by Anila Baig

FOR businesswoman Suzanne Watson, the town of Ilkley is pretty much perfect for work, rest and play and an ideal place to bring up a family.

The mum-of-two started her career as a journalist in 1989 before moving into PR in 1993.

When her daughter, Melissa, was born in 1999, Suzanne chose to go freelance to have flexibility.

“I set myself up as SJ Communications and worked from my home in Gomersal," she said.

“In 2001 I realised I needed admin support and an office to create some separation from work so moved into offices in Cleckheaton.

"It was a small, two-roomed, windowless office but I made it professional with four desks and a meeting room and renamed the business ‘Approach PR Ltd’.”

She quickly secured her first major contract with French bakery manufacturer Delifrance.

“It was a life-changing moment for me and boosted my confidence so much. The company had premises across the world and two sites in the UK.

"On the back of this win I was able to appoint my first senior consultant to support in taking the business forward.”

In 2005 she moved her business into Little Germany in Bradford and worked there until 2012.

Meanwhile she met her husband and fell in love - both with him and where he hails from.

“My husband is from Ilkley, was educated at the Grammar school here and his family are here," she said.

“Ever since he and I met in 2004 I had loved his hometown and we visited Ilkley a lot with the children, to see his parents, to visit the playground at the Riverside and walk up on the Moors. I immediately fell in love with Ilkley and dreamt of moving there one day.

“We moved to the outskirts of Ilkley in 2010 when Melissa was 11 and Ben was eight.”

Suzanne said it was the best decision she could have made and that Ilkley was pretty much idyllic.

“What makes this community stand out is its sense of unity and pride," she said. "It has an offering which is appealing to every life stage.

“For new and young parents, the sense of community and the support networks through parent groups, sporting groups, events such as the Ilkley Carnival – which involves children from all of the local primary schools in a spectacular annual, 1,000 person-strong parade on May Day – all contribute to Ilkley being a wonderful place to raise a family.”

She said the sense of security was very important, especially as the children got older and wanted more independence.

“The feeling that people are looking out for each other means exploring the town independently is a wonderful opportunity for young teens.

"I’ve loved the fact that Melissa and Ben can walk into town to meet friends, do a bit of shopping, walk to the park or up to the moors – all without adult supervision!

“My daughter has had picnics by the riverside with friends and my son has stargazed on the moors with his friends.”

As well as the natural beauty of the area there is an abundance of activities for the children to participate in.

“They’ve both been members of local groups and societies from Melissa’s attendance at the Green Room theatre group at Ilkley Playhouse, her joining the speech and drama classes of Articulate held at the Grammar school which have seen her starring as an extra on various children’s programmes.

“Ben joined the local Ilkley Air Cadet squadron which really developed his confidence, his team building skills and saw him taking the controls of a plane and experiencing aerobatic flying between the ages of 13 and 16.

“We have the wonderful Ilkley Lido, our outdoor swimming pool and grounds – a fantastic place for children and teens to visit in the summer months.

“We have the Toy Museum, the Manor House Museum, the incredible Ilkley Cinema – now the place where my daughter works part time as she takes her journalism degree at the University of Leeds. The opportunities are endless and all crammed within this wonderful town.”

Meanwhile, Suzanne, who is the president of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce, still worked in Little Germany.

“I realised that working near home would save me an hour and a half round trip of a commute each day thereby increasing my productivity and mean I could be closer to the children while they were at school.

“It all made sense. Ilkley is an incredible place to live and the more I thought about it, it could provide an incredible place to run a business from.

“Wellbeing, work/life balance, nature, community involvement, social impact… all of these things are now critical to a healthy, sustainable and responsible business and all of it is achieveable here in Ilkley.

“Its challenges are its location and its benefits are - its location! The only downside to working in Ilkley is the time it takes us to reach a motorway for client visits. But when transport is do-able by train, we have incredibly easy, 35-minute access to Leeds and Bradford.”

Another benefit of being located in Ilkley, Suzanne said, was the joy of hosting client meetings and networking events.

“We’re based above Bettys Café tea rooms on The Grove and have recently undertaken a major refurbishment to open up our office space to make it fit for growth.

“We could have moved to accommodate our future plans but with views of the moors and White Wells from our front windows and of Middleton Woods from our back windows, we wanted to make the best of the incredible space we have.

“From a team perspective, having lunchtime access to such wonderful independent shops such as Nora’s Interiors and Gifts, Covet, The Grove Bookshop, Love Brownie and such fantastic food and drink offerings is a real draw.”

Then, when you have eaten as much as you can stomach, you can stretch your legs and burn off all the calories.

“You can be up at the moors in 10 minutes or down at the riverside or in Middleton Woods and you really have a business that can add true value to the working day and ensure the balance can be achieved," Suzanne said.

“I truly believe there is a wealth of skills right here in this community and I’m keen to attract local people to experience national and international PR campaigns and service delivery right here on their doorstep.

“In 19 years we’ve provided employment for more than 30 local people and through our Ilkley business base I intend for this to continue.

"There is little certainty in life and in business but my core foundation for Approach PR is that Ilkley is and will continue to be our family and our business home.”