Hi All! I’m back with the April Edition of Women in Midlands. I know I know…we are in May so what am I doing posting my April edition today ? Well, I was travelling all of April with very patchy access to the internet. Which made it difficult to post anything during that time. Therefore, this post has been delayed. But I can assure you that when you read through this edition, you will know that it was definitely worth the wait :)

For those who are joining us new, you can find more about Women In Midlands here.

This month, I’d like you to meet a very dear friend, Ilona Pitt. Ilona is the Director of Made In Midlands and Made in Yorkshire. When I first approached Ilona for WIM, she was super excited. We started exchanging ideas for the shoot and we both kept getting even more excited! lol :) But honestly, it was really the conversation with her that took me by surprise. I had known her for a little while even then I was blown away by the different array of topics we discussed - from life to politics to time management to sustainability …health..fitness…you name it and we talked about it :) I came away super impressed that at a young age - she has the wisdom to give importance to the things that matter - something I have to force myself to do till this day.

One question I always ask the person I’m featuring, is to give a message for the readers. This is generally the last question so you would expect that I would be tired by this time. But her answer to even this question made me stand up and take notice of just how different, how driven..how amazing her journey has been so far ..and I’m sure this is just a start as she has miles to go before she stops! :)

Sharing some snippets from our conversation and some pictures from the day -

Me: Tell me a little about yourself

She: I’m a 31 year old female, wife and mother of one, businesswoman, and amateur science, and technology geek. You can talk to me about anything from entertainment, fashion and celebrity gossip to politics , business and black holes, quantum physics, string theory or electric cars! I’ve lived in the UK and the Midlands for nearly 13 years. I’m a very positive individual , always trying to look on the bright side of life and any challenges I face , so expect to laugh while you are around me. I get on well with people and want to see the best in them. 

Me: When and why did you move to the Midlands?

She: I moved in September 2006. I'm still more Polish than English though as I lived in Poland for 19 years and in UK only for 13. So once I cross over - I'll be more English than Polish! (laughs) . I  moved here to join the University at the time. It was a big step for me. It wasn't something I first envisioned for myself. I had the credentials to get into any university that I wanted in Poland but somehow I landed in Wolverhampton! (laughs)

Me: You mentioned that settling here, making this place your own was one of the toughest things you did. Why did you say that?

She: Because imagine coming to live in a different country, not knowing the language completely, establishing yourself from scratch, I didn't know anyone and that was extremely challenging. It's just strange, you initially have no family or friends around you. You have to make new friends, new relationships. I had to work. My mum was supporting me but it wasn't enough.So, I had to work every weekend. At that time, I could understand English. My grammar and written English was good but my spoken English wasn't that good. So communication was a huge challenge in the first 6 months. I was just making it up with my smile! (laughs) 

Me: What are some of the differences you noticed here vs. the town/city where you were moving from?

She: It was so different that literally it was a total culture shock. First of all, there are so many different nationalities and people you meet here. Where I am from, everyone is Caucasian, white, speaking Polish. We used to have these big sports events in my city, Bydgoszcz. At those events, sometimes, we would come across some people who were different. But it was still so much of the same. And then you come here and you meet people like yourself - from India, America, Jamaica, Pakistan - like any country you can think of...is here. I've had some really amazing friends who are not 'Polish, white, from Poland'. I've met a lot of great people. I think that's the main difference. Its more cosmopolitan. Although, when I go back now, it's changed a lot in Poland too in the 13 years that I've been away. There are a lot of tourists from different nationalities who are visiting Poland now. Lots of Polish women are now marrying men from different cultures and nationalities and then going back. But when I was growing up there, think about it, it was post communist era...90s and 2000s..it was just a different world. 

Me: You described meeting your now husband as a turning point in your life. Why do you say that?

She: I was a happy girl and had a good life. But meeting Jason was a new chapter for me that I really enjoy to this day. Probably meeting him has kept me in this region as well. I had plans to leave to be honest with you. If it was't for meeting him, I'd be living somewhere else. I was just looking for the right opportunity to move. But then I met Jason and decided to stay here instead. I've learnt a lot from him. He's changed my life on so many levels. We are partners in every level..family...business...every level really has changed completely since meeting him. 

Me: How did you get started with 'Made In Midlands'? What is your role there?

She: Made in Midlands is a social network for Midlands manufacturing and engineering companies. It started from a small business publication which I joined in 2010 and basically we've grown it from a newspaper, selling advertisements - really tough job as you can see publishing is dying - and turned it around into a completely different platform for building a social network for manufacturing companies. It's come about organically over nearly 10 years. If you need to know more, we have a great website at www.madeinthemidlands.com.

I've pretty much done everything in this company. I started from sales. I did membership sales for 2-3 years. Then I was involved more on the finance side. I've recruited people. So Sales, Marketing, Finance, HR - everything. Now, I have a really good idea bout how a business works. I've learnt a lot from Jason as he is a born entrepreneur. Its so easy for him to just have an idea, set it up, get it going. I see a lot of people who would just see the barrier. Whereas he just gets on with it. I've learnt a lot from him. Thats another reason why meeting him was a turning point for me. We have also launched a new region three years ago, Made in Yorkshire and our business model proves to be successful there as well. I am currently Director of both Made in the Midlands and Made in Yorkshire.

Me: You've visited the EU parliament and you've also been a frequent visitor to the UK Parliament (wow!).How did those come about? What were those experiences like?

She: Those are very interesting experiences for me, getting to know the works of the government. The Brussels trip, back in 2015, came about with 20 of our customers. We went to talk about Brexit back then, basically educate our members and our network about what it would mean for Britain to leave the EU. To understand more about Brexit and see how EU parliament works. To see it with our own eyes what this organisation is. We went there for 3 days and we had various meetings, with various Members of European Parliament. What I found post-Brexit is that people are uneducated about what European Union is, why its there, what it does. They just don't have the general knowledge about workings of it. So we thought it would be a great idea to go there and see it with our own eyes. Its a massive institution. It was good to talk to representatives of different UK parties from Conservatives to Labour to UKIP - we had meetings with different EU MEP's and we had these debates about what is going to happen. Do you have a plan if scenario A happens. Whats the plan if Scenario B happens. 

We met Nigel Farage and he was campaigning for leave. Back in the Midlands, I took a part in the Brexit debate where I was in the Remain side. I was trying to convince people that why we should Remain. I was talking from the standpoint of a Polish immigrant in this country. I can't vote but I was hoping my story would inspire people to vote Remain. Without European Union, I could never be here. My parents who lived through  the communist era couldn't even dream of the life that I have here. You couldn't just visit any other country without being followed by the regime let alone go and live in the Western Europe. So I felt very privileged that I could live here, I could study and made my life here. I share that story with people. 

I understand that EU is huge and its bureaucratic - massive bureaucratic machine. But I believe we either have that and try to improve it rather than it all breaks up and a few years down the line we have a war again or something really bad happens. At least there has been a long period of peace in Europe. We had horrible two world wars in just last century.  So, I think European Union gives the sense of stability that everybody is living in peace and harmony. If they have a difference of opinion or need to argue  - they will do it in that building rather than fight in reality.  I'm sure there is  a better way of doing things but you have to be there to change it. Leaving like UK is leaving now, they won't be able to make any changes. I hope it doesn't create a domino effect with the EU falling apart.

UK parliament - we do a lot of events for Made in The Midlands and Made in Yorkshire. Our Chairman is the former Birmingham City Council leader, Lord Mike Whitby. We spend a lot of time with him and I have learnt a lot from him about politics. We take our customers to London on regular basis. We've worked with Baroness Lorely Burt of Solihull for our Inclusivity Campaign. We also take our customers to the Parliament for various tours, events, Private Dining. It definitely feels special to walk down these corridors of power!

Me: So do you see yourself entering Politics? 

She: Who knows (laughs). 

Me: Family clearly is important to you. Running a business is an all consuming job. How do you maintain your work life balance?

She: There's time to work...there's time to play...Time to rest and time to party .... it's most important to find time for everything and not just get consumed by your work. You have to have balance of different things - to make sure you meet your friends, make sure you spend time with your child and read him that book at night (laughs)...make sure you look after your relationship and your love life, make sure stuff at work is going well. It's just being aware of the concept of time. Being aware of different pots, different needs of different people in my life...also myself as well - it's me that I have to look after. 

Time ....it's scarce and one thing we can not get more of. Everyone has the same amount of it and it fascinates me how we all achieve different results. How you use it now influences future outcomes and that's in everything from your health and well being to love of your child or bank balance. Time is really everything. 

Remember what's important. There are many un-important things in our life that should not get our time. To give you an example, I recently deleted the Facebook App from my phone as I was giving it too much time. Now its not there and I don't miss it. So its about being aware of stuff like that that eat your time because we only have those 24 hours. So, what are you going to do with it? How are you going to make it count? 

Me: Health is also super important to you. What do you do to be healthy?

She: I've seen people in my family who lost their good health and passed away. Just looking at that - thats when you realize how important health is. Because without that you cant enjoy anything have or anything you have worked so hard towards. Health is everything. I must admit I have had moments when I am super health conscious and then some other times when you have some more than usual stress in your lives you find comfort in food or when you don't do the right things....like right now I'm going through the period of giving it a lot more notice. I've bought a water distiller. It makes pure H2O. Its just an extreme thing though as I wanted to feed my plants fresh distilled water because they will grow better. In general though, health is important. I do look after myself. I need to get myself back to the gym though. When I'm in the gym - I can tell you I'm on fire! (Laughs). I just need motivation to kick-start it. 

Me: You mentioned that when you talk health, you are concerned about the health of the planet also. What do you do about that?

When people think about time, they generally think about the immediate time or maybe tomorrow. But I think about 10..15..20..maybe 100 years from now...beyond my lifetime and look at things to come....where are we heading as a civilisation...as humanity...where are we heading and what I'm seeing at the moment its quite scary. What's happening at the moment is not sustainable. The consumption and the consumerism - which I also enjoy...we all do...we like things that are convenient - but then when you step back and look at how much waste there is ...especially when we talk about plastic - I just get disgusted that we use something for one time and then we just throw it away...I feel guilty you know. To think that it will take 500 years for this plastic to disappear ...that's huge! So next time you have your yogurt and you throw away that yogurt cup - think about it...that it's going to take 500 years for that little cup to disappear. It's scary and it's disgusting. 

But obviously, before you change anything, you have to change yourself. So first of all, I just make sure that I recycle everything I can. I am almost obsessive about recycling. I try and make better choices  and shop for products that are more sustainable, with less packaging. I've recently made a commitment that I will never buy water in a plastic bottle ever again. I'm going to use glass bottles where I can. I've recently bought the Soda Stream and I'm going to sparkle my own water. I really believe that little changes like that will really make an impact going forward. 

I always wanted an electric car and I'm driving a Tesla X now. I love the vision of the Tesla company : “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy”. I am very inspired by Elon Musk. I find him a very inspiring and influential figure. He looks at sustainability. One of his companies is called SpaceX. And he talks about taking people to Mars....making sure that we as human beings...our civilization continues. Sustainability is really huge for me. I think I'm looking for something that I can contribute to this trend. Going on a different planet, will be good for the planet...for humanity...and I'm sure we can make some money there too (laughs).

Honestly though, I get excited to see developments in our exploration of space, I can’t wait for people to land on Mars. I have been fascinated by our place in the universe - this started when I first saw a Milky Way and a night sky in south of Poland when on vacation at my grandparents. It has been the most breathtaking experience for me, thousands of stars in the sky I had never seen living in the city. I would love to go to Atacama desert Observatory one day and experience the view of one of the cleanest skies on the planet.

My dream is to go to orbit before I hit 50 - I truly believe this will happen. Think this would be the most amazing experience to see the planet and our sun suspended in the darkness of the universe, this would really put things into perspective for me.

Me: A message for the readers -

She: Believe in yourself. Go for it. Never stop dreaming and never stop envisioning what your life can be. It's really my mantra. Look for mentors and people to inspire you. Google Elena Cardone, she's my role model!  I don't want to stay still. There's a lot of things I'd like to do in my life. I like to envision that and that's why I have a vision board. I make this vision board every few years. It's just a simple exercise but it's good for your mind. To make a vision board - you just take a blank poster and you just think of where you want your life to go, you print pictures of things that represent a few things in the future and then you stick them on this poster. And then you just look at it from time to time so that it stays with you and subconsciously you keep moving towards them. There are a lot of things that have happened in my life. I'm not saying that this is the reason they've happened. But it's all about training your mind to focus on the things that you want and work hard towards them. 

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the Q&A section of the text belong solely to the interviewee, and not necessarily to the author or Candid You Photography.

Earlier editions of Women In Midlands -

March

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