Feature: helpiNG BUSiNeSSeS Bloom

Pointing north-west
Giving a leg-up to businesses in the north-west is helping new start-ups thrive – with much of the credit rightly going to the Northwest Regional Development Agency’s Business Start-Up programme
n the current economic climate, it’s particularly important that budding entrepreneurs are given every possible chance of success – especially in areas or sectors of society that are particularly prone to deprivation. That is why A4e is celebrating after last month retaining the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) Business Start-Up contract, aimed at stimulating economic growth in the north-west of England. A4e manages the consortium of delivery partners who help new enterprises to get off the ground.


Ann Winnery and her sister, Helen Tomlinson, now have a thriving garden centre thanks to Business Start-Up.

Over the past two years, Business Start-Up has helped set up more than 4,000 new businesses, and hopes are high that the initiative will continue to breathe new life into the region. The NWDA leads the economic development and regeneration of England’s north-west; as a businessled organisation, it provides a crucial link between the needs of business and government policies. As such, a major responsibility for the agency is to help create an environment in which businesses in the region can flourish through offering business support, encouraging new start-ups, matching skills provision to employer needs and bringing business investment into the region. England’s north west is a vibrant region, combining a dynamic business base with cosmopolitan urban centres, breathtaking landscapes and an internationally-recognised creative and cultural scene. It boasts Manchester, the largest media hub outside of London; Liverpool, one of the world’s most famous waterfronts;

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Feature: helpiNG BUSiNeSSeS Bloom

Cheshire, home to AstraZeneca’s largest global research and development premises; Lancashire, a world-class centre of excellence in advanced manufacturing and engineering; and the Lake District, one of Europe’s most famous national parks.

With seven million inhabitants and 247,000 companies, the north-west is a thriving economy

Positive trade
With some seven million inhabitants and 247,000 companies, the north-west is a thriving economy. It is worth a remarkable £117 billion annually – a tenth of the overall UK GDP. It is the UK’s largest regional economy, larger than several European countries including Denmark and Finland, and it is one of only three regions to contribute positively to the UK’s balance of trade. However, within the region there are certainly large areas of deprivation – both in geographical and societal terms – and it is here that the Business Start-Up initiative is hoping to make a big difference. The target groups are women, disabled people, members of black and minority ethnic communities and people living in six disadvantaged areas of the north-west: Barrow, Blackpool, Halton, Knowsley, St. Helens and Wirral. When it was launched, the project was the first

case study: ‘it was obvious that i needed help’
Val Winterbottom, owner of Spindrift Gallery in Arnside, is a professional artist trained in art, design and photography
‘Opening a gallery was always something at the back of my mind, but I never thought I would get the opportunity. As a result of a number of coincidences, I found myself talking to my landlord-to-be, who asked me if I would be interested in taking over his shop as my own gallery business. ‘Although I had no previous business experience and hadn’t even worked in a shop, I knew that if I didn’t take up the offer there and then, I would always have wondered “what if?” Six weeks later, Spindrift Gallery was up and running.’ Val searched for small businesses online and, after numerous phone calls, was given Enterprise4All’s phone number (a partner of A4e in the Business Start-Up initiative). She explained her position and within a couple of days, an adviser arrived. ‘He was able to answer all my questions,’ says Val, ‘and although he was surprised how much I had discovered, it was still very obvious that I needed help. ‘One of the most useful things he asked me to do was to fill in a business plan, and this really helped me to see the wood for the trees.’ Acting on the support and recommendations she had received, Val organised a preview evening, during which she sold some of her own paintings and photographs. This provided a solid foundation for the business, which has since held many more exhibitions and has become well-known within the area.

of its kind, according to Janet Houghton, Business Start-Up project director. ‘We are obviously delighted that its success has led to us being re-awarded the contract to carry on delivering it to the NWDA. ‘Business Start-Up is essentially an intensive programme of business support, co-financed by local authorities and the NWDA, and aims to benefit groups that have traditionally not engaged with business support bodies. Willing participants are taken under the wing of a dedicated business advisor who can offer advice on everything from helping to write a business plan through to finding suitable premises for a new business. ‘It is a tailored service for each individual – most often for people who have little or no experience of running a business. Once the business is up


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Feature: helpiNG BUSiNeSSeS Bloom

otheR pARtNeRS
While A4e manages the Business Start-Up consortium, there are six other partner organisations involved in delivering the initiative on behalf of NWDA: l Blue Orchid – an accredited provider of business support and consultancy, based in Liverpool and Manchester l Bolton Business Ventures – a business support agency offering advice on planning, finance, marketing and legal requirements l Business Support Solutions – works closely with Manchester Chamber of Commerce supporting businesses of all sizes l Enterprise4all – a not-for profit Lancashire company offering advice on enterprise, education and employment l Prince’s Trust – the youth charity specialising in working with 14- to 30-year-olds l Train 2000 – a women’s organisation providing enterprise and employment services in Cheshire and Merseyside

venture came about when they received an offer from another local company, Bridge House Farm Tearooms, to rent their spare space. The tearooms sells food and craft items, and attracts large numbers of tourist visitors every year. Winnery said: ‘The site had space for a second retail business and the owners were aware of our passion for gardening. They offered Helen and myself the chance to rent the compound within the grounds at very reasonable rates.’ The sisters wanted to make sure that they were armed with the right information when it came to marketing the business and pricing a range of exclusive gardening products such as containers and ornaments that could not be found in other garden centres. Business Start-Up advisers were called upon to provide general business advice and deliver bespoke support. ‘We wanted to provide products that would attract people such as ourselves, who wanted something unusual and unique for their gardens’ said Winnery. ‘Business Start-Up really helped by coming to visit us on the site, and making recommendations on how we could start to establish and promote ourselves.’

Keeping the momentum
The challenge for Business Start-Up is to maintain the momentum gained over the last two years, while expanding its service to reach more hard-to-reach groups around the north-west. A4e’s Houghton explained: ‘We are now embarking on a systems exercise to identify new under-represented groups and to carry on the good work.’ She concluded: ‘With more than 50 new businesses starting each week in the north-west thanks to the Start-Up programme, it goes to show

and running, we remain in contact with them and offer advice on things like sales, marketing, and completing tax returns.’

Green fingers
One company now thriving after help from Business Start-Up is Greenfoot Gardens, a garden centre business in the picturesque village of Wray, in rural Lancashire. Ann Winnery and her sister Helen Tomlinson had been keen gardeners for many years but, with help from the Business Start Up initiative, they have been able to turn an amateur interest into a professional and successful garden centre business. The move to establish the

Once the business is up and running, we remain in contact with them and offer advice on things like sales, marketing, and completing tax returns
Janet houghton

that even in times of economic downturn, good business ideas can be nurtured with the right support and encouragement. ‘Our success is a positive indication of how well the programme is being received in the north-west, in traditionally hard-to-reach groups and areas. It’s also a direct reflection on how much work and effort has been put in by all members to make the consortium a success.’

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