Fran Barker runs a successful bakery in Littleborough, Rochdale. This International Women’s Day, as a Forever Manchester supporter we asked Fran Barker to blog for us.
Fran’s bakery was recently a sponsor at our Annual Birthday Bash and Fran also spoke at a Forever Manchester Women event in 2015, bringing the whole room to tears with her hugely inspiring story, which you can read about below.
I had a rather bizarre Friday night a few weeks ago.
Sat in a ballroom in a nice dress, with a seriously fit pair of heels on, drinking wine and dancing the night away. For charity. For this charity actually. I got to sit in a room full of people who all saw what I saw, except I’m the only one who couldn’t quite believe my eyes – The Barker Baker logo on big screens around the room, in print, bread on tables. All me.
Now I’ve been sat in many a ballroom, from being a little girl dressed in Laura Ashley dresses my mum has picked out, to being a teenager drinking and not quite tasting ALL of the wines at snazzy wine tasting nights, getting disapproving looks from my mother, because of course, red, white, champagne and desert wine are not meant be downed all in one night! I was never a very good middle class daughter.
I was however the perfect “Belle du-jour”
A lot more ballrooms, a lot more dresses, a lot more money – a girl has to eat.
I ran away from home, a lot, as a teenager, and then in my twenties, when it dawned on my parents I was set to self-destruct, it was easier to let me run than for them to actually push. I stood in Manchester Piccadilly with what money I had, the clothes I had collated, my harry potter book and my passport.
What do girls do when they find themselves homeless on the streets of London? What do pretty girls with a brain do? Make money.
From seedy and sordid, to glamorous and loaded as a high end call girl, I was always an entrepreneur in the making. I say to my students sometimes that “sometimes we use our skills, just on the wrong side of the law, and should we set our mind to bringing those skills into something we really love, like business, like baking, things would be easier”
It seems I have come full circle, from daddys little rich girl, to naughty girl in London, in 2016 I found my way back to the ballroom, as a business woman, as a supporter of a charity I’m passionate about, in the knowledge that I can now make a difference.
To know where I have come from, the experiences I have had, the life I have lived, and to appreciate the sheer magnitude of what it all means.
What it means is that I’ve gone from poverty to privilege to prostitution to prison (almost) to probation to… best female entrepreneur, business newcomer of the year and to all intents and purposes, a rather successful start-up in a short space of time.
I told this story to a room full of ladies at a Forever Manchester Women’s Event last year and as I was speaking, I became overwhelmed with emotion. To hear it said out loud and realise just how far I have come, caught me off guard, I cried. I was mortified. Barkers don’t cry. Especially not in public. There was a clap, then a thunder, and the room full of women, cheered me on, smiles and teary eyes, they were with me, every single one of them. What a feeling. What a support. What a beautiful example of women, together, rallying one another on.
Forever Manchester may fund every Tom, Dick and Harry across the North West and bolster great community groups and support networks, but nothing will compare to how those ladies made me feel that day. Proud. Grateful. Liberated.
When I give my talks within the criminal justice system, I talk to girls, to women, who have lived lives much like mine, we find the common ground and build on it, together. You are allowed to be vunerable in those situations, its shows humanity, commonality, it shows the growth, the opportunity. It is the main reason I started The Barker Baker Womens Project. To ensure no-one gets left behind, that no-one suffers in silence. I can’t change the world, but I can share and care and guide, in business and as a woman.
International women’s day is a strange day for me, as I tend to look back, on the women who have inspired me, the women who have influenced me and shaped who I am.
My mother, the Rottweiler as she is apparently known in Manchester, although I’m not sure if my brother and I had dibs on that nickname first.
We may not have spoken for over 5 years, at least not in conversations I dare or care to remember, but she is the woman who saved me.
Let me share with you what I wrote when thinking of her last International Women’s Day
“There is Mrs Barker, the first woman I ever fell in love with. Blonde hair, eyes just like mine, the day I met her it was like a fairytale playing out before me.
White Mercedes pulls up, wind in her hair, she steps out, flawless. I knew she was the one. So I asked her. Blunt as I have always been; I asked her if she would be my mummy. And she said yes.
We have had moments of bliss in the 22 years we spent together, where shes been my mummy and I’ve been her Fran, we’ve made summer puddings, we’ve plaited hair, we’ve had moments where we love each other and I’ve thought she will always be there.
It will be a sunny Sunday, she is sat on the big leather sofa she dragged us around DFS for hours just to buy and shes drinking tea, a pot. Laid out on the table. Like the queen is chilling out on the other sofa across the room. Newspaper in hand, shes pensive. The intelligent woman. Shes thinking. And then she says into the silence “Pick up a bargain? 8 letters”
She will look at me for the answer, because she knows our common love is knowledge and we are both the brains of the family and always have been.
I look at her, thinking.
She asks me to sit, but says to grab a pencil. And there we stay until the bitter end, when its just 4 down to go, and we are human and we are love. And she is perfect. We both are, for a few moments in time.
Mrs Barker, the incredibly brave but incredibly stupid woman. Determined to stand by her choice. Determined to prove I’m nothing like her.
I still do the Times crossword, on the sofa, on a Sunday, with a cup of tea and I bet so does she”
International Women’s day for me is about appreciating who you are, where you came from and treasuring your successes. For me its not about men vs women in the fight for equality, with feminism at the forefront of modern day society, it is about the women we are, the women we love, the women who support us, our friends, family, co-workers, colleagues, councillors in my case! – moving forward together, for a bigger, better, brighter tomorrow.