The Wood Life Project – a mentoring partnership story

6 min read

A sustainable enterprise manufacturing eco-friendly wooden projects for the family home.
Hazel Russell, Co-founder, The Wood Life Project
Mentee
Keeley Hazelhurst, Director of Financial Pathways Ltd
Mentor

Please tell us more about what you do on a day-to-day basis for someone who knows nothing about your role.

I’m a co-founder of The Woodlife Project with my husband. We manufacture and sell eco-friendly materials for households. No two days are the same for us, since we pretty much cover every aspect of the business ourselves. We’ve recently started using a storage unit, and so I spend a large bulk of our days sending out the kitchenware from there and my husband engraves the materials. I think it's also important to mention that I am a mum of two.

Hazel

I’m a finance director, and I work with a number of organisations, often for a few years at a time to get their finances in place. I’m currently the finance director for an international charity, leading the finance team over four countries in Africa and their London base.

Keeley

Did you have any fears ahead of participating on the mentoring programme? If so, did these fears materialise?

I worried about the fact that we wouldn’t be meeting face-to-face and that because of this the partnership might not flourish like it would if we were meeting in person. I also worried a little about whether we would find time to meet, since we are both so busy. These fears were unfounded, though. In fact, because of how busy we both are, it was probably better that we only ever met virtually. It did mean that Keeley and I were meeting up from 8pm onwards, but that was okay.

Hazel

Similarly to Hazel, I worried about the fact that we wouldn’t be able to meet in person, and for instance that I wouldn’t be able to see Hazel at work in her unit and physically see her products. But as Hazel mentioned, we saved a lot of time by only meeting virtually, and it didn’t seem to hold us back at all.

Keeley

Woodland

Has your mentoring experience led to any tangible benefits for your business or for your personal development? If so, please could you describe the one you consider to be most important?

The most transformative thing for me is that I've been able to get my clarity on my numbers. Before I met Keeley, I buried my head when it came to business numbers. Though I didn’t specifically ask for a mentor who could help with sorting my numbers, Keeley has been absolutely invaluable in helping with this.

Hazel

Being a mentor on this programme has given me so much more confidence. My job has always involved giving clients lots of guidance, but it never occurred to me that I can specifically ‘mentor’. It is something I now say I can do. I will keep helping Hazel out wherever I can.

Keeley

Considering what you have learned so far, what one piece of advice would you give yourself if you were starting the mentoring again?

I would tell anyone embarking on a mentoring programme to really trust the process and their mentor. Everyone’s scenario will be different, but if you approach the programme with an open mind then you will get the most out of it.

Hazel

I would suggest communicating early on. Don’t wait for the programmatic events to make it happen, instead I’d suggest building the relationship from the outset. Unfortunately, Hazel and I were slow at starting out, and now suddenly it's all over and there's still so much I’d like us to do together. So, I would recommend being proactive at the beginning of the process.

Keeley

Woodlife Project

Have your business goals and personal aspirations changed and required you to embrace challenge since starting the programme?

The direction of my business has had to change because of Covid-19 due to the drastic change in consumer habits. We used to work with wholesalers, but this has altered since the lockdown. Keeley has been a great help in guiding us through this change.

Hazel

In the short term, no. However, I now feel more confident that in the future my mentoring piece will be included in work that I offer. I’m not quite there yet, but it's something for me to be continually working on.

Keeley

Has your mentoring partner helped you in ways that you were not expecting?

Absolutely. Keeley got us ready for a big investment opportunity that I absolutely was not expecting to do in this timeframe. She’s been invaluable with helping with numbers, working out what our business model looks like now, and what it will look like in the future. I’m so grateful for this.

Hazel

Honestly, the unexpected aspect of this programme for me is feeling that I’ve made a great friend in Hazel. Nothing about our mentoring partnership has been transactional, and that’s been the best part for me.

Keeley

Case studies

DramEd – a mentoring partnership story

DramEd is a creative education company, supporting schools and nurseries to make performing arts accessible and fun.