"I have multiple sclerosis, which was diagnosed in 2005. I have a strong will and determination to not let this affect my ability to work"
Founder and CEO of JA Executive PA Services
Jacqueline Winstanley recently caught up with Janet Aspin of JA Executive PA Services to find out more about what makes her such an inspiring and Inclusive Entrepreneur. Janet is a member of The Inclusive Entrepreneur Network.
You are An Inclusive Entrepreneur, a member of our Inclusive Entrepreneurship Community. It would really help me if you could set the scene so our visitors understand not only the concept but the person behind your brand.
"I am the founder and CEO of JA Executive PA Services. I live in Darwen, Lancashire and set up my business in April 2021. I offer confidential, professional PA Services, providing Virtual Administration Support to SME’s, saving them valuable time they can use to concentrate on running their business.”
My background is in manufacturing, where I previously worked for 25 years. I am a highly experienced administrator & co-ordinator. I also have Multiple Sclerosis, which was diagnosed in 2005. I have a strong will and determination to not let this affect my ability to work.
I started my career in 1996 as a sales administrator for a family-run business. When the business was sold to a Danish company, I was appointed Sales Supervisor, and then Sales Co-ordinator. I also supported the Production Manager with various administrative tasks, including booking of flights and accommodation, participation in the daily production meetings and the submitting of monthly expenses.
During this time, there were many changes to the operational running of the business, but I always adapted quickly and remained a professional, reliable employee. Then in March 2005, I started to feel unwell, with numbness in my feet. After many tests and an MRI scan, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
The 7th of July 2005 is a date imprinted in my mind. The reason I remember it so clearly - apart from the devasting news of my diagnosis and the shock I felt - is that it was also the morning of the terrible London bombings. I was travelling in the car with my Mum, driving home from my consultant appointment, when we heard the news over the radio. It was a Thursday morning.
I returned to work on the following Monday, not wanting the news of my diagnosis to affect my work. I had an extremely supportive employer and at that time, my mobility was still ok.
In the meantime, I was still progressing in my work and career. Two years later, I took over as Operations Co-Ordinator / Customer Services which involved planning and managing the company production plan and working with the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, creating new items/bill of materials and purchase orders, as well as ensuring delivery/lead times were adhered to. I also supported the Head of Operations & Design with various administrative tasks.
I could see that over the years, my mobility had suffered - but not my ability to carry out my job.
I had support if I needed it. I was treated the same as any other employee and that’s the way I wanted it to be. On the other hand, I also knew that if I needed any physical support, my colleagues and friends would always be there for me.
Then in October 2020, we received the shocking news that the manufacturing site in the UK would relocate to another European Site. This was due to the uncertainty and disruptions caused by Brexit and the Pandemic. We were given a 12-week working notice period, until the end of December 2020.
Immediate panic set in - Will anybody want to employ me as a disabled person? I spent the notice period preparing my CV.
In February 2021, following a successful interview, I was offered a new position with a company. I was so excited! This was a new start.
And then I heard the dreaded two words - Risk Assessment - which turned out to be the most horrific experience I have ever encountered. The Risk Assessment was so personal and highly intrusive. Three months later and still with no confirmed start date, I decided not to accept the job offer. The whole experience was traumatic, and my health was suffering."
What led you to entrepreneurship?
"After my redundancy and awful experience, I felt I was being excluded from mainstream employment because of my disability.
It was at that stage I decided to become an entrepreneur. I had over 25 years' experience in the manufacturing industry and I had gained very valuable managerial, administrative and business skills that I could provide as a virtual executive services package.
A few weeks later, a chance conversation with my hairdresser Kevin Winstanley introduced me to Jacqueline Winstanley and Universal Inclusion.
Jacqueline explained about the Access to Work Award, which I didn’t even know existed. This was a gruelling process to go through and I had to dig deep into my medical condition, which was hard at times. I consider myself to be an intelligent person, but I certainly wouldn’t have been able to complete the application on my own. Jacqueline’s expertise, knowledge and coaching is incredible. I have received so much support in this process. Without her assistance, the award would just not have happened."
Do you feel it was and is tougher for you than your non-disabled peers?
"Absolutely, yes! I’ve spent my life since my diagnosis saying “I’m ok”, when in fact, the reality is different. I recognise that as I am coping with a long-term health condition, I need help and support, not only physically but mentally too.
It is tough for people with disabilities. We have to fight for a right to work which is crazy. Disabled people are not stupid, so why are we made to feel like that. The Access to Work Award isn’t a benefit!"
Why did you set up this particular business and brand?
"Having acquired the experience, I knew that there was a ready market for my skills. This led me to set up as a Virtual PA."
What successes have you had along the way that you are particularly proud of?
"I’m proud that I have not let my disability affect me in the workplace and I have continued to remain professional in everything I do."
Can you share some of the obstacles you have overcome along the way?
"I had such an horrific experience trying to get back into mainstream employment after my redundancy. For me, this was not easy at all...to be put through what I can only describe as a very personal and intrusive experience."
What are the economic benefits of being an entrepreneur?
"Working from home, which saves on the daily commute.
There is also a suggestion that we are more productive."
What assistance have you had along the way, and how has that helped you get where you are today?
"I’ve had huge support from Jacqueline Winstanley to help me move forward as an inclusive entrepreneur. The network is incredible and offers so much support for disabled entrepreneurs."
As an entrepreneur, what would you advise other disabled people who are also considering embarking on a similar journey?
"I would advise any disabled person interested in entrepreneurship to contact Universal Inclusion.
Take advice, but make sure it is the right decision for you.
Decide what your goal is and never give up. Just because you are disabled doesn’t mean you cannot become a successful entrepreneur."
You can also engage with her on social media: