Co-Founder and Director of Flourish Together CIC, a social enterprise reinvesting surplus resources to support women to create the change they see needed in communities through peer learning, mentoring, crowd sourcing and investment.
Nickala has been shortlisted in the Northern Power Women Awards 2023 for the Levelling Up Leader award, recognising individuals who play their part in the Levelling Up Agenda to accelerate gender equality and wider inclusivity.
Founded in 2016, Flourish have a core network of over 500 women changemakers and have supported over 1000 into social venture developments, to help ‘women change-makers’ develop themselves personally and professionally.
Flourish was founded by Nickala Torkington after nearly 20 years’ of experience working in the voluntary and community sectors.
“I worked for national funding agencies and what I realised was although the organisation that I worked for gave 50% of grants to women, I learnt that that wasn’t the norm, and that actually in the business world, far less investment and funding was going into female-led initiatives.”
“We know that women are great leaders and entrepreneurs, so if we can empower more women to lead a change then it would really make a difference … we can enable women to feel more fulfilled, earn a good living and perhaps a better one than before.”
Nickala knows the importance of providing support for women who may have had struggles in their life, both professionally and personally.
“I have seen that a vast majority of the women we work with are women that have setbacks, they might be emotional setbacks, health setbacks, relationship setbacks, life in general setbacks, financial setbacks, age setbacks and so, we wanted to make sure there was a good place for women to achieve their potential and not be held back by the constraints of what gender inequality lies or their own individual initial baggage.”
There are challenges – and benefits – Nickala faces in a female-run business.
“I am a full-time working single parent, that has supported over a thousand other women in order to lead the change they needed in the past 5 years, so there is an element of empathy and having seen certain things, that aids what I do and means that I can take risks that other business support agencies or other training providers wouldn’t take. Flourish can be incredibly flexible and patient and take more risks because of the built experience that we have as women who have faced multiple setbacks and I definitely think that is a critical element of our business and USP in achieving the results we do.”
“Because we have come from lived and professional experience, and a culture of empathy, those are the things that have set our business and leaderships style apart from some male-run businesses. I think this is a very important difference.”
Innovating is key to how she runs Flourish Together, alongside creating game-changing opportunities.
“The way we innovate is that we spot opportunities collaboratively, and we always go for it. I think as women, we are really good at that … one of our key aspects as a women-led organisation is that we jump to strategic opportunities which unlock potential in others and communities.
“Recently one of the opportunities we’ve taken is the Action Station project, a number of train stations are becoming derelict but we want to turn them around and use them as community ventures. We are looking to redevelop two stations and turn them into community and social enterprise hubs … an asset that we can repurpose and bring back to life using our networks, to redesign, redevelop communities.”
“We’re a game-changing organisation because we are a partner to the people we work with, we’re not just investors or support providers, we seek to collaborate in new ways of working and create new community-led supply chains across multiple sectors. We are not just telling people what social enterprise is, we are building communities constantly; we develop these sorts of collectives of knowledge, collectives of services and we are constantly seeking opportunities and innovate by investing in women as a force for social change.”
“Flourish is all about us investing our time, investing our knowledge and new learning. But it is also about cash and particularly about investing into our social networks, so that they can flourish. “
“We try to offer enterprise opportunities, collaborative partnerships and hope, to build peoples self-belief and their track record quicker than they otherwise would and that then evolves, because we have this culture, that once you are in this Flourish network of ours, there is this osmosis and a set of DNAs that makes people feel part of something that can evolve, grow and make change happen.”
Alongside all this, being a northerner has its benefits.
“I do think as Northerners we have an inbuilt character of just getting on with it. We spot and create opportunities in alternative ways and I see that a lot in communities across the North when people are given the chance. I am sure that happens in the south as well, but up here it’s our pride, culture and heritage that makes us create and seize opportunities and step forward. People up North often get underestimated, but I believe the people of the North have a sense of unity that makes us work together and push each other harder to get things done.”
And Nickala had one final piece of advice to give female business owners:
“If I had one lesson to give women business owners, it would be to take more time off, I am finally learning to practice what I preach, but I am not perfect on that front I’m afraid!”
Northern Power Women (NPW) is the collaborative campaign to accelerate gender diversity from the North of England. Their aim is to transform the culture of organisations; increase opportunities for all; showcase role models; and highlight best practice among organisations that are helping to drive and lead economic growth.
They engage people from all industries and business areas as ‘agents of change’ and connect, collaborate, and celebrate their achievements as campaign champions and advocates to drive gender balance from the North of England.
Go to https://www.northernpowerwomen.com/awards/#shortlist for more information on the NPW awards, celebrating their 7th year in 2023.
Written by Eden Latimer, work experience student at Groundswell Innovation