How Sunderland businesswomen are driving the city centre forward

13 March 2018

Wearside women are leading the way when it comes to retail and leisure in the city centre ...

Sunderland is home to a number of successful businesswomen who are proving that they’re just as good as their male counterparts.

And in a month which marks International Women’s Day, National Women’s History Month and Mother’s Day, there couldn’t be a better time to celebrate the impact that females are having on the city’s business scene.

“There is no shortage of successful women living and working here in the city centre,” said Sharon Appleby, Head of Business Operations at Sunderland Business Improvement District (BID).

“Many of the city’s biggest businesses are run by women. We’ve female store managers, business owners, entrepreneurs – we have some incredible women based here, who are really inspiring the next generation.”

Among them is Joanne Ibbitson, who runs the city’s famous Ibbitson’s butchers stall in Jacky White’s market – a family business which was originally started by a woman.

It was all thanks to Joanne’s late grandmother, Johan, who set up a small stall in the local market back in the 1920s. Son Herbert eventually took over and grew it into one of the biggest meat companies in the UK, before selling off all but one of his 14 shops in the late 1990s.

Joanne, who had previously worked in Belgium as a military press secretary for NATO, took the remaining stall over, determined to keep the business going.

Although she doesn’t work on the stall itself, she has a busy job behind the scenes running the business.

“It’s hard work but I do enjoy it,” she said. “I’ve got a good manager at the stall so I can concentrate on the other side of the business. It’s very different to what I did before but it’s also very rewarding.

“Things have evolved over the years, naturally. I’m a big animal lover, for instance, so I’ve always insisted on things like outdoor reared pork. We’ve won awards for our sausages and our bacon so we must be getting it right.

“Being a woman hasn’t ever been a big deal, or even something I’ve really thought about. My granny started the whole business back in the 1920s, so women have always been a driving force and it’s worked well so far.”

Another woman who has carved out a solid business in the city centre is June Clark, owner of Serendipity Tea and Trinkets at Frederick Street.

With a successful career in pharmaceutical sales, June decided she wanted a change when she reached her forties. “I think it had always been a pipe dream to open my own tea room, and I just got to a point when I realised if I didn’t try it, I never would,” she explained.

“It was a risk, I had a good job but at the same time I wanted a change. Six years later, a lot of hard work and probably far more hours than I’d ever want to admit, I’m still here and the business is continuing to grow.”

Sunderland born and bred, June admits she wouldn’t move her business anywhere else, and admits it can be hard but that ambition and love of the job have always kept her going.

“Of course it isn’t easy, there are weeks you can work 100 hours or more and we’ve also had to change how we operate. We do more outside catering work for corporate clients, and also offer crockery hire. The business has evolved a lot, but I wouldn’t change it.

“We’ve had to grow and make changes, but the fact that six years on we are still here shows that hard work and determination will pay off if you’re prepared to stick it out.”