Earlier this year, Premium member Leigh Mason stopped by the Business Chicks office travelling from Brisbane to Sydney for business. While she was in, we learned a whole lot about Leigh; her childhood growing up in Nottingham, England, watching her mum pave the way for women in water safety, and an unlikely friendship with a well-known Australian face, leading to their business Live Learn Survive.
When you think of your childhood, what do you remember?
I had a happy childhood; we didn’t have lots of money but had lots of love, which I think is better.
Dad was a shift worker and Mum was a lifeguard at the outdoor pool across from school. I’d run over after school in summer, swim and wait till dusk to come home with Mum when the pool closed.
I was always interested in fashion. At 13, I got my first sewing machine and the creations began. At 15, I made my first designs and sold them around school so I could leave my shelf-filling job at the supermarket. I think Mum wanted to kill me, she told me I had to secure three months wages in sales before I could leave and I did. That was just the beginning…
Tell us about your mum…
My Mum, Gillian was ahead of her time. She really taught me to set goals and instilled into me the belief that you can do anything you want to IF you put the work in.
In her late teens she helped found the Long Eaton Swimming Club and by my primary school years, Mum was the pool lifeguard at the outdoor pool. I used to watch her study at night to pass her exams; she progressed to Swimming Teacher and then Examiner. This was the 70s; none of my friends had a Mum who studied so I thought it was pretty cool, it was just normal to me.
Mum was one of the first people to work at the town’s new indoor pool and pioneered classes to introduce babies into the pool to gain confidence in the water (which I only recently learned about when I found a newspaper article!). I do know Mum resuscitated three children in her career – if mum came home for work with wet hair we knew she’d, as we called it, ‘been in’.
Mum eventually worked for many years teaching swimming and I can’t even begin to know how many children she taught to swim but it was her passion. Even on holidays in later life she would be by a pool in Spain and pick the child that ‘was almost there’, and they went home having learnt to swim.
Sadly, I lost Mum ten years ago to ovarian cancer, only 64, and we still miss her dreadfully. I would give anything for a chat with her, especially given the path my life has taken since she passed away.
We’d love to know more about your business – Live Learn Survive.
To introduce Live Learn Survive I have to start by introducing my co-founder and fellow Director, Trent Maxwell. You might know him better as Lifeguard Maxi from TV show Bondi Rescue, who also just happens to be a firefighter for FRNSW.
Maxi and I met in 2014 through a friend and we started a niche swimwear label together called Sunrise at Bondi. Maxi and I clicked straight away; it quickly became apparent to me that swimwear might have been why we met but it probably wasn’t what our mission working together should be.
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Over 700 kids in Canberra heard me talk today about #maxithelifeguard book series with some extra water and fire safety tips leading in to bookweek. 🤙🏻 #bookweek2019 #author #watersafety #firesafety #teacherlibrarian #readingwithkids #bookstagram #kidsbooks #bondilifeguards
In 2016, we started working on an idea for a book and in 2017 Maxi signed a three-book deal for the Maxi the Lifeguard Children’s Book Series, which was launched in 2018.
The same year, Maxi and I registered a company, Live Learn Survive, so we could get serious and formally build on the work we had been doing and finding so inspiring; fire and water safety education. In the last 18 months we have travelled across the globe and Maxi has spoken to over 9,000 children, in four countries, across 20 cities working, with over 45 schools and children’s groups, and we can’t wait to do more.
We are a social enterprise and direct profits into workshops and books for kids in disadvantaged areas.
What does the business mean to you now?
What can I say other than this business means everything to me. It is without a shadow of a doubt the most inspiring work I have ever done, which is huge as I had an amazing career in fashion that took me all over the world. I started this business aged around 50, so it just goes to show age means nothing when it comes to opportunity or your ability to make a difference in the world!
Maxi and I are an unlikely duo, but we are so alike and aligned it is uncanny. Sure, we disagree on things but our core values and vision are the same and 99% of the time we have the same opinion on decisions we must make. We have different skillsets but that is what makes us a formidable team; we use each other’s strengths and we get where we need to be.
It’s also the kids we’ll always go the extra mile for. I won’t ever forget about the little girl in England and all she wanted for her birthday was Maxi’s book, but the postage time was too long to get there in time. I was just about to head to the airport and when I looked at our plan we were in her town on her birthday. Well, of course Maxi knocked on the door and delivered it – a birthday she won’t forget in a hurry.
So, in some way, you’ve travelled across the world to continue your mum’s legacy…
10 years on from my Mum’s death, I can’t help but feel I’ve come full circle, picking up where she left off – pioneering children’s water safety. After always having an interest in fashion, not in my wildest dreams did I think I’d end up here – doing my mum’s passion and lasting legacy.