After our own difficulties and finding ourselves penniless and having to start again on the dole in middle age, we spent five years from 2005 -2010 living without money. We were fortunate we grew up with mothers who knew how to make things stretch, I was one of six born on a council estate in the 1950s. So we didn't moan, we decided no credit, if we couldn't pay we couldn't have.
During this time we worked for free, surviving on no money other than the £60 per week from the government, despite lots of interviews for menial work, finding a job proved tricky at the Leicester Job Centre, not many opportunities for ex millionaire Hollywood celebrity stylists so volunteering helping the homeless and inspiring women to swap clothes and recycle became our way of feeling useful.
Having been successful and being used to shopping for what we wanted this new way of living with just the purpose of being helpful to others for comfort was a big change. ITV and BBC followed our story and having appeared numerous times as a consequence of this we were offered guest appearances as common sense life coaches on Trisha. From this momentum we created and performed a live swapping and styling on a budget show for a year at Butlins. Getting paid to delight our audiences by giving away lovely clothes we had rescued from car boots and charity shops and given a new lease of life was pure joy.
We saw first hand how recession and poverty had zapped the life out of everyone, leaving our audiences miserable broke and broken, eager to soak up our positivity and raid our designer closet. With the money we earned we set up a social enterprise and opened the Uk's first fashion swap shop in Blaby, Leicester where ethical fashionistas could "Get A Brand New Look Without Spending A Penny" We got a few TV production companies on board and we saw shows picked up like Twiggy's Frock Exchange after we pitched the exact same concept based on our real life swap shop, we had called "Take That Topshop" After going crazy and creating such a stink we almost got a BBC 2 show commissioned by Roly Keating then head of BBC, "Not Buying It" but back then saving the planet, landfill and the problems fast fashion was causing were not really "in". If the truth be told the TV commisioners only wanted to use so called celebrities in fake formats and most people thought we were mad dressing poor people for interviews in second hand designer clothes.
The country had a growing obesity problem and having spent a lot of time meeting and trying to style the nation at Butlins and then on P and O cruises we got massive insight into why women in particular were so unhappy and what was needed to stop the epidemic getting worse, the truth.
VenusCow.com was the original idea, a free common sense, brutal truth life coaching website, with an online private journal for the user to begin facing some of their own truths.
Originally we went back to what we knew, recruitment to fund the social enterprise. It was how Shirley had made all her money in the 80's and 90's but we were no longer the less than scrupulous sharks you needed to be to swim in that tank. So with the money from two years on the road touring our show at Butlins and then on the high seas, P and O cruises, we found a new way to fund the free life coaching work. Shirley created The PBL. She was extremely passionate about the decline of Leicester's fashion manufacturing, was aware of the Dark Factories and the slave labour going on and was on a mission to revive British manufacturing, primarily because with her new financial status she couldn't find any clothes of the quality she liked she could actually afford to buy.
So, even if you've got nothing, are on the street, have no hope, want to die with not a penny to your name, we had proved it is possible without money to build a purposeful social enterprise supported by big business and amazing customers with conscience. (the big society idea)
Updated 20th July, 2020
In 2012 Shirley went to the City of London and raised finance to launch the Venus Cow Collection, made in Leicester using only the finest local textiles. Her goal to revive British manufacturing and begin to tackle the long standing problems within leicester factories and the UK garment industry by being completely transparent about her supply chain and ensuring equality and fair wages.
In Aug, 2019 The Mind Detective was published, part memoir, part psychology 101, part self help book for anyone interested in how you make a comeback from the gutter without money.
Photo by: Austrian National Library Unsplash