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Ice Cream, Inclusion and All Round Awesomeness – An Interview with Georgia Alston

This week is all about celebrating International Women’s Day. For the first of our interviews, I am delighted tot be joined by Georgia Alston of Pinks Parlour and Town Square Spaces in Bognor Regis, an incredible woman who has really supported Motivate.me over the last well the last year.

She is a woman of many talents but Georgia, if you would just please introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about some of the many hats you wear?

Georgia Alston: Thank you so much for having me. So I’m Georgia Alston. I’m the community, one of the community managers of The Track in Bognor Regis, which is one of Town Square’s co-working spaces, which are now located all over the country. I also help to run Pinks Parlour in Bognor Regis, which is an ice cream parlour where we produce artisan gelato by hand. We also employ people furthest from the employment market. I also help run Pink’s vintage ice cream vans and tricycles, a business that specialises in private events along the South coast and into the Midlands a little bit as well sometimes. So that’s pretty much me in a nutshell career-wise.

Jan Longshadow: I’m hungry already! I’d like to talk about two different things today. Firstly, I’d like to talk about your own experience running your own businesses, which in itself is a challenge. And I’d love to talk about your work with Town Square as well, beause I think that’s so valuable too, given everything that International Women’s Day is all about, especially this year with the theme being ‘choose to challenge’. I think this is something that you represent in so many different ways in what you do. So if you don’t mind, could you tell me a little bit about how the ice cream thing came about? 

Georgia Alston: Well, my mum actually started the business with one ice cream van. My dad had bought her it for Christmas, it was a really bizarre Christmas present! Basically she was a nurse for 15 years and then she had to stop working to look after my brother and didn’t really know what to do. And then, when it came to going back to work, she said ‘well, what do I do? I don’t want to be a nurse anymore.’ And that’s sort of how it came about. I then joined the business. I was actually at the University of Westminster studying radio production. I’d always kind of helped my mum out and she was really community focused and really been embraced by the community and had really overcome some challenges herself as a woman. I don’t know about you, but my memory of an ice cream van would always be a man in an off-white shirt, off white vest and a fag hanging out his mouth, you know, really dirty.

Jan Longshadow: It’s funny that you say that. I was just going to mention this. Just in what you’ve told me already is an observation. I look back to my childhood and we didn’t even say the ice cream van. We always used to say the ice cream man, and it was programmed into us so far back that this is a man’s world, not just the world of business, but this particular niche. So you’ve really challenged that haven’t you and turned it on its head?

Georgia Alston: Oh, totally! And I think I’m sort of skipping forward a little bit now, but I managed to join the business. I left university. My mum didn’t want me to, so I did a big business plan and pitch, and she took me on, we got some more vans and we started employing people and things.

But the ice cream industry as a whole is quite a male dominated industry. Obviously there’s a lot of Italian heritage there as well. So for us to come into the industry and sort of be these two English women who were first generation ice creamers was really, you know, one of those, ‘now who are these people?’ sort of things.

And then when we won the national award, the Mobile of the Year, when mum won that, that really changed the business for us. And that really kind of put us on the map, but we really definitely disrupted the industry a little bit there and we really sort of started, I think, giving women a bit of representation in the industry.

Having said that, the president of the Ice Cream Alliance, which is our trade body, is a woman and she’s amazing. She’s an absolute boss and she really puts all these guys in their place. So I must say that there are more of us out there.

Jan Longshadow: That’s great! And hopefully some of them have been inspired by seeing your story! Apart from being in a very male dominated industry at so many levels, speaking more broadly about business, what challenges have you come up against just simply as a woman in business? 

Georgia Alston: I think some of our challenges, and some of the biggest challenges I’ve come across, haven’t necessarily just been because of gender, but I’d say it’s been more because we have quite an open outlook, quite a non-judgemental outlook. And we really believe, we genuinely believe in equality. And I believe in walking the walk as well. So some of the challenges in regards to genderless toilets, things that, actually just encourage equality for all, which therefore embraces the inequality that women do experience.

That’s probably been the biggest challenge, sort of trying to articulate that message. However, once we’d kind of pinned it down and really understood what we were doing, particularly with employing people furthest from the employment market, for example ladies who’ve fallen out of work because they’ve had children and actually can’t get back into a career path or something like that.That really, really helps define it for us. And I think that really helped us overcome those challenges because it really gave us a structure to work from if that makes sense?

Jan Longshadow: So a lot of what you do then is driven by purpose, isn’t it? I can see this in your business.

Georgia Alston: Totally. We kind of have two main focuses and two main drivers, and it is that purpose, that focus on the community and focus on our team and helping provide that personal development that you might not get in an ordinary sort of hospitality job as it were. And also, our customer service and our experience from the product to the customer, to the actual face-to-face customer interaction. That’s really, really important to us as well. So I’d say that probably the two main drivers. But the customer service side of it comes from the purpose side of it. So for example, we went up to Fortnum and Mason’s when we were researching the parlour and they had these little clips on the side of the coffee cups. You get a free little mini ice cream with it. And we said, if this is good enough for the people at Fortnum and Mason’s in Piccadilly in Central London, it’s good enough for the people of Bognor Regis and spent about two years having to find these clips.

So it’s those little touches too, I think, to make people feel special and make them realize that no matter who they are, you know, they do deserve to be treated with respect. 

Jan Longshadow: And that’s a really important message as well, when we’re talking about International Women’s Day – that you deserve to be treated with respect, you are special regardless of who you are. I think that’s such an important message. So tell me a little bit about your work at Town Square then, because of course you support a huge number of women at different stages of career through that as well, don’t you?

Georgia Alston: Yeah. I mean, I’m so, so lucky to have been brought in, literally, I think it’s a year, a year next week I’ve been working for Town Square, and it’s been such an incredible journey and I’ve learned so so much.

For me, it’s really enabled me to, for my own self purpose of sort of trying to share equality and bring a message of equality into the world, even if it is just from little old me, Town Square’s really allowed me to do that through all sorts of health and wellbeing initiatives. For example, on Transgender Day of Remembrance, we did an awesome workshop with Kaitlin Baker, who is a trans lady who works at a women’s centre and helps support LGBTQ+  people who are in domestic abuse sort of situations.

So we had a really awesome workshop with her and could really express her story and the way that Town Square are really open to new ideas and representation as well. It means that we’ve been able to implement lots of different processes and just different strategies to ensure that everybody is treated with respect and more to the point, that everyone feels welcome. And that goes from women to men, to everyone in between. But I think particularly with underrepresented groups, you know, women of colour, transgender people and transgender ladies and things as well, I think Town Square is really up on the fact that we know that there’s so much more for everyone to do in a place of privilege.

And I really feel like Town Square has given me the opportunity to be able to work with all different ladies from incredible backgrounds. 

Jan Longshadow: In the work that you’ve done, what kind of things do you see as being the biggest barriers? The biggest challenges that tend to face women at the moment?

Georgia Alston: I think, in general, I think the challenges that women face, particularly compared to, men or sort of more masculine, non-binary people, I guess would be the societal pressure. I think, I know I felt that, around having children and focusing on your career and things to be made to almost feel like it’s not normal or you’re strange to not want to have children or to focus on your career or something like that. I think that sometimes can be really challenging. And also, I know a lot of women say, and I know my mum said, it’s the guilt. If you do have children or you have family and you have other commitments, which we all do, I think it’s the guilt of knowing that actually sometimes you’re having to prioritize yourself over other people and historically society has kind of told women to prioritize everybody else over themselves. So I think sometimes the biggest challenges are sort of historical, societal and cultural sort of implications, but then also generally practical ones as well. The fact that women sometimes are quite emotive and things like that I think can also be a challenge.

Jan Longshadow: At the same time, that adds value as well. And I think we are beginning to realize far more now that it’s actually the things that make us different are actually what adds value to the mix. And in the past, we’ve turned a big blind eye to that haven’t we really, and I think as well with women, what I see in my role is that a lot of women still tend to feel it’s an ‘either/or’ when it comes to that balance between following career and things like that. And of course family, and that isn’t really the case anymore. Is it? 

Georgia Alston: Not at all. And I think, you know, family, children, life, whatever it is, I think if people are looking to start a business, looking to go self-employed or even just want to start a side hustle for themselves, whatever it is, the point is that you’re doing that for you. And you’re doing that for whatever purpose it is, even if it is just to make money. But at the end of the day, generally it’s around happiness. It’s around freedom. People generally start these things because you enjoy it or you’re good at it, it’s your expertise, and that can fit in around your life. And funnily enough, I have this conversation a lot with people who are self-employed or sole traders, or providing services you know, freelance and things, and it’s sort of that thing of going, ‘but what if my client wants me then what if somebody wants to book an appointment then?’ At the end of the day, yes, you’re providing a service and obviously you have to be flexible and provide all that added value. But at the same time, if you’re working for yourself or you’re starting a business, you need to make sure that that business is working for you because at the end of the day, you’re working for yourself and there are quite a lot of things you miss out on sometimes when you’re running a business, you know, cushy holiday pay and sick pay and stuff like that. So I always look at it as the balance and actually that may be that you lose out on that, but actually enjoy the benefits of getting your own time and being able to be flexible and live your own life around that is why people start businesses. I know that’s why I got involved with my mum’s business and why I started businesses myself, so I think that’s always something really worth remembering. It’s probably the biggest bit of advice that I wish I’d had when I was a lot younger. 

Jan Longshadow: I Definitely agree with that. And I’m in a very lucky position. I run my own business. I’m able to share both the family and the workload with my partner and that’s a really nice situation to be in, I’m not subjected to somebody else’s timetable. Something I’ve seen, especially over this last, you know, 12, 18 months which has been really challenging for everybody, but something I would say, especially to women who do feel that other things have to come first is apologizing. I’ve found myself apologizing a lot for not turning up when in fact, when I look at it, it’s actually because I’ve got other responsibilities, that is, the family. And I see an awful lot of women feeling that they have to apologize constantly.

I think if there’s one of the thing I would say, it’s this – I think women need to stop apologizing for having other commitments. And I think people need to also be more aware that they can’t always be there at that moment. Is that something you’ve seen as well yourself? 

Georgia Alston: Totally, yes. And I think that thing of apologizing for yourself over and over again, I think that comes with, you know, understanding a little bit more of your self-worth and your value and actually how important you are as an individual as well. And I think, over time, if one works on themselves and really takes time for themselves as well it is really beneficial. Just because you have these other commitments, that doesn’t make you a bad person and actually by understanding your self-worth and your value one can then understand and appreciate how important it is to be there and be present and don’t be apologizing for, for whatever it is, instead, own it in the situation.

I used to apologize a lot for nothing, you know, like a lot of people do, very similar actually. So every time I go to apologize now, what’s in my head, is I kind of, I say to myself, ‘fake it till you make it.’ So I just believe it. Although I have been very, very confident for a long time, I’m from an acting background. And for a long time, I would put on my business persona as it were as a character. It was as if I was stepping into that character. And actually I was stepping into Little Miss Whippy. My mum’s Mrs. Whippy instead of Mr. Whippy. The girls have taken over and I used to literally step into that character, especially when I was going to big national events with different, you know, really successful ice cream people and people I really looked up to and was pretty intimidated by. And that’s kind of how I got to that, got to the point now, understanding myself worth and my value, I think, but it was because I was faking it and I still kind of am! Just fake it till you make it. 

Jan Longshadow: So I think it all comes down to that, that belief, having that belief in yourself and doing whatever it takes to build that belief, finding ways to strengthen that in yourself, isn’t it? And of course, once you strengthen it enough, you’ll have that platform to support you. And I think that’s a really, really powerful message to make that because let’s face it. It is different for men. Men just accept that their work is first place, whereas that’s changed an awful lot over the last few decades. But there’s still that difficult area, isn’t there, an area in between where women kind of feel that their work, maybe shouldn’t be first place or equal place. And that, that is changing. I think it’s changing for the better, but I think there is still work to be done. Isn’t there?

Georgia Alston: Yes, certainly. I think we all, as a society, need to probably be a little bit more understanding and a little bit more open to different ideas and people from different backgrounds and culture. Because I think, as you mentioned earlier, the value that a diverse team brings that’s full of women and full of all different people, can provide your business or your enterprise with so much more and so much more than your competitors. And I know that first hand, because I’m lucky enough to have a really diverse team with some awesome women on it, and I know I work with some crazy cool women at Town Square as well, and that value is really imperative and it’s certainly imperative to what Town Square does as well. So, yeah, I think there’s plenty more work to be done. And I think it’s just about small steps and just everyone taking responsibility for themselves and their actions.

Jan Longshadow: And of course, Town Square, and obviously with you involved, has got a fantastic program themselves for this year’s International Women’s Day. Maybe you could just tell me a little bit about some of the things that you’ve got planned for that?

Georgia Alston: So, we are recording a series of podcasts actually, that are going to come out throughout the month. So it’s not all just going to go out on the eighth, which is quite nice. So there’ll be a few trickles of different things and we are looking at things from a women’s perspective, so we are involving different members. And we’re also involving a lot of our team as well. So not only is it the community managers and different people involved, we’ve also got some of the girls from the Wise admin team who look after a lot of our backend and admin stuff. We’ve got some of the senior management as well, so we’ve got a really nice, diverse mix of people and we’re going to be discussing all different business topics from a women’s perspective. 

Follow Town Square’s International Women’s Day series at:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheTownSq

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thetownsq/

Jan Longshadow: Fantastic! So I will add the links the end of this article and in the commentst. And of course at the moment we’re still in lockdown. We can’t travel anywhere to come and sample your ice cream at the moment, but once we are able to, how and where do I find your ice cream? 

Georgia Alston: Well, we are based in Waterloo Square, Bognor Regis, and that is Pink’s Parlour. You can look us up on Instagram or Facebook. We are based down on the South Coast, so we’re sort of right, smack bang in between Brighton and Portsmouth. So if you’re thinking about having a staycation or a holiday at home this year, then come down to sunny Bognor Regis and try our lovely, lovely ice cream.

Jan Longshadow: After what has been, and I imagine a really challenging 12 or more months for your business as well, I really hope that in the very near future, we get to have some kind of a season this year and, you know, for you to be able to get your customers back. And I, I hope you do have a really successful bounce back once they’re out of the current situation. Georgia.

Thanks ever so much for talking to me. It’s been absolute pleasure to speak to you today, and I look forward to speaking to you again in the near future. 

Georgia Alston: Certainly. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a great chat.

Visit Pinks Parlour now at:

www.pinksparlour.co.uk 

FB: @PinksIceCreamParlour

IG: @PinksParlour

Jan Longshadow
I am a coach, mentor, author and radio presenter with a passion for positivity. I founded Motiv8.me in 2016.

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