Case study

Kym Barlow: My experience of Help to Grow

Kym Barlow is the Commercial Director for TDP, a family-owned company based in Wirksworth, which makes garden furniture from recycled plastic. She completed the Help to Grow programme in early 2022 and more than a year later, reflects on the experience.

Key motivations and benefits

After 13 years of working in procurement roles within a range of sectors — local government, higher education, defence, utilities and logistics — Kym joined the family business, TDP, in 2021 as its Commercial Director. Having never worked in manufacturing before, Kym was excited but daunted by the new role.

She says: “I originally completed a Business Management degree, but wanted to refresh my business management skills, and do something that would help to build my confidence and skillset. The Help to Grow management programme appealed to me, especially the peer networking — I was keen to speak to other people who might be going through similar issues to me.”

Kym Barlow sitting with her son on a TDP bench

It really opened my eyes to the help and support available from the University of Derby and others. The course highlighted the importance of building up networks and relationships, and that’s what I’ve been able to do.

Kym Barlow
Commercial Director, TDP

When TDP won the King’s Award for Enterprise for its sustainable development work, Kym says the University was “a great support — one of the first ones to post out about it.” TDP is also now benefiting from grant funding through the Green Entrepreneurs Programme to help develop a new product, and is starting to work with the University’s Regional Economic Observatory on refining its strategy. Kym says they are even considering a Knowledge Transfer Partnership.

The value of mentoring

The Help to Grow programme includes ten hours of one-to-one mentoring. Kym was paired up with Rob Knowles, an experienced business coach and mentor, and she’s found his support invaluable — so much so that she chose to continue working with him after Help to Grow finished.

“Rob’s really helped me with my confidence and development — from practical everyday things like time management, right up to people management and helping me learn more about what sort of leader I am.

"I was brought into TDP for succession planning — the aim being for me and my brother (who is currently the Production Director) to eventually take over from my parents and run the business. Rob’s been helping me prepare for this transition and his guidance has been so valuable.”

Rob also put Kym in contact with another specialist company, and the two businesses will now be working together.

TDP is a family business
TDP is a family business run by Rob and Anna Barlow, and their daughter, Kym, and son, Luke.

The power of the peer group and networking

The Help to Grow programme is delivered through blended learning, including online sessions, face-to-face workshops, one-to-one mentoring and peer group support. Kym says she found the face-to-face elements particularly beneficial:

“The tutors were practitioners, so they didn’t just talk theory — they gave great examples of how they’d applied it in their previous roles. I’ve used some of the practical approaches in the business, like the ‘strategy on a page’. It was also useful hearing other people’s experiences…it was nice to know you weren’t the only one with challenges.”

Kym has continued networking beyond the programme, through the Help to Grow alumni events. These have given her ideas for how to develop TDP:

“One speaker talked about his experience of having a non-executive board member and silent partner in his business. This sparked something in me and I’m now considering this for TDP. I also heard about other businesses successfully using apprentices and so we are now advertising for one.

"Plus, at these events I’ve talked to other people about how to structure the business to facilitate growth and I realised we needed to recruit more people, so it’s helped us to be a bit braver with this.”

Growing and evolving the business

Help to Grow has given Kym the tools, support network and confidence to lead TDP — alongside her brother — in the next phase of its journey.

She explains:

“One side of the business has become more profitable than expected, so we need to rethink our growth plan and premises plan. Before Help to Grow this would have really been daunting, but now I know we can go back and talk to the University for funding advice, and seek guidance from other businesses. It’s nice to have that support network there.”

Kym now plans to put together a new five-year strategy with ambitious targets, aiming to double TDP’s turnover within that timescale. The University will certainly be supporting her all the way.

TDP bench in garden
TDP employee assembling a bench
TDP staff celebrating award win