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BLOG: My journey from Local Resident Panel member to Youtuber, hatmaker and business owner

15 March 2023

By Ilona Ames, London Panel Member

For International Women’s Day our Local Resident Panel Chairs reflected on how they put inclusivity at the heart of what they do and also shared what they have learned as women in leadership roles. We wanted to continue this conversation and celebration of International Women’s day, so we reached out to more women panel members to hear more about their experiences on the panel. In this blog, London Panel member Ilona Ames reflects on her time on the panel, the transferable skills she has picked up along the way and how it helped her to turn a new creative interest into a successful business!

Ilona Ames By Ilona Millinery Copy (2)

When I look back at the past four years it’s been quite a whirlwind. I joined the Network Homes London Local Panel in 2019. At the time, I was recently out of university, not economically active and looking to devote my time to local community organisations. I was already a member of the North West London Women’s Institute; where we provided social evenings and inclusive activities for local community women. However I wanted to do more. I wanted to be a part of something where I could have a direct positive impact in the community.

Ilona Ames, London Panel member

 The Network Homes Resident Panels sounded exactly like what I was looking for. Throughout my time on the London panel, I have learnt to listen to people, be part of group discussions, bring forward ideas (even if they seem a little silly) and most importantly to ask questions. We have a lot of women on the London Panel, including staff from Network Homes, and I have felt supported and mentored by all.

A year into my tenure, the pandemic struck. I had been an international dancer (as well as a graphic communication designer - I guess colloquially you could call me a stereotypical millennial slashie). However due to travel restrictions this was no longer a viable career path. I was stuck at home. I attended the Panel Meetings Online, the Women's Institute meetings moved to zoom. But I felt unfulfilled creatively. So I took up something that had always fascinated me – hat making or to give it the industry name: millinery.

I picked up some books, completed a few online courses, and eventually decided that I needed some accountability to push me to achieve my absolute best. I ventured into a scary place: THE INTERNET. More specifically I set up my YouTube channel: by Ilona Millinery. I had my reservations about this. The comments section on YouTube doesn’t exactly have the best reputation. I was worried about receiving derogatory comments, or negative feedback. And there have been a few examples of this, but not enough to get me down.

What I am exceptionally proud of is being able to build a global community of hat lovers, makers and wearers. This is where all the experience from the London Panel work kicked in – group discussions, exploring ideas, asking questions. Through the power of the internet I am able to connect with people from all over the world and talk about something I have in common with my subscribers – our love of headgear. Over the past 2 years I have grown my channel, and along side it my business. I have started a Patreon, I offer private hat making courses, I sell my hats at pop-up shops as well as making bespoke commissions, and of course I continue to make my videos.

What’s next for me? Well, this year, I have set myself a goal: not say no to opportunities. In the past I have struggled to believe I was deserving of good things coming my way. I had an emotional conversation with a staff member on the Resident Engagement team about this, and they inspired me to change my mindset. I do believe this is what women can do for each other. So on this year’s International Women’s day, I hope to pass on the same encouragement I have felt. We shouldn’t doubt ourselves. As women, we can all move onwards and upwards through collective support and lifting each other up.

Join our Hertford and Outside London Local Panel

We’re currently recruiting for Local Panel members for our Hertford and Out of London panel, so if you’d like to have your say and see what exciting path you may take with the skills you learn as a panellist, please register to join the panel! You can find out more by clicking here.

Register to be on our Local Panel here

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