Spotlight on Spouses – Sharon Bristow
Founder of Strength Behind the Strong
What is your career background?
I have spent a large proportion of my career working for full service advertising Agency Bray Leino in Client Services. Then in 2012, following the success of The Choir: Military Wives with Gareth Malone, I joined with a small like-minded group of Military Wives to create the Military Wives Choirs Foundation.
Together we created the charity and for a period of time I was home-based and worked as the Marketing, Comms and Events Manager for the charity. You can read more here: http://www.militarywiveschoirs.org/how-we-started/
In 2016 the board of Trustees decided to make the home-based roles redundant as they felt that all staff needed to be based in the London office. It was pretty devastating given the time we had all invested voluntarily. Also, as a military wife and having worked for a pretty big organization in Devon I knew that the need to be based in London was, in my opinion, short-sighted. With redundancy looming, I knew I had to do something, so I drew on the many skills I had learnt at Bray Leino and within the Military Wives Choirs and set-up a freelance marketing and business consultancy. This is something I continue to do now on a part-time basis and I absolutely love it! I split my time between my job and building and growing my other love, Strength Behind the Strong, which has been developed to give Military Wives a voice, supporting them in times of need and with a longer-term plan to give them direct access to sign-posted support when they need it.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I knew, having worked with women in the Military Community to set-up choirs that the welfare support services available to them was really poor. In most instances, the welfare support is there for the serving person first and the wife, mum, sister or spouse second. The choirs were the first support service available which crossed service and rank, and no one ever felt judged by the clothes they wear, their partners rank, the job they do or the number of children they had. The choirs became a leveler.
However, it also highlighted that whilst it’s a great support network, it is only supporting a small percentage of the military communities in which they are based. And, of course, not everyone likes to sing! There are a huge number of women who remain unsupported and often because they are told ‘don’t get welfare involved’ they struggle through without knowing who to turn to in times of need.
Knowing this and knowing that there is a real need for support for women in the Military Community I chatted with my friends and sought advice from the ladies I’d worked with to establish the Military Wives Choirs Foundation and with their support I set-up Strength Behind the Strong.
It’s in its very early days but the long-term vision is for it to be a one-stop, call us, we’ll show you where to get help service. A friendly face or voice who will help you find the right support when you need it because we know this is needed. Right now, we are documenting, through blogs, the issues we face and to also sign post enquiries to support services that are available to them but often don’t know about.
How did you move from the idea to the actual business?
I simply took the plunge! There’s no time like the present and all that. I felt that I had to do something because changes cannot be made without the issues we face being highlighted. It’s very easy for surveys to be done and boxes to be ticked to say support is good but I knew first hand that this simply wasn’t the case.
Told by ex-military or current military that there is no simply no need, but I know first-hand that this is not true.
I’ve seen so many friends feeling let down by the military welfare system as they faced terrible changes in circumstance or problems that life threw at them that I knew this was the right thing to do.
I had the name ‘Strength Behind the Strong’ stored from the early days of the Chivenor Military Wives Choir. It was something Katherine’s (she’s the other part of this) Nan used to say to her about the wives of those serving. I bought a domain name, opened social media accounts and learnt to build a website. I asked my friends to share stories and its taken off from there. We post a weekly blog, share updates across social media and slowly but surely, we are building momentum.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
The most important channels for us are the website www.strengthbehindthestrong.co.uk, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @strengthbehindthestrong. We share everything through these channels and social media has been a great way for us to share updates on what we’re doing and also to connect us to women in the military community who need support.
As a Military spouse, what has been your biggest obstacle when trying to balance work/ kids/ your spouses military commitments?
Time! As a working mum I’m always juggling and always feel like I don’t have enough time to fit everything in that I want to do. I plan, I write lists, we have a family shared calendar and I try to be as organized as possible so if the inevitable happens and my husband has a change at work with short-notice I’m prepared, and it doesn’t tip the balance too much. I also try and make time for me each week to take care of myself by going to the gym or choir or getting outside, As my friend always say ‘if the mothership goes down everything descends into chaos’ so its important to take care of your own wellbeing and mental strength too.
What has been your proudest moment?
There are so many. The reaction and support I received from the Military Wives Choirs network. The new connections I’ve made with women like me who are doing all they can to support Military Spouses, supporting each other to try and affect change and make a difference without expectation for anything in return. Or, seeing my son voluntarily wearing the first sample of our t-shirts and the pride he felt that his mum was doing all she could to make a difference. So many to choose from but it feels like the thing that I’ve spoken about for such a long time is finally becoming a reality.
Why is work so important for you?
Work is incredibly important to me but having worked with the choirs and seen how giving people a voice can be life-changing, making a difference in the lives of people who are like me is even more important.
What advice would you give fellow Military spouses who want to start their own business?
Do it! You’ll never regret it, you’ll only ever regret not doing it.
Twitter – @strongsupport1
Instagram – @strengthbehindthestrong