Bury St Edmunds: Could Nicola Hunter’s business be a way forward for working mums everywhere?

Nicola and Andrew Hunter are pictured at Bury Physio.

Nicola and Andrew Hunter are pictured at Bury Physio. - Credit: Archant

London. Hong Kong. Bury St Edmunds. Nicola Hunter’s journey to Suffolk is a little unusual, but then so is London born Nicola. When obstacles cross her path, she does something about them.

And, in doing so, she has created a model for working families in Bury St Edmunds that is quite simply an inspiration.

Nicola, 58, is well known in Bury St Edmunds where she has lived with her husband, Andy, and their family since the mid 1980s after a spell when they both lived and worked in Hong Kong.

A physiotherapist, Nicola moved to Suffolk soon after the birth of her second child and began to look for part time work that fitted in with the childcare of her daughter, Lucy, now 30, and son Mike, 28.

“The thing about physio is that that you have to keep doing it to stay up to date and I didn’t want to work full time with the little ones,” says Nicola.

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“But back then the hospital said that they weren’t taking part timers. So I thought I had better set something up myself which I did, in 1987, in our house in Guildhall Street. And it got me thinking. If I was a Mum with kids who couldn’t get a part time job as a physio, there must be others. And that’s how the business grew, out of providing flexible, part time work for mums with kids.”

Nicola had another child, a son, Tom, now 25, and the business has continued to grow, eventually becoming too much for their Guildhall Street front room. Andy, who was a civil engineer, ‘gave up his day job’ and he and Nicola decided to buy a delapidated property in Maynewater Lane which they renovated completely and turned into Bury Physio in 2000.

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They have worked together ever since.

They currently have 18 physios working for them there with Andy doing the business side while Nicola does the clinical aspect.

As a working mother, I found it inspiring that, rather than sitting around feeling frustrated that work doesn’t fit around motherhood, Nicola created a working environment that fits around people’s lives, rather than shoehorning them into a life of stress and panic, where they are always running late for the nursery or school collections, and never feeling that they can truly give their best as either an employee or a mum.

“Some people do evenings, some only work during school hours, others work on Saturdays because that’s what’s best for them,” Nicola says.

And the work fits around life changes too. “Some people work for us before they have children, then have a bit of time out, then come back, maybe work evenings and weekends, then when their kids are going to school, they move to school hours. We’ve had a lot of people who’ve followed that path.”

Nicola is also keen to stress that their working environment isn’t just for the benefit of working mothers. “We have dads too,” she says. “Physio has been quite female dominated but we are about 50-50 here.”

One of their male physios is Andrew Bannan who led the physio team for the swimmers at the Commonwealth Games.

And Nicola’s business model doesn’t just work well for her employees, it also works for her patients too, she says.

“Some of what we do is occupational health,” Nicola explains, “so what is the use of trying to help people back to work if the only time you can offer appointments is during work hours? I realised early on that that was pretty silly so we make sure we are open early mornings, in the evenings and on Saturday mornings.”

I benefitted from this myself when I told Nicola about how I had (idiotically) injured myself playing at the skatepark with my children. I was feeling pretty fed up because, as someone who loves to run, I had begun to think I would never get my trainers out again. She immediately put me in touch with fabulous physio Anna Clayton, ‘who’s great with runners’ and she fitted me in at 8am before work.

Within a fortnight I was back running again (six miles this week!)

It was that simple, for someone who sees no obstacles, anyway.

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