Build it and they will come!

Frustrating? Yes. Time-consuming? Yes. But worthwhile? Totally! Two years ago PA Bernice Pennycuick set up a networking group for secretaries in her area. Read the real story of her ups and downs on the road to success…

By Bernice Pennycuick

“He who waits until circumstances completely favour his undertaking, will never accomplish anything." Martin Luther King Jr

I started MKPAnet - a networking club for the PAs and senior secretaries of Milton Keynes - in March 2002 to fill a very obvious gap. Although we have numerous networking groups and clubs in the town, there isn’t one for us.

First of all, I created a website via MSN. This was very useful and is still in existence However, it is rarely visited because it's rather cumbersome and - I quickly discovered - many companies have firewalls preventing their employees from going into MSN. This rather defeated the object!

My next step was to create interest and attract members. I wrote to all the local hotels telling them what I intended to do, and asking if they would be interested in sponsoring the launch. Disappointingly, I received only one reply. This was from Hilton, who were very supportive and gave me the most fantastic launch (pictures on the above website).

I approached the local Chamber of Commerce, which was also helpful and provided a list of PAs with their addresses. This was vital. I really don’t know how I would have started to create an invitation list without this. I sent out 140 invitations and was pleased that 70 people attended on the night.

I found a speaker to enlighten the group on a subject which interests all women - grooming and personal presentation - and lined up an "AbFab Patsy" lookalike. I also informed the local business paper, where I am fortunate to have found an ally (the editor is a woman). She sent a photographer along to our launch, and we ended up on the front page!

For the first 18 months I held meetings every two months with speakers on a variety of subjects. Our meetings - now quarterly - attract an average attendance of between 12 and 18, from our membership base of 85. Members have said that they would like to continue to have ‘real’ meetings. We are now recognised as a networking group and have been invited, as such, to the occasional event.

A local company - Spirahellic - built us a website which is much easier to use (have a look at and Minolta sponsored this for the first year. I had hoped that it would be visited and used a lot more than it is, but in fact I find that most of the internet traffic is done via e-mail. I keep in touch with members, regularly letting them know of up-and-coming events. They in turn advise me if they are going to attend.

If anyone has been set a project (new photocopier/local taxis/catering/etc) they will ask me to e-mail other members for advice. Someone will always have "been there done that", which does save a lot of time and heartache – it has also led to new friendships being struck up.

In the short time MKPAnet has been running, some members have unfortunately been made redundant, but here again the network has come into its own - we have all acted as a self-help group wherever assistance has been requested.

So, what's it really like?
Does it take up a lot of my personal time?
Yes! But not as much now as it did at the outset
Have I "got there" yet?
No. I need to learn to delegate and create a committee, and again this part of the learning curve of creating a club. I only hope that if you were to ask me in five years' time whether I have done so, I would be able to answer "yes"!
Have I felt like giving up from time to time?
Yes! When there have not been enough hours in the day and when it seems that although I have arranged a meeting not enough people will attend. In retrospect, I realise that I was reading the signals wrongly but it is easy to say with hindsight.
Would I do it all again?
One hundred times yes!

One day the importance of such clubs will be recognised by the executives as the important "back door entrance" for getting those elusive appointments, and they will not only pay for the running of clubs but also allow the odd long lunch hour. But until such dizzy heights are reached I have to say, it is great fun being in there at the beginning.

Bernice has been a PA for more years than she cares to admit and works for a large insurance company in Milton Keynes. She has worked in companies as diverse as pizza firms, sweet factories, brickworks, and the BBC. If anyone else is thinking of setting up a network, she would be only to pleased to chat over her experiences – just e-mail her on

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