Oxfordshire Soup is a networking event with a purpose. With a reduction in government funding and grants available for small businesses, Oxfordshire Soup aims to fill a gap which enables communities to disrupt the status quo and raise small scale investment for new businesses. The elegance of Oxfordshire SOUP is in its simplicity as well as delivering a unique support pathway for business enabling them to develop sustainable growth.

The InDependent Spouse was one of the finalists for the event in December and I was invited to pitch. Here’s what I said…

You will all know that running a business is rewarding but oh, so tough! You might have started your own business to fit around your family, or even your partners job. Being a business owner gives you purpose, and an identity – we are all business owners – entrepreneurs – and so much more! And the best part? We get to spend days, just like today, surrounded by other business owners – it’s our own inspiring network.

Now imagine the damage to your network if you moved counties, or even countries, this summer, and every summer for the next three years because your husband or wife is serving in the UK Armed Forces? Imagine what it would do to your confidence? Imagine how much you would miss your family? And just think of the damage it would do to your business?

I am Jess Sands, business owner, podcast host, and yes, military wife – who in 2018 started a project, The InDependent Spouse, to help all military spouses and partners launch and build their own, transient business, so that they could re-gain their confidence, build their own network, and become amazing entrepreneurs.

But why military spouses?

The Armed Forces may be off your TV screens but they are still deployed, even as we speak, all over the world from Africa to Afghanistan (yes – they’re still in Afghanistan!) and of course closer to home, helping out with flooding and other natural disasters – they are away for up to 9 months at a time. And despite what Gareth Malone might like you to think, military wives don’t just sing and cry into hankies while this happens – we are just as tough as our husbands, and doing some incredible things despite what modern military life throws at us.

The name The InDependent Spouse comes from the term the Ministry of Defence uses to refer to partners, spouses and children of serving personnel –  They call me a ‘Dependant’ – even the pass I wear around my neck says it. To them I am basically just my husband’s wife…but it wasn’t always this way.

In 2012 I left a successful career I loved, to follow my husband’s work and I found myself here, in Oxford, applying for jobs with companies who refused to employ a military wife – thanks again to Gareth – so instead I started my own business and found an inspirational group of spouses doing exactly the same. And last year I started a podcast series to showcase just how amazing these partners are.

We are anything but Dependent – my project is all about giving them the tools and support to reach their full potential as InDependent business people.

Over the last few months, the InDependent Spouse has grown from a podcast series to an online platform, providing its members with online networking groups, expert advice and access to a vibrant community.

The online element is crucial – military spouses are scattered all over the country and the globe, often moving at short notice before they can integrate into their real-life community. My platform uses the brilliance of the internet to join them into one big group.

But why am I telling you this and what does this have to do with your local community in Oxfordshire?

We, military wives, are the hiding in plain sight, I live here – and in Oxfordshire there are thirteen and a half thousand military and their families. The biggest RAF base is 40mins away, our war dead were flown, just over the border into Royal Wootten Basset, we are part of your community, we are your community.

Can you imagine the difference to your local economy if those partners were supported with their business dreams?

I have big plans for the InDependent Spouse – I will grow the community so that it reaches all spouses, even those who might not think they have it in them to start their own business. I will provide them with more of the tools they need for success, bringing experts from all fields of business on-board to provide content such as seminars and one-to-one support sessions. This platform has so much potential and I want to bring that potential to life.

The wives, husbands and partners of serving personnel have sacrificed so much for this country and I believe they are the true foundation that holds up the Armed Forces – but in turn, they also need to be nurtured and supported.

By giving partners their own identity through their business, we allow a spouse to financially contribute to their families, freeing up the pressure on the serving person.

By providing access to develop the skills they’ve already used during their working lives, we help a spouse retain their identity and their mental health.

By providing access to inspirational role models and an online virtual network, we show partners that they aren’t alone or isolated in this military world.

And for me, it means that while my husband is away in the most terrible parts of the world, he doesn’t have to worry about life at home – which means that he can focus on the important work that he has to do. Because the spouses and partners aren’t separate from serving personnel, we are the same team – and that is why this platform is so important and vital and that is why I think you should support the InDependent Spouse.