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Monday, 21 April 2014

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Jobhunters in Cumbria encouraged to go it alone - with some success

A mobile ecological car valeter, a caravan maintenance engineer, a karaoke and mobile disco operator and a complementary therapist...

Julia Eyre photo
Julia Eyre

The days of a butcher a baker and a candlestick maker are over, it seems.

But these new jobs are a reaction to the demands of the 21st century.

They’re also the latest businesses set up under a new scheme designed to help people get off the dole and start up their own business.

Unemployment in Cumbria rose in September for the third month in a row and is now at its highest in 10 years.

Nationally, the jobless total has hit figures not seen for 17 years.

While the health of the UK economy seems critical, businesses in Cumbria are doing their best to spark the local scene into life.

In June the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce launched the county’s version of the nationwide New Enterprise Allowance (NEA) scheme.

In partnership with Jobcentre Plus, it helps those who have been on Jobseekers’ Allowance for at least six months to launch their own company.

The NEA project pairs the would-be entrepreneur with a local businessman who provides help and advice over a three-month period.

The only qualifications needed are to have been referred by the local Jobcentre Plus office, to be committed and to get the new enterprise up and running within those three months.

As well as being mentored, those accepted can also get a loan for up to £1,000 at 10 per cent interest.

“Lots of people don’t need it, but that could be used for a van or tools and equipment or to go on a course,” says Suzanne Caldwell, enterprise development manager for the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.

She has registered more than 120 applications for the scheme since June 1.

Julia Eyre was the first to enrol.

After working in marketing in London and on Tyneside, she returned to Cumbria with her family.

The mum-of-three runs the marketing consultancy business Eyre Communications from her home in Lazonby.

It can involve working from her desk or kitchen table there, visiting big agricultural firms in Yorkshire or Northamptonshire, or a small food and drink business in Cumbria.

“I wanted to set up my own business and knew this scheme was starting so I held off until then,” she explains.

“There is always that fear of setting up on your own and I wanted that sense of help through the early days.

“Setting up on your own can be quite lonely, it is good to have a support network to dip into.

“I had a bit of a wobble and needed someone to talk it through with and be told it was a wobble and not a problem.”

Julia was mentored by Suzanne Caldwell and now she is mentoring others in the scheme.

“The beauty of working for yourself is the flexibility you have and I’m loving the variety of work I have.

“Some days I’m really busy, other days I can take the dog for a walk, clear my head, come back, make some calls and kick things off again.

“I’m definitely in a good place as a result of the NEA,” she adds.

For some, going it alone is about establishing a family business to be passed on through generations. After 12 months spent unemployed, Lee Armstrong signed up to help him start his own business.

The aim of the former Corus welder was to provide work for himself – and for his son Tommy Lee.

“We’ve always had caravans and my father suggested servicing caravans because there was no one in the area doing it,” he explains.

“I borrowed £1,000 from the NEA and went on a week-long course in Bristol.

“My lad leaves school in two years time and I thought ‘if I have trouble finding work, what will it be like for him?’

“I thought if I could set myself up, I could get him in with me, that’s what I want.”

Since then, the 37-year-old from Seaton has also borrowed thousands of pounds from family and friends to buy a van and equipment and launched his business – Mobile Caravan and Motorhome Services – a month ago.

“I’m glad I did it, the feedback I have had is really good,” he says.

“It is ticking over and I have had a lot of enquiries, I will get more established when the season starts again next year.

“It has picked me up and given me some confidence. Being your own boss is great, I enjoy it.”

So far, there have been more than 120 applications to join the NEA scheme from across Cumbria, 59 people have been accepted and 17 businesses have started up already.

One of those is Serenity, by complementary therapist Linda Sykes.

She visits care homes and nursing homes in the west of the county to provide massage treatments, as well as visiting people in their homes.

After working for Lakes College, she went to the University of East London and gained a Bachelor of Science degree in applied health sciences and complementary therapies as well as researching into alzheimers disease and mental health.

She returned to Cumbria to set up her business and explains: “The NEA helped me put together a business plan, gave me experience of business accountancy and provided lots of hints and tips.

“It helps a lot and it opens doors for you.”

Suzanne Caldwell adds: “They are fabulous people coming through and they should be able to make a success of their businesses.

“If it does not work out for them, the experience will make them a much more attractive proposition for potential employers, or maybe they will go on to start another business.”

There’s also some hope on the horizon for younger jobhunters in Cumbria who are trying to get a foot on the career ladder.

Cumbria County Council is setting up a pilot partnership project with Carlisle College, Riverside Housing, Carlisle City Council, Construction Skills, North of England Civic Trust and Borders Social Enterprise to provide work experience and training for unemployed young people in construction, and a direct progression route into an apprenticeship.

Ten trainees will enrol at Carlisle College in January where they will study for half the week and take part in work experience for the rest of the week, including heritage and community work.

If the pilot in Carlisle works well, it could be rolled out elsewhere in the county.

And the county council has just agreed to sell a parcel of land to allow TIS Cumbria of Workington to expand and create 30 new jobs.

The company bought the land for the £2 million project from the authority’s economic regeneration office which took it over when the old Corus steelworks shut in 2005.

Meanwhile, businesses across the region are joining forces under the Local Enterprise Partnership scheme to look at ways to improve the local economy and job prospects.

Suzanne Caldwell adds: “Businesses involved in food and drink are getting together, in agriculture and land, the visitor economy, construction and others are looking at the opportunities in their sectors, what the problems are and what can be done about them.”

To get on the New Enterprise Allowance scheme you must be referred through your Jobcentre advisor. For more information from the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, call 0845 22600440.

To contact Lee Armstrong, call 077598 82295; for Julia Eyre, call 07976 667552; to contact Linda Sykes 07881 657031.

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