Weaving business and people together

All About My Mother

March 1st, 2019


Welcome to the first in a series of blogs about completely unknown people who do many little things that change others’ lives. As International Women’s Day approaches and also St David’s Day, I’m celebrating a woman who was the embodiment of his idea that we should ‘do the little things’ – a philosophy regular readers will know I find very inspirational.

This blog is all about my Mother.

My mother lived in the same county all her life – she moved five miles when she married. She didn’t travel much: a bi-annual trip to the National Eisteddfod or the Royal Welsh Agricultural show, short visits to relatives, a carload of women to Herefordshire to pick strawberries for jam-making, (they don’t grow well in Ceredigion). Her expeditions outside of her patch could be counted on your fingers and possibly one foot. You might assume her life was small. It wasn’t.

When she arrived in her marital home and finally lifted her head from establishing her vegetable garden, she sensed that there wasn’t a feeling of community in this new village she would eventually call home. There were many large extended families, a school, a chapel, a shop, farmers, craftsmen, all the things that should make a village a community, and yet somehow it didn’t add up to one, so she decided to do something about it.

Her first achievement was establishing a women’s group. This was the sixties, women’s revolutions were rife. The rather more restrained rural version of this was the Women’s Institute, establishing itself nationally. My mother had no truck with the W.I.: too central, too bossy, not local enough, and, the final blow, at that time it didn’t allow Welsh branches to conduct official meetings in the Welsh language. That wasn’t going to happen in her village. My mother’s women’s group exists to this day and has provided generations of women with historical, botanical, and cultural trips; hundreds of interesting speakers and a reason to leave the hearth and the sink on a Wednesday night, once a month, through the long West Wales winters. This was politics with a small p, not agitating, not strident, but a small stand for the language, for sisterhood and solidarity.

Next up was handicrafts, a historical society and hundreds of fund-raising events, always getting people together for a common purpose. I lose count, we never knew exactly what she was up to.

Then there was the ever-open door. For my mother, people mattered more than tidiness, and frankly, even cleanliness. The farm kitchen was a large, warm, untidy room producing gallons of tea from chipped mugs for the endless droppers-in. As children we fought to get prime place in front of the Rayburn (if you wanted privacy you had to retire to a colder room). Neighbours’ children stayed for hours merging into the general melee. Adolescent cousins from the city turned up for an entire summer, their parents hoping that a few months on a farm would be transformative and instill a work ethic they felt they were failing to do. (Not sure this worked). A cousin with mysterious mental health problems would arrive on his bike at 3 am to play our piano, beautifully, and on hearing him (the house door was never locked) Mam would get up to make him a cup of tea and chat, sending him home again when it was light. I once turned up with the entire university rambling club , when a wild storm and too long a stop sheltering in a country pub had made it impossible to pitch our tents on the mountainside. We slept, squashed in rows like piglets, on the floor in the unused parlour.

We could see all of this, but it wasn’t until her funeral that I discovered one thing she had done quietly. She knew that arriving to live in a village isn’t easy, you can’t really see what’s going on, you know people know each other but you don’t know how things happen,  who’s a good workman, who can be relied on, who to turn to , who will keep your secrets.  It can feel hostile and excluding. So, when new people came, my mother would pop by in the first weeks taking them something edible and homemade. She would gently inquire what made people arrive, explain how the village worked, what happened and when and who to contact for what. I had absolutely no idea she did this, but the number and variety of people who massed to the funeral was testament. No sad lonely farewell for her. The place was heaving. Here, finally, is the business connection. An organisation may look corporate, but a company, or a building, is always a village, a collection of overlapping networks with mavens at the centre. There’s an official and an unofficial structure and hierarchy. There are tribes: the posh ones, the clever ones, the scallywags, the memory-makers and the story-tellers. Official and unofficial meeting places. People who know everybody and those who aren’t interested in anyone. People who think and people who do. People who act like hot water bottles on a cold night. You don’t have to be a leader or a manager to make your workplace warmer, we all know how to be curious and kind, and a gentle explanation of the hidden rules can go a long way to making everything run that bit more smoothly. A smart organisation recognises the people in this last group and values simple, inexpensive rituals which create a welcome and allow a hello and a warm goodbye to be properly said. The world can feel a hostile place; moving jobs can be challenging and scary. I know of several companies with strategies for hiring experts at senior levels who lose huge amounts of money simply because they don’t create rituals that make entry easier. Grad programmes are elaborate fun-packed schemes which last for years, yet a mid-level person joining a high-tech organisation with a hot-desking policy where there are new faces next to you every day, but no obvious equivalent to the village pub, is allowed to flounder, trying to work out – via weirdly-named databases of information, hidden in the corporate technology – how on earth this new home works. Eighteen months of this is enough to crush anyone’s spirit of adventure. A Professor friend who swapped universities declared that one of the best things about her new department was that someone (just some bloke) had decided ten years earlier to establish an official ‘tea and cake’ time every day.  It made a world of difference to her joining, and therefore her effectiveness, because there were people around to ask things of, without her feeling she had to disturb anyone. Let’s do our bit to make workplaces warmer, but also more effective, with curiosity, kindness and gentle explanations of the hidden rules.

  1. What a wonderful piece Anne. I have a strong feeling of knowing your mum from your beautiful descriptions. The take away for me from your blog is that when we do things from a place of humanity that we make the biggest difference. Whether in a village or a global corporation, when we connect back with what it means to be human we can truly transform ours and others’ experience. Thank you Anne.

    by: Susan Grandfield on March 1, 2019 at 2:15 pm
    • thanks Susan. We underestimate how much it means and how much it does, I think.

      by: Anne Owen on March 14, 2019 at 5:50 pm
  2. Beautiful. I wish I had could have met this wonderful woman you write about – your Mum. How lucky to have been raised by such an inspiring and caring Mother.
    I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts – Buddy and mentor systems are great, but that’s just one person helping you along. It doesn’t take much for the ‘sea of faces’ – as you look up from your desk as a ‘rookie’ – to offer a warm smile, and a passing ‘how are you’ (and wait for the response with genuine interest and desire to help).
    Thanks for the reminder Anne.

    by: Julia Francis on March 1, 2019 at 3:52 pm
    • and you are just great at doing that JUlia. :-). thank for the comment.

      by: Anne Owen on March 14, 2019 at 5:49 pm
  3. I’m very moved by your wonderful writing and your Mom’s wise ways and big heart. Thanks Anne
    Catherine x

    by: Catherine Vaughan on March 1, 2019 at 7:07 pm
    • ah you know all about wise moms. x

      by: Anne Owen on March 14, 2019 at 5:49 pm
  4. Hyfryd clywed am dy fam Anne

    by: Catrin Whitehouse on March 2, 2019 at 2:40 pm
    • Diolch Cat 🙂

      by: Anne Owen on March 14, 2019 at 5:48 pm
  5. What a wonderful tribute to your lovely Mum: a humble , caring and thoughtful woman who obviously moved mountains.

    by: Mary on March 4, 2019 at 5:26 pm
    • thanks Mary 🙂

      by: Anne Owen on March 14, 2019 at 5:48 pm


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