A woman who fled domestic abuse and arrived in Lincoln with £47,000 worth of debt five years ago, is now using her experience to help others by launching the Femme Finance Academy in the city.
Stephanie Wilson had a three-month-old baby son called Ethan, clothes and her car, when she moved from Leicestershire to Lincoln to start a new life, initially in a women’s refuge in the city.
After recently winning a Female Entrepreneur of the Year award, she told The Lincolnite that she had previously accumulated debt. She was on a low income, and took out loans and credit cards to pay for things, like when the washing machine broke.
She also claimed that her ex-partner took out credit cards and car loans in her name, and that she was the victim of financial abuse. Even though she worked, she said he controlled all the income and gave her an allowance.
After fleeing to Lincoln, a domestic abuse charity, now known as EDAN, helped her apply for benefits and to overcome the challenges of her situation.
She was also helped by Christians Against Poverty in Lincoln, who worked with her on a debt management plan. They managed to get £23,000 of the debt written off, which left her with a further £24,000, which she finished paying off last year.
She left the refuge after seven months and in 2017 she moved into a council property in the Birchwood area of the city and, through the help of people on social media, both free donations and her own purchases, she was able to furnish her new home.
Stephanie was determined to use her experience to help others and later that year she started an accountancy degree at the University of Lincoln, funded through student finance. She also did a bookkeeping job on the side, where she realised the true cost of being poor and developed key skills that have helped shape who she is today, saying “money was a big thing that had stopped me from progressing with life”.
Recalling her move to Lincoln in 2016, she told The Lincolnite: “I arrived with my clothes on my back and my car. When I went into the refuge they gave me a crochet blanket for my son and some toiletries.
“When you go into a refuge you feel like you have more freedom, but there is still an element of control.
“I felt like a bad parent as I’m the person that was supposed to be providing for my son, but we were living on a mattress. It made me doubt myself and reinforced what I’d previously been told, that I was a rubbish mum and I couldn’t even provide him with a cot.
“Now, I feel great being a mum. I am responsible for five children, two biological children (five-year-old Ethan and two-year-old Hunter), my husband’s two and I have parental responsibility for my nephew.”
Fast forward to 2021 and Stephanie is enjoying life with her new business – Femme Finance Academy – and her husband Nathan Wilson, who she married during lockdown last year.
Femme Finance Academy is based at the Mosaic building on Silver Street in Lincoln. The academy runs financial education courses for women on low income, teaching them about debt, living on a budget, building a nest for the future, extra income streams, poverty tax and various other topics.
All the courses are accredited by the CPD and people will get qualifications at the end. The courses range from £27 to membership options, including £349 which includes one-on-one coaching, access to private groups and an intense programme for a year.
Stephanie also runs Femme Finance Abuse – free tools and support to help women recover from financial abuse, who will spend a year with the academy, funded by other organisations. There is also the option to do courses as well as being signposted for counselling and life coaching.
She has also gone into schools to give talks and provides a masterclass at Lincoln College, as well as having lots of free resources online.
She wants to make it accessible to everyone and also believes key financial skills should be taught in schools as part of the curriculum.
Stephanie said: “Money creates so much stress and I want to support them and for them to be in a financial situation where they don’t need to rely on anyone else.
“I understand finances now and having the right mindset. I have gone from being sick, tired and worried about money to having a safety net, so that if I do suffer any financial hardship I have that safety net to fall back on.”
Not only is Stephanie now running a successful business, but earlier this year she fought off competition from around 800 nominees to be crowned Female Entrepreneur of the Year, which is run by Queens In Business. International speaker Jessen James won the Male Entrepreneur of the Year award.
In addition, Stephanie was named as Mrs Lincolnshire Galaxy 2021 this summer after being nominated by some of her clients. Unfortunately, she missed the UK finals as it clashed with the Queens In Business awards.
Stephanie said: “The reason why this meant so much, and why I accepted it, is because Lincoln saved my life. I could have lost my son to the care system if it hadn’t been for all the love Lincoln has given me.
“We have multiple refuges in Lincoln and this city has saved hundreds of women’s lives who have fled domestic violence. In Birchwood alone you can see so many single mums from out of the refuges, who have been embraced by Lincoln.”
Stephanie is determined to raise more awareness saying the academy is “not about being a feminist, it’s about women understanding they have different money challenges to men, such as the pay gap and maternity leave, and to embrace those differences and overcome the challenges”.
The Femme Finance Academy has helped a high number of women including single mum-of-two Charlie Moss, who works part-time and relies on Universal Credit for help.
Charlie, who now has six income streams, told The Lincolnite: “I couldn’t work because of childcare issues. Stephanie helped me reduce my outgoings without restricting us. She then helped me clear the high interest items I had such as kid’s bedroom furniture.
“I have a qualification in personal finance now and have created an emergency fund of over £1,000 using money from an extra income brain storming session. I run car boots, buy and sell items, babysit, and work as a freelance proof reader. I now also run a small business making cakes in which I use this money to save and invest.
“I’ve gone from being stuck in a failure as a mum position to knowing how to bring in extra money if I need to. I definitely feel worthy of my kids and my life now and I don’t feel like a stereotypical benefits mum anymore.”
Although her business focuses solely on women, Stephanie firmly believes there should be a similar service for men too.
Her husband Nathan lost his job during the coronavirus pandemic, which Stephanie said left him feeling emasculated as he wasn’t able to provide for his family as much and had a lot of pressure on his shoulders.
Nathan has since launched his own business called Dads Advocates, which supports men who have separated from their partners and want access to their children.