Inspirational Stories Week Four: Gemma Barnes- GB Elegant Events

Inspirational stories: Many of us have them but may not even realise how important they truly are or are too modest to shout it from the roof-tops. Successes should be shared and enjoyed, especially when certain hurdles or obstacles have had to be overcome to get there. Your story could help others reach their full potential. For this reason, I wanted to find some truly inspiring people who have a story that needs to be told. Each week I will bring you a different story with a different angle but one that you will just have to read.

This week we hear from Gemma, a Mum and business owner. Her story tells us what it takes to start up a business from scratch whilst having to care for a child with allergies.

fullsizerenderI’m Gemma, a young mother to a beautiful little girl called Savannah and owner of GB Elegant Events. The main reason I opened up my own business was to spend more time with Savannah and to be able to work around being close to her at all times.

When I was working as a Care Field Supervisor in Richmond, Savannah would attend nursery 2 days a week. However, I was fed up at work, I had to do a lot of travelling and I was an hours drive away from her nursery. I then received the bad news that our company was being taken over by somebody else and that our office was moving to Croydon. It would have meant that I would have had to drive to my clients back in Richmond which would have resulted in more travelling, not to mention being further away from Savannah. I made the decision that this was the right time to leave.

One of the main reasons I like to be close to Savannah is because she is allergic to dairy, nuts, egg, kiwi and dust and I find she is ill more than other children. It’s very difficult to feed her especially when she’s out and I hate it when she’s not with me just in case she has a reaction. It all started when Savannah was a few weeks old. I noticed she wasn’t settling, that she cried a lot after being breastfed and she had a rash developing over her body. I took her to the doctors several times and I was asked “are you a first-time mum?” to which my response was “yes”. I was told it was colic and not to worry – of course I was going to worry though, I’m her mother and I had a feeling it was more than colic. Weeks went on and after numerous appointments with different doctors, I googled the different reasons as to what may have been causing my daughter to be so unsettled and distressed. I read an article about cutting dairy out of the diet so I did this for about 3 weeks and I noticed a huge change. It was very hard for me because I love my cakes and chocolate but I did it for her and it seemed to work. I went back to my doctors and explained what I had been doing and I said, “I think she’s allergic to dairy”. I asked her to prescribe dairy free milk but my doctor looked at me like I was bizarre and she told me to try Savannah with some Aptimal formula and to see how she got on. I was very nervous about trying her on something new but I bought the formula and a few nights later I decided to give it a go. I made up a bottle before Savannah’s bed time. I remember her being really small lying in my arms whilst I nervously moved the bottle towards her mouth. One drop literally dropped onto her lips and into her mouth and she instantly began reacting. She started screaming, her eyes, mouth and face became swollen and she developed a harsh red rash. I panicked and rushed her straight to the hospital. I explained everything and was told “it’s likely she’s allergic to cows milk protein” – so I was right after all! From there we were transferred to the allergy clinic at St Thomas Hospital where we also found out that Savannah was not only allergic to cows milk protein but also to nuts and kiwi. I completely took all of these out of my diet and she was like a new baby.

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 Allergy Testing

When I started weaning Savannah it was very difficult as a lot of foods you wouldn’t even think contain milk actually do. When she was just under 1 years old Savannah was still reacting to something and it was causing me to be depressed. Once again, after several doctor appointments, we were finally referred back to the allergy clinic where she was diagnosed as being allergic to egg too. Months passed yet we were still having problems with Savannah’s health. She had a constant cough for 8 months but was not suffering from colds. We  finally got an appointment with the allergy clinic and discovered she was allergic to dust. I had to take up all of the carpets in our home and replace them with wooden flooring. I must also dust every single day and wash her bedding 2/3 times a week. Savannah now has to carry an EpiPen, Piriton and emergency instructions everywhere she goes just in case she has a reaction.

Whilst being at nursery Savannah has had about 4 reactions, which has resulted in her needing Piriton due to her rash, swollen lips, fingers and eyes each time. Luckily no major incidents have occurred such as her breathing stopping – this could easily happen.

When taking Savannah out it’s often difficult for me to find somewhere for her to eat. I have to be very careful in a lot of restaurants due to cross-contamination so I tend to pack her a lunch if we go out for the day. This is also the case if she is invited to a party. When it came to Savannah’s own birthday party I made sure all of the food was allergy free so she could eat everything on offer and nobody even noticed. It was actually this that inspired me to start up the kind of business I wanted to do.

I was let down by a company renting out mascots for her birthday (Peppa pig). I love organising parties and I used to be a mascot a lot when I worked abroad as a children’s representative for Thomas cook, so I decided to buy my own Peppa pig mascot and this is where it all began.

I also wanted a candy floss and popcorn machine for Savannah’s party rather than a sweet table so she could eat it with her friends. After doing my research, I discussed it with my family. They thought I was crazy but I went ahead and bought the machine anyway to be able to cater to her needs.

As the ideas started to come together I thought of a name and my friend’s partner kindly did me a logo for free, plus set up a free website for me as I didn’t really want to spend money at this point. I  registered my business with my local council and also registered as being self-employed. It all happened at once and I probably did rush everything but I suppose you have to take some leaps in life. Once I had the idea in my head there was no stopping me!

In the evening, when Savannah was sleeping, I did a lot of research about new businesses, my ideal target audience, who my competition was and I set up my Facebook and Instagram accounts where I could start to promote myself and my new venture.

It’s not been easy and I’ve had a few struggles along the way but I have always worked them out. One morning I was let down by my friend who was supposed to be helping me decorate the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair for a video shoot for an upcoming artist. I really didn’t know what to do. It was 7am and I was so upset and disappointed because I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I ended up going through my phone book until somebody I knew could help. Another time I was very ill with my asthma and a chest infection but I kept on going because I was so committed and I knew this business was what I wanted. I explained to my client that I was ill and I took two friends along to do everything under my instruction. I couldn’t go letting my client down.

There have also been several occasions where Savannah has been ill. I’ve again had to instruct my friend on what to do at an event whilst I was at home working from my Ipad with Savannah snuggled up to me on the sofa.

One struggle I had was finding storage. I had all this equipment and nowhere to store it! After a good month of searching high and low and viewing different storage units, I managed to find one suitable for me and within my budget.

Finding a babysitter can be tricky. This is something that is very important to me because I don’t trust many people to be able to cope with her allergies. Her Nanna is very good and she will always help out when she can but if she isn’t available it’s a real struggle which has resulted in Savannah joining me at a few events. I still have to be extremely careful though because clients and their family and friends tend to offer her sweets and cakes, most of which she can’t eat which upsets her.

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Savannah Enjoying Helping Out

Before I knew it six months had passed and my business had really expanded. I now have a variety of mascots, a bouncy castle for children’s parties and I also offer event decor for weddings and other special occasions. I have an amazing website and logo, I’m receiving regular bookings, outstanding feedback and a lot of recommendations. Soon I will be employing another member of staff.

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At the beginning money was a big struggle as I wasn’t making enough to cover my own wage but I got through it. I have made a lot of cutbacks at home and I have spent hours in the evening looking at free advertising and networking. I have found that social media is one of the best sources to advertise your business and to make yourself seen. I have also used leaflet distribution to spread the word.

If you have your heart set on a new business then do it, don’t let anything, especially having children stop you. Let them be the reason you’re doing it and let them get involved. You never know, they may well be taking it over from you in the future! But do make sure you find time to give yourself a break, it isn’t easy, especially with small children and remember to take one step at a time. Join local networking events and socialise with other parents in the area who also run businesses, this really does help. You can share your worries and ideas and gain lots of support.

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If you would like more information on Gemma’s event business you can get in touch with her via email: info@gbelegantevents.co.uk

You can also find more details on her website, Facebook and Instagram.

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