Lancashire mum Stefanie Thwaite knows all about the challenges of keeping afloat, managing a business and raising a young family.
Those obstacles did not put her off when she decided to dive straight in with her swimming school venture
Stefanie, from Wesham, set up a Puddle Ducks franchise in February 2014. This month the team have been announced as finalists in the 2017 Enterprise Vison Awards in the customer services category. The winners will be revealed at the Blackpool Winter Gardens in September.
Stefanie says: “We started in February 2014 with no customers or pools. It began with classes at Ribby Hall and DW Preston. We then ventured into Blackpool and started to hire The Imperial Hotel and DW Blackpool.Since then, the business has continued to grow.”
Things went so well Stefanie found herself quickly recruiting further instructors. Today, Stefanie and her team work across 10 pools in the local area from the Fylde to Southport.
When she first set out on starting up a swim school Stefanie says she was looking for work that could fit around her family life and offered something positive for other families that parents and children could share.
She adds: “The reason I started the business was I wanted to launch a new venture and swam with my first child Jacob (6) since him being three weeks old.
“I then moved area as where I lived already had a Puddle Ducks franchise so moved to Wrea Green and set up Puddle Ducks West Lancs. I also set it up to spend more time with my family as I was in role where I was out for over 10 hours a day.
“I wanted a business that I could work around my family and Puddle Ducks was perfect. I am a good swimmer and am passionate about young children learning to swim at a very young age. Drowning prevention and life saving skills are very important to me as children are so often near the water and it can be so dangerous.”
She has at times found herself in choppy waters along the way: “Since starting the business I have had total replacement surgery on my knee, emergency surgery when I had an ectopic pregnancy, was on crutches for 12 months before the knee operation, moved to a new office, moved house three times, and had a baby…what a journey!”
However, she adds it was a passion for swimming and working with parents and their youngsters which has kept her going.
Earlier this year, Stefanie also welcomed a new addition to the family with the birth of second son Toby.
“Our miracle baby arrived in January and he is perfect. I wanted to swim with Toby straight away so we started at Sir Tom Finney in Preston at the weekends swimming with one of my teachers, Kelly. We have now moved to Ribby Hall on a Friday as it is hard fitting the class in with a six-year-old who is football mad and has classes daily so I have a Friday out of the office and take him then.
“He has now done submersions, jumping in, duckling dive underwater swims and is starting to resurface, find a place of safety and hold on to the side…at just five months old!
“I enjoy seeing new mummies enjoy a class with their baby and invaluable bonding time together. We also have lots of mummies who have made friends during our classes and are now really good friends years later and go on holidays abroad together.
“We teach aqua natal classes to pregnant mummies as well as baby and pre-school classes , there are now more than 50 mummies-to-be per week.”
Classes are now available at their sites six days a week.
In between managing the swim school, Stefanie dedicates the ‘spare time’ to fundraising: “Each term we run a pyjama party life saving week for different charities. Last year it was Baby Beat at Royal Preston Hospital as I read a lot about the charity when I was in during March last year when we lost our baby and then again during the year from May when I got pregnant with Toby.
“The hospital were fantastic with me and felt they more than deserved well needed funds to help other families in the area. We raised over £400 for them.
“In October 2015 our charity was Trinity Hospice and Brian House as I lost my dad unexpectedly in June 2015, and Trinity Hospice helped us before he passed away.”