A crafts shop which closed its doors in July has been given a new lease of life thanks to an employment initiative run by growing landlord Karbon Homes.

Retired primary school teacher Annette Cooper from Burnopfield accessed free advice and support from Karbon to help her become self-employed.

Launched in May this year, the initiative has already helped six residents to turn their dreams of becoming self-employed into reality and has received glowing praise from those who have accessed the service.

The SOLO project is a joint initiative between Karbon Homes and social enterprise company Social Enterprise Strategies (SES), to give residents aged 16-65 years old living in Derwentside and Chester-le-Street the best possible start to becoming self-employed.

The free service provides residents with access to experienced advisors to help them develop their ideas into sustainable businesses. Advisors help them with business planning, market research, marketing & financial advice and access to small business grants and loans to give them the best possible start.

SES has more than 30 years’ experience working with organisations and individuals to provide business development advice and training workshops, which promote the benefits of enterprise and entrepreneurship in local communities.

56-year-old Annette was a regular visitor to the Crafts House located at the Old Post Office in Marley Hill, Gateshead before it closed its doors. Annette bought the premises in the summer and collected the keys in November and is now running drop-in sessions on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays between 10am-5pm and Sunday mornings 10am-12pm.

Visitors pay £6 per person per hour for use of all the facilities and materials and receive a warm welcome, a cuppa and a biscuit.

In addition to the drop-in studio, the Crafts House offers craft-themed parties for children and adults, and also includes a small gift shop area where Annette sells her own handmade products and those by other local crafters. Annette also teaches arts & crafts when there is sufficient demand on Thursday evenings and Friday and Saturday mornings. She hopes to bring in other artists and crafts people to teach classes too.

Annette said: “I visited the Crafts House once a week while I was working to relax and get away from the stresses of my job. It was such a shame to see it close. I made a lot of friends and we used to meet up and enjoy making arts and crafts together. I’ve never run a business before so this is a dream come true.

“I am grateful to Karbon Homes and my mentor, Ernest Dodds from SES who gave me advice on business planning and cash flow. It’s early days but my long-term plan is to grow the business and maybe extend the premises to include a little coffee shop.

“There is something for everyone and the sessions I run are ideal for both children and adults. Arts and crafts is really therapeutic and helps with people’s mental health and wellbeing. We have regular visits from a family intervention programme in Gateshead and this is an area I would like to explore further.”

Michelle Graham, Employment Initiatives Officer at Karbon Homes, said: “It is lovely to hear about the impact our initiatives have not only on our residents but the local community. By accessing expert advice and information, Annette has been able to revive this local arts & crafts shop as her own business and I wish her all the best for the future.

“All residents who access our service receive ongoing support once their businesses have launched and we hope that Annette will be able to create new job opportunities for local people.”

Mark Haskett-Saddington, Director of SES who is facilitating the project, said: “Face to face business support is essential in getting local people into self-employment, particularly around business planning and legal advice on leaseholds.”

For more information on the SOLO project, please contact Michelle Graham at Karbon Homes on 01207 524 205 or emailmichelle.graham@karbonhomes.co.uk