Berkshire's leading ladies in the health and wellbeing industry
PUBLISHED: 11:25 03 September 2019
We meet the leading ladies in the health and wellbeing industry who can help you to have your best summer ever
Abi Wright: Spa Queen
At just 40 years old and a mum of three, Abi Wright, founder of SpaBreaks.com, has become a champion of working women and spas.
Abi Wright lives in Newbury with her family; husband Matt, and children Freddie, 11, Aver, eight, and Oscar, four. "We have lived in Berkshire for 22 years," Abi tells me. "We live on Greenham Common, which is great for walking our two dogs. Berkshire is fantastic for lovely open spaces and walks along the canal, especially in Hungerford."
Abi started her career in journalism, but decided it wasn't for her, so she moved over into PR and marketing where she discovered the wellness industry. "I set up my own PR agency in 2006 and worked with the Vineyard Hotel in Donnington Valley, where I did the sales and marketing for their new spa," Abi says.
"It was around this time I realised there were only a couple of companies marketing spas, despite the growing demand, so for two years I gathered lots of information about my clients and business models.
"Finding the spa industry to be limited in what it offered and a bit inaccessible, it gave me an idea... It was to market the spa industry and make it accessible to everyone."
Abi wanted to change the perception of spa as a luxe beauty product to something for all, with a positive effect on health and emotional wellbeing.
So in 2008, she founded SpaBreaks.com with the help of just two work experience students. She wanted to show what the industry could really do - from spa days and spa breaks, health, wellbeing and group getaways to romantic mini breaks, babymoons and spa days for men.
"Around about now, the concept of spa and wellbeing started to take fruition. Every hotel that didn't have a spa began to build one!" Abi says.
And in the last 10 years her business has grown from having two interns to 90 staff.
The company is now Europe's leading spa bookings agency, with over 800 spa venues worldwide, and with a £25 million turnover.
So what's the secret to her success? "I surround myself with amazing people," she says. "I have three wonderful children, a supportive husband and a passionate team who believe in what we do.
"I always get up at 5:30am and go for a walk with the dogs. The sense of peace I get from being in the woods, as well as the increased oxygen levels, makes me feel good and that's where I have some of my best ideas."
Abi has recently been recognised as one of the UK's Top Champions of working women, appearing on the FT and HEROES 50 Female Champions of Women in Business List. As a working mother of three young children, Abi recognises the challenges that women face and has set about creating a nurturing environment for young women in business and more flexible working for parents.
Abi had a shock last year when she collapsed on a train due to failed discs in her back. She had to have her spine fused, and to take six weeks off work.
"I realised I needed to start practising what I preach," she says. "So we made some changes. Our office used to be in London, where I used to commute to four days a week, but we've since relocated the office to Brighton and reconstructed the team. Everyone is happier by the sea, with a three-minute walk to the beach, office yoga and a massage chair. I am a big ambassador of part-time/flexible working. I have always had childcare three days a week and then spend the other days with the children. Of course, you always feel guilt. But I'm proud I'm showing my children that women have a place in the workplace and that I'm creating careers for other people. My son was writing about heroes at school the other day, and he came home and told me he wrote about me because I inspire him. That was a very proud moment for me."
When I ask Abi if she gets to spend her weekends at spas, she says: "Very few spas take children, and my weekends are dedicated to the kids, so I don't tend to go. But we have some amazing spas in Berkshire: The Vineyard, Donnington Valley, Cliveden, Macdonald Berystede, Coworth Park, The Langley and the Old Savill Court in Windsor to name but a few," she says. "We are lucky. Every weekend we send a team of six to visit a spa - and we pay all our expenses. We have to know what we're selling on our website."
Abi also sits on the Board of Cosmetic Executive Women, a non-profit organisation defining the future of beauty. "We realise we hold a lot of power with our website reach, and many of the images used in this industry are over-sexualised and glamorous. We have decided to no longer use stock images but real images (#realpeopleinspas)," she says.
Abi is also working with the UK spa industry to pioneer Recovery Retreats - a collection of spas and spa packages that openly welcome cancer recoverers, as well as those under the effects of chemotherapy or radiotherapy - and improve spa access and facilities for the disabled.
"We hope that in a world that can be quite bleak, we can offer people joy," says Abi. "We can help the NHS with a holistic offering, creating a unique journey and focussing on personalised wellness.
"We are also getting involved with the Sustainable Spa Association to celebrate spas that are mindful of our environmental footprint.
"We are lucky that we can reach people at all stages of life - from those in their twenties looking for a nice day out with friends, to those in their thirties who need a break from motherhood or some pregnancy pampering, to those going through the menopause.
At every stage of life people can enjoy going to a spa."
Abi is also very excited about their new Elysium Collection. "This is a handpicked, invite-only collection of spas in the UK and Ireland. These packages will celebrate special occasions and offer things like tree bathing, star gazing and there's 360 degree wellbeing packages," she says.
At just 40, Abi has become a pioneer and game-changer within the industry. What will she achieve in the next 40 years?
Susie Jackson: The Live Well Co
Susie Jackson lives in Caversham with her husband, their two teenage daughters and their dog.
"You get the best of every world living in Berkshire; lovely towns and villages, beautiful countryside, the Thames, yet you're close to London, motorway links and airports," she says.
After 22 years of heading up functions and change programmes whilst also raising a family, Susie decided there must be a better way to live, without the constant "exhausted treadmill" feeling, so she embarked on her own journey to improve her wellbeing. That journey eventually led to The Live Well Collective being launched.
"I hear too many stories of burnout. We can't wait until we reach breaking point, we need to find ways to live well that can be weaved into every day and are accessible to all," Susie says.
At The Live Well Co, their mission is simple: to help people prioritise their wellbeing and make it part of everyday life. "We give clients access to information, tools and techniques, giving them opportunities to try different things and empowering them to make the step changes they want and need, to achieve better health in body and mind and all the things that come with that," says Susie. "There is no one-size-fits-all approach to wellness; it's about the individual and helping them curate their own live well collection that works for them.
"At the heart of what we do are our five core principles; eat, move, restore, connect and purpose, and the collective, our community of wellness experts, advocates and trailblazers who come together to bring clients powerful support."
The Live Well Co offers personal and workplace wellbeing services, ranging from half day or full day local retreats, coaching, workshops and talks to whole wellbeing programmes. "We are also just developing our online directory to be launched in September 2019 - a one-stop shop for finding activities, experts and events in and around Berkshire and Oxfordshire," says Susie.
Lenka Golska and Chris Smit: Only Naturals
Lenka Golska and her fiancé, Chris, live in Shinfield with their golden retriever Barney. "Our favourite spot to walk Barney is Bramshill Forest," says Lenka.
She admits she's always loved lotions and potions. "When we went shopping I would always end up in the beauty department trying out creams," she says. "But only after I started reading the labels did I realise how many chemical and synthetic ingredients they contain. We are passionate about protecting the environment, so I started looking for products with natural ingredients and discovered there were some amazing brands; brands focused on the ethical and environmental impact their products have. It was hard to find these on the high street, which is when my lightbulb moment happened." And so Only Naturals was born.
Lenka and Chris are both accountants but as the sales started growing, they quit their jobs to work full time for Only Naturals.
"Since we launched in 2012 there has been an explosion of new brands as more people become aware of what they are putting on their skin and look for natural alternatives," says Lenka. "You can find products for the family and for every skin type. We also have a vegan section, and only offer cruelty-free, natural, organic skincare, haircare and make-up."
Protecting the environment is their priority. "When packing our orders we use boxes from recycled paper, 100% biodegradable and compostable packing pellets and paper tape to seal the boxes," she says. "We choose the brands we stock carefully; those that use recycled plastic tubes and bottles, which can then be recycled again. There are small decisions we can all make which collectively make a big difference."
Emma-Jane Taylor: Inspirational Mentor
Emma-Jane Taylor lives on the borders of Berkshire and has always enjoyed the area. "I went to senior school at Newlands in Maidenhead," she says. "My daughter is 10 years old and we live with our 14-year-old Westie, Charlie. Being with my daughter is my number one priority; she is a lot of fun to be with and we love where we live and what the area brings to our life.
"We're not far from Windsor Castle and I like that I can shop and indulge in culture all at the same time. My daughter and I sat outside the Castle recently and watched the crowds and different cultures walk past. But the best bit about the county is being close to the Thames."
Growing up, Emma-Jane always wanted to be a dancer. "It was my dream and it came true! I was a dancer and it kick-started my career," she says.
Emma-Jane is the Director of StageWorks, a leading performing arts school with branches in Cookham, Henley, Caversham and Benson. They run ISTD dance classes for budding dancers wanting to gain qualifications and an ISTD school for actors looking to gain qualifications, which also go towards UCAS points for University.
"Not long after I launched StageWorks I also went into fitness, and became a personal trainer and opened NutritiousWorks Fitness for men and women," says Emma-Jane. "We focus on top-to-toe wellbeing, running more than 25 classes a week, nutrition and weight management courses and all-year-round activities to keep our members in good shape."
Emma-Jane was then asked to present the Wellbeing Show for That's TV. "I loved the role, but it was during this time I felt I was hiding behind my personal story. Here I was interviewing real people sharing their real-life stories and it suddenly hit me that I needed to share my story and what I had gone through in life.
"I always said if my story could help one person then it would all have been worth it. So I launched The Inspirational Mentor and then in 2018 I published my book, Don't Hold Back, a motivational tool book supporting men and women through difficult times.
"It has been hugely liberating using my voice, living my truth and facing my fears. I have had years of therapy to be able to write this book, and now feel strong and able to take on the next part of my journey."
"I was sharing a very private story of my younger years of being sexually abused at nine, abandoned by my biological father aged 12 and groomed by a family friend from 12-15 years old," says Emma-Jane. "I was raped, tortured and degraded for many years. I was told I was the girl going nowhere, I was a failure and labelled a juvenile delinquent at 13. Maturity, therapy and hindsight, not to mention a HUGE dose of forgiveness, have allowed me to make a success of my life."
Having no idea how Don't Hold Back would be received, Emma-Jane was overwhelmed by the response. The book is available on Amazon and is receiving lots of great reviews here in the UK.
"I have had many personal messages from people who have had life-changing experiences from reading my book," she says.
Emma-Jane also launched SHEnetWORKS last year. "This was something I always wanted to do," she says. "I organise a meet-up for women in the local area to support us all through challenging professional and personal situations. We are now enjoying events in London and will be looking to move through the UK. This platform is a great network for women to achieve, to meet new women and to make changes to our lives."
Last year, Emma-Jane was also asked to be a Smart Works Reading ambassador. "Helping women and giving women an opportunity is something I focus my life on, so this was a no-brainer for me," she says. "I support the charity with social media exposure and I run two fundraising events a year for them."
Emma-Jane also presents Mid-Morning Matters for Marlow FM radio, with her shows focussing on wellbeing.
"Not bad for the girl who was going nowhere," she says.
"My work is receiving a lot of recognition, and I will be launching a global movement with a Californian colleague soon.
"I was given a secret Santa card at the end of 2018 and it simply said: 'Nothing can dim your light that shines within.' This is my motto. Nothing can switch you off unless you allow it to."
- Honest Mum Vicki Psarias: Relaxing in Berkshire, interviewing Kim Catrall and some memorable milestones - It has been a month of two halves for me. The first: sheer serenity roaming pretty vineyards of Franschhoek and living our best beach lives in the achingly beautiful Cape Town in South Africa. The latter: back to normality with more washing than the local laundrette, and the frantic but fun pace of life that is work and kids here in Berkshire, London and beyond.