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Business Women Scotland Awards: meet the 2020 winners

The coronavirus pandemic has created new challenges for anyone running a business and made the recipients of the 2020 Business Women Scotland Awards all the more deserving.

Last updated: 19 Nov 2020 5 min read

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Chef and restaurateur Hayley Wilkes, who was named overall winner at the 2020 awards.

The sixth annual Business Women Scotland Awards went virtual for the first time this year, welcoming a wider audience than ever before.

As Lynne Kennedy MBE, founder of Business Women Scotland, acknowledged, every finalist in the 2020 awards is an inspiration and a role model, not only to their peers but also to the next generation of business owners.

She said: “Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely place, and when you’re working remotely – trying to make things happen via video rather than face to face, this year especially – winning an award is well-deserved recognition for your business and a huge boost to your confidence in taking your business to the next level.”

With the awards ceremony taking place online, attendees were invited to log on to a private YouTube channel to watch the live event. Worries about technical glitches and keeping people entertained online for 90 minutes made Kennedy slightly apprehensive, but the event was a real success – and the format also had its advantages, not least the geographical reach it had.

“We had entries from Stornoway and Aberdeen, and people living so far away can’t always get to Glasgow, where we normally host the event, so this year a lot more people were able to participate,” says Kennedy. “There are some great businesses being run in the islands of Scotland, and we really want to reach more businesswomen. Running a virtual event was a big learning curve for everybody, but I can see the advantages of having some virtual elements going forward.”

Feeding the country

Hayley Wilkes, founder of Angus-based WeeCOOK, scooped the Business Woman of the Year title. She says it is the icing on the cake in a year in which she was forced to close WeeCOOK, her restaurant, takeaway and pie shop in Barry Downs, near Carnoustie, only to triumph by pivoting to a delivery model that enabled the business to sell its award-winning pies right across Scotland.

A former chef at the five-star Gleneagles resort, Wilkes opened the WeeCOOK Kitchen at Broughty Golf Club in Dundee in 2016, followed a year later with the launch of her WeeCOOK range of pies. Last year, WeeCOOK Kitchen moved to its current premises near Carnoustie.

“When Covid struck, we had two key things going for us: a strong and successful brand, and our staff,” says Wilkes. “We had just taken on some great new people, including three apprentices, and we didn’t want to lose them. Just closing the doors wasn’t an option for me, so we focused on takeaways and deliveries, with everyone initially working reduced hours. Within two weeks, sales had really taken off and we were incredibly busy.”

Beyond the pandemic, Wilkes’s future plans include scaling up the delivery business. She says: “Why give something up if there is a demand for it? I will need to look at the scale of what the business can achieve when we’re not in lockdown, but once the tourists start coming again, it will be very busy, with massive potential for growth.”

“Women in business are under-recognised. If we don’t talk about what we are doing, nobody else will do it for you, so you have to put yourself forward. Winning was absolutely fantastic and it has given everyone in the team a massive boost” Hayley Wilkes, owner, WeeCOOK

With the disruption caused by Covid, Wilkes had been unsure about entering this year’s awards but realised the business had a story to tell that others might benefit from. She says: “There are so many businesses struggling right now, and hearing how we’ve done things could potentially help them. I certainly look to other businesses and businesswomen for inspiration, and that’s why these awards are so important.

“Women in business are under-recognised. If we don’t talk about what we are doing, nobody else will do it for you, so you have to put yourself forward. Winning was absolutely fantastic, and it has given everyone in the team a massive boost.”

Along with her award, Wilkes won gifted airtime to the value of £20,000 from awards sponsor STV and membership of the STV Growth Fund.

Celebrating resilient women

A new Covid-related category for 2020 was Resilient Woman of the Year, which Wilkes also won jointly with Michelle Milnes, director of Property Studios in Edinburgh. Not surprisingly, it also received the most entries.

Kennedy said: “Everyone is living this crisis at the moment and people are keen to show how resilient they’ve been in the face of adversity. A lot of businesswomen have families and other care responsibilities, and this award recognises how they’ve responded to the challenge, successfully adapted their business model, and kept family life going.”

The Start-up Business of the Year category was won by Melodie Paterson, co-owner of Heather Street Food in Dundee. Launched in January this year, the business was set up to cater for weddings and events from a mobile bar. Several early bookings heralded a promising start, but within a week they were all cancelled due to coronavirus. Paterson’s response was to forge a partnership with V&A Dundee to provide an open-air street food pop-up in the museum’s waterfront plaza, serving gelato, bagels, coffee and alcoholic drinks.

She says: “I couldn’t believe I’d won the award, but it felt so good to have all the hard work that went into starting the business recognised, and to see so many other amazing businesswomen being recognised for their achievements.”

The Start-up Business category was sponsored by Royal Bank of Scotland, which has supported the Business Women Scotland Awards for a number of years. The bank’s director of women in business, Yvonne Greeves, who was once again on the judging panel, said: “The calibre of entries was stronger than ever this year – and that’s why these awards are so important because they are really showcasing talented businesswomen who are role models who can inspire and influence other women, and encourage them to adopt that mindset of: ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’”

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Leadership and Management