how she did it

Case Studies // I Chose to Survive | Sue Franc...

I Chose to Survive | Sue France

Woman of the Week 14th November 2011

Sue France runs Forward Ladies in Merseyside and Cheshire, but before this she built a children’s wear business in London and became the Head of Marketing and PR at Leeds Hotel Group. Read her inspiring story below.


I Chose to Survive

When my daughter Rachel died of Cancer in 2001 at the age of 27, I quickly realised that in order to get through the grief I would have to focus on something else so I arranged a memorial ball. The Ball was a success and I raised £15000 for the Kirsty Appeal in Manchester. The highlight of the night was Jason Orange who came along with a gold disc to auction and everyone had a great time.

Rachel was an actress and attended hundreds of auditions, often reaching the final call backs and sometimes getting picked. However there were regular rejections and put downs especially in her first years after drama school and we marvelled at her determination to rise above the regular humiliation and keep going back for more. I actually made the decision to learn from her strength and chose to survive rather than let sadness overwhelm my life.

I gave up my job and went to work in the “Kirsty Appeal” office as a volunteer. My main tasks were inviting celebrities to events and obtaining raffle prizes. I enjoyed putting experiences together so for instance if one prize was a night’s stay in London, I would add a theatre trip, backstage visit, dinner at a famous restaurant and the train fare so that the final package was something special. From this I was invited to work for a brand new boutique hotel in Leeds with a brief to plan events and bring celebrities to stay.

The first thing I did was book a party for a friend who was leaving the cast of Emmerdale and secure a location shoot for OK magazine for another star.

The second thing I did was a free lunch for 80 “Forward Ladies”

Both of these actions put the hotel on the map and soon there were two more Yorkshire hotels and a promotion to Head of Marketing and PR.

When I retired in 2010 I was unexpectedly asked to run Forward Ladies in Merseyside and Cheshire. The group had brought so much business to our hotels over the years that I knew for a fact that its networking ethos worked. This is actually my third career as I was a children’s wear designer for many years and had my own business in London in the seventies.

I think it’s perfectly acceptable to have totally different career paths to fit the stages of your life and I like the idea that my latest one in my sixties could be the best one yet. I wasn’t expecting to have a new career at this age so I am not especially financially driven. I gain greater satisfaction from watching women achieve new business and build friendships at my events.

The women who have inspired me most in each career:

Grace Coddington = She was Editor of Vogue when I blagged my way into their offices in 1970. She looked at my work and referred me to a friend which in turn led to my clothes being sold in Fortnum and Masons and kick started my first successful business

Susie Mathis = She ran the “Kirsty Appeal” and an events company and taught me everything I needed to know about running events.

Etta Cohen = She is a good friend, the Founder of Forward Ladies and she believes in me!

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