In January, Kirsty Henshaw, owner and founder of free-from food brand Kirsty’s, was looking forward to the future after investing £2M in a new, state-of-the-art factory that would help double the size of the brand within three years.

Kirsty Henshaw
Kirsty Henshaw


However, the months that followed were far from plain sailing, resulting in the most challenging, stressful and emotional period in Kirsty’s life.

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“Like so many, I had big plans for 2020; it was the year my business dreams were finally going to become a reality, after years of hard work to grow my free-from business, I was going to own my very own factory.” Kirsty Henshaw explains.

“After finding the perfect location and signing on the dotted line, it was all hands on deck to make the factory fully operational within 16 weeks.”

The new factory, located in Harrogate, would give Kirsty’s the capability of producing 20 million ready meals per annum as well as scope to play in other categories such as soups, pies and sauces.

“Up until now we have worked with selected manufacturers, and while this has given the brand security and an easier route to market over the years, it didn’t give me the flexibility and control over my destiny that I’ve always craved.”

It was around this time that the COVID-19 outbreak had begun escalating in China, but during those weeks, Kirsty admits it was one of the last things on her mind.

“I had recently split up with my partner of five years, who is Father to my 2-year-old daughter, so in addition to signing for the factory I was also finding and setting up a new family home for me, my son and my daughter. With so much going on it’s not an exaggeration to say I never gave COVID-19 a second thought, other than to keep my children and employees safe.”

However, not long after the outbreak reached Britain’s shores and the UK was thrown into lockdown.

“Fast forward a few weeks, and we were in a nationwide lockdown which changed everything.

“The juggling act began, managing the business, building a new factory, launching new products into retailers, being a mum, teacher and children’s entertainer and trying to maintain some form of social life and exercise regularly was a challenge I never expected to take on.”

“Fortunately, from a business perspective, food manufacturing is defined as key work, therefore during the lockdown, we have been able to keep pressing forward with the business and I’m extremely proud to have been able to supply free-from ready meals to millions of families during this testing period.

“However, when the schools and nurseries closed, I, along with millions of other parents started wearing several different hats for our children, and this did take its toll, working late into the night after childcare had finished for the day became the norm and sleep became a rare luxury.

“Miraculously, we managed to get through it, every time I went to the factory it had come on leaps and bounds, I do believe it was seeing the progression that gave me the strength to keep going, it was like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel but I can honestly say it was the most stressful, exhausting and emotional experience I’ve ever been through.”

Despite the whirlwind experience, Kirsty admits that she has learnt a lot about herself.

“Firstly, and most importantly, I know that my mind is much stronger than I thought it was. Secondly, I’ve learnt that it’s okay not to feel like you have things together all of the time as things will eventually work themselves out and thirdly, self-care and your health should never be neglected.”

As well as learning about herself Kirsty has equally took lessons from the experience that she will undoubtedly lean on in the future.

“I know that you can’t please everybody, despite me trying to. There were times I felt trapped by the lack of hours in the day, I didn’t want to let my team down, but I also wanted to be with my kids during what has been a difficult time, and some days it felt like I wasn’t doing either well. At some point, though, you have to accept that you can only do the best you can.

“My second lesson learnt was that nothing is ever perfect, I have struggled with the feeling of inadequacy and self-doubt all my life, I have always wanted everything to be perfect yet I realised that life doesn’t necessarily work like that. You may not take the ideal route to get to the end goal, but as long as you have the drive and determination to get there you will have done yourself proud.

“Finally, silence is not golden especially when it comes to working at home with small children.

“Yes, always check when things go quiet in the next room, but on a broader sense, always check on everyone when they go silent. I like to think that lockdown has brought me closer to key people in my life, the lack of places to rush off to has given me a chance to really listen.

“Most of my team have struggled for one reason or another, whether it’s the feeling of being trapped between working and childcare or feeling isolated and frustrated. As a team, we’ve probably all talked more about how we are feeling than ever before and it’s brought us closer together and to a better place.

“Ultimately, navigating your way through a global pandemic, building a factory, managing a business, looking after my children, moving on from a relationship and setting up a new family home all within the space of a couple of months sounds like a nightmare but it has reaffirmed my belief that you will cope with whatever life throws at you.”

Kirsty’s business started 10 years ago following Kirsty, the founder’s, long search for free from food options that her son would be able to enjoy, after discovering he had several allergies. Kirsty then went on to enter Dragon’s Den in 2010 and worked with Peter Jones and Duncan Bannatyne for the following three years.  

The brand which is now worth £11m at RSV sells an award-winning range of chilled ready meals, frozen pizzas and frozen desserts which are always gluten & dairy-free and are now stocked in every major supermarket in the UK.


Kirsty’s business originated ten years ago following Kirsty, the founder’s, long exploration for free from food options that her son would be able to relish, after realising he had several allergies. Kirsty later went on to enter Dragon’s Den in 2010 and worked with Peter Jones and Duncan Bannatyne for the following three years.  

The brand which is presently worth £11m at RSV and sells an award-winning range of chilled ready meals, frozen pizzas and frozen desserts which are always gluten & dairy-free furthermore are now stocked in every leading supermarket in the UK.


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