MBE for business ‘maverick’

After business advisor Hammie Tappenden was named in the New Years Honours List, she decided that there was only one place she wanted the presentation of her MBE to take place – and it wasn’t Buckingham Palace. Instead, Hammie opted to have a ceremony here on the Isle of Wight, presided over by Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant and attended by family and friends, along with many of the people she’s helped to set up in business over the years.

As it turned out, the MBE presentation wasn’t her only reason for celebration on that September 1st date, as Jackie McCarrick discovered when she caught up with her.

When Hammie called her long-time partner Rob to tell him about her being awarded the MBE, she mischievously prefaced the news with the quip:  “Have you got a smart suit?” and then swiftly added, “don’t worry, I’m not asking you to marry me!”

The joke clearly planted a seed in Rob’s mind, though, because just  a couple of months before September’s big award ceremony, he proposed – with the novel suggestion that they could be married on the same date.

And so it turned out that Hammie became Mrs Ford at Newport Register Office in the morning – witnessed by two friends and her daughter Ellie and partner – and then, a few hours later in a different kind of ceremony at Porchfield Cricket Club, she officially became an MBE.

Quite a day by anybody’s standards – not least for the quick changes of clothes required, from morning wedding outfit into tee-shirt and jeans to prepare the self-catered reception buffet, and then into posh clothes for the formal presentation by Major General Sir Martin White KCVO CB CBE in the afternoon.

“It was a fabulous day and all the people who most mattered to me were there” says Hammie.  While most people might have preferred the traditional grand reception at Buckingham Palace, she had actually already been a guest at the Palace back in 2013, when she met The Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Charles after receiving the Queen’s Award from Enterprise, so she requested an Island-based ceremony this time.

Amazing record

The MBE was in recognition of Hammie’s remarkable record of helping 6,000 people and 800 businesses over a quarter of a century, and as she told the 110 guests at the ceremony:  “A little bit of the award belongs to everyone I have worked with over the last 25 years, because without my fantastic clients who take the risk to go self-employed, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

So who are these people?
Hammie’s Solent-based IntoBiz has worked with all kinds of business start-ups, including a struggling single mum who started up a cleaning business on a windfall bank bonus of just £100 and managed to secure five clients on her first day, to a young martial arts trainer who set up classes for local youngsters and had them full within a month.

As she says, the basis of her job is in helping people to believe in themselves, recognise their unique strengths and skills – and then invest in them.

Her approach is distinctly down-to-earth, so this one-woman morale-boosting service doesn’t operate from big shiny offices – in fact, her office is pretty much contained in “my Smart car and my briefcase”, while her one-to-one business meetings are typically held in coffee shops … independent ones that is, not Starbucks or Costas!

And she says there has never been a greater demand for small business start-up advice, as people search for solutions to their financial problems or an escape from conventional or low-paying jobs.

“Huge debt has become an increasing problem for many people” she explains, “and it can send them into a spiral of self-destruction.

“Often you’ll find that people have unrealistic expectations of a business, and think they’ll be rich in six months”.

Having said all that, working with start-ups has always given Hammie her greatest satisfaction, and over the years she has helped to turn around the lives of hundreds of ex-offenders, ex-addicts, single parents and older people who struggle to get back into the workplace.

“The first thing I always advise people is to do what you love” she says, “and then find a way to make it work for you”. 

First-hand experience

Hammie’s clients realise pretty quickly that she doesn’t talk from an ‘ivory tower’, but from hard-won personal experience.

Having been a single mum who, in one period of her life admits “I couldn’t afford to feed my child and was so depressed that I would just go back to bed and sleep for hours”, she can relate to people’s struggles.

Her particular way out of that inertia was to buy a charcoal company together with a friend, an incredibly physical and hands-on business but one that got her back on track in terms of earning a living.

“We literally chopped wood and made charcoal which we then delivered in a green van” she recalls.

Ultimately they sold the charcoal business on, but what it had done, as well as earning her a living, was to bring Hammie back to herself, and cause her to miss her old life in the creative business arena.

The ‘escalator moment’

After graduating in the mid-1980s, she had started out as a jewellery and textile designer in London  – and was so successful that her designs sold all over the world. However, after a business decision that lost her money in the US, she says she had “an escalator moment” at Kings Cross Station, and decided she wanted out of Big City life.

Having been brought up in Wales, her rural roots were calling, and she responded by re-grouping and moved to a studio workshop at Winchester School of Art, where she also taught students. 

With a lifelong love of boats and an involvement with the Jubilee Sailing Trust, she had also bought a converted Grimsby fishing trawler, and was looking for somewhere to moor it:  that was when she discovered that the Isle of Wight offered the cheapest mooring rates, and decided to come here with her boat for what she planned to be six months.

“And I just stayed” she says.  “It was such a lovely place to live.  I loved the unique environment and the slower pace of life, and although I did think I might miss the mainland, I never have.”

After an idyllic three years living on the boat at Island Harbour on the Medina (pre-housing developments) she moved to a cottage in Porchfield and combined her art and design business with family life and being a mum to Ellie, now 26.

Finding mentors

Her first foray into business mentoring came in 1992 when she began working for the Isle of Wight Enterprise Agency – and at that time, she was the one being mentored, as she ran the Shell LiveWIRE and Prince’s Business Trust programmes.

“I had amazing mentors in the late John Wolfenden of the Enterprise Agency and Tim Austin of South Hampshire Enterprise Agency” she says.  “They encouraged me when I was still quite young, to just get on with it. I’d been running a business myself for several years by that time, and was on a bit of a rollercoaster, but they saw something in me, and helped and supported me on my journey.

She says she was also encouraged by Liz Wood, who persuaded her to get her Masters Degree in Entrepreneurship at Durham University, the first of its kind in the country.

In the years that followed, Hammie has created and run a whole range of business start-up and women’s enterprise programmes across the Island and Southern counties, including Women Into Business, Enterprise Rural Women and Rural Grants, and has worked for Enterprise First and West Itchen Community Trust.

There was also the imaginitve Junk to Funk, with its focus on teaching people new skills in upcycling and recycling combined with business information, and New Enterprise Allowance, working with Pinnacle People and the DWP to take people from benefits to small business through workshops, mentoring and business loans and grants.

Recognition 

In the process, Hammie has been recognised with over 20 awards, including accolades from Shell LiveWIRE (she was a national finalist in 1988 and Co-ordinator of the Year in 1999), a PROWESS National Award in 2004 for women’s enterprise support, and the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2012.

In 2000, during her own difficult ‘single parent period’, she also won a Winston Churchill Foundation Travel Fellowship that enabled her to travel around the world researching women’s enterprises – and was able to take along daughter Ellie, for what was undoubtedly the trip of a lifetime.

The eight year-old went to schools in different countries, and the experience clearly reaped benefits because nowadays, Ellie is a successful veterinary nurse in Scotland – and was a national finalist in the UK National Veterinary Awards.

Meanwhile Hammie – who managed a brief “mini-moon” with Rob after their wedding – was soon back on the road in her trusty Smart car as she leads on a new project, Trading Up 4 Change, a business programme for people working less than 16 hours a week.

Describing her approach, she says  “With all my clients, I listen, I challenge, I laugh, I cry, I hug, I create, I share, I believe, I help, I care and I fight.  I refuse to put people through a uniform process – instead I work with them as individuals, recognising their individual needs.

“I’m rubbish at maths, I can’t spell, and I don’t have a conventional office – all of which I guess makes me a kind of maverick  – but it allows me to do what I love best.”

“I take individuals on a journey.  We don’t know what it will be or if it will be successful, we don’t know if they are cut out to run their own business, but I hardly ever turn anybody down. 

“I share my own rollercoaster life because I think it’s important that people understand that everybody has challenges and need to just take a risk every now and then – and somehow this does create success.”